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Last updated: Monday, 13 January, 2003, 17:00 GMT

England will not meet Mugabe
England players sit down during training
Some England players have doubts about Zimbabwe
Senior cricket officials believe Zimbabwe's leader Robert Mugabe will not seek to shake England captain Nasser Hussain's hand when the two countries play in Harare.

The 13 February fixture - which is part of cricket's World Cup - is controversially set to go ahead after approval by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

The news coincides with a public admission by Hussain that certain players now have moral concerns about playing in the troubled southern African nation.

The ECB had come under pressure to cancel the match by Tony Blair's British Government.

In an interview on BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek, ECB chairman David Morgan insisted on Sunday that Mugabe would want the match to proceed without resorting to political showmanship.

We reserve the right not to play the match... and suffer the consequences
Unnamed England player
(Quoted in Mail on Sunday)

Morgan said: "I don't think that as president of the Zimbabwe Cricket Union, [Mugabe] would want to cause any embarrassment at all.

"He in particular wishes the matches to go ahead in as calm a way as possible."

The Mail on Sunday quoted an unnamed England player saying individuals still "reserved the right not to play the match."

The player added: "Of course there would be consequences but some might say there is no comparison between that and what many in Zimbabwe are going through."

Hussain later told Five Live that the players had not yet discussed whether they should or should not go, but admitted they were "split in their minds."

He said he had recently watched a documentary on Zimbabwe which had made him "ask himself a few questions."

Morgan, quizzed on the article, took a tough line.

He said: "The situation now is that all 15 World Cup selected players have signed their players' terms.

"If anyone decided they now didn't want to go there's no guarantee we would be able to make changes."

Last week ECB chief executive Tim Lamb had stated England players would not have to shake hands with Mugabe if the matches went ahead.

"We are not going to put our players, Nasser Hussain - or indeed myself - in a situation where we have to shake hands with the president of Zimbabwe," Lamb said.

Moral dilemma

Technically, Hussain and any England player face possible jail sentences if they refuse to shake Mugabe's hand.

It is a criminal offence for anyone in the country to show any sign of disrespect for the president.

Errol Stewart, the South Africa 'A' wicketkeeper, has made himself unavailable for the team's three-match tour to Zimbabwe this month.

Stewart, 33, a lawyer, said: "My conscience will not allow me to live in a luxury hotel in a country where people are dying of starvation.

"As someone in the legal profession, I am very sensitive about the abuse of human rights and the fact that the Zimbabwean judiciary is put under so much duress. "

Links to more England stories


ECB chairman David Morgan
"I don't think Mugabe would want to cause any embarrassment"

England captain Nasser Hussain
"All you've got is young lads asking themselves questions"

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