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Last Updated:  Sunday, 2 February, 2003, 13:29 GMT

Mbeki backs Zimbabwe matches
South African president Thabo Mbeki (left) and Tony Blair
Mr Mbeki says Zimbabwe is safe
South African President Thabo Mbeki has told UK Prime Minister Tony Blair there is no reason for England or any other team to boycott Cricket World Cup games in Zimbabwe.

Mr Mbeki insisted that England's concerns over playing in Zimbabwe - based on security fears and moral issues surrounding President Robert Mugabe's regime - were groundless.

And he told Mr Blair at Chequers that talk of a sports boycott of Zimbabwe was a bolt from the blue.

"It is a bit distressing that now when a big tournament like this comes to us suddenly the sports boycott becomes an issue," said Mr Mbeki, who will officially open the World Cup in Cape Town on 8 February.

"You [Britain] hosted the Commonwealth Games in Manchester. The Zimbabweans went there and no problem was raised about this issue.

"There had not been any decision, any proposals from anywhere about a sports boycott.

"Or the Sydney Olympics. Zimbabwean athletes were there in Australia and the Australians did not raise any issue about this. Nobody did.

"South Africa have been in Kenya, they have been in Zimbabwe to make sure that all the particular concerns are addressed and we are convinced they are addressed."

Mr Mbeki also insisted that his government had given the International Cricket Council (ICC) their full cooperation in the debate over the safety of Zimbabwe and Kenya as co-hosts.

"We have kept out of this because this is an ICC tournament and to the extent that they have said as a principle host we need to assist we have," he said.

The England and Wales Cricket Board and players' representatives are set to meet the ICC's security consultants to discuss the safety issue in Zimbabwe.

But Labour MP Derek Wyatt is to petition the High Court seeking a judicial review of the position of the ECB.

He claims that there is a clause in the ECB constitution which states that they are bound to "uphold and enhance the traditions and spirit of the game of cricket".

Wyatt told The Observer: "If the players want to play the match elsewhere, surely forcing them to play in Zimbabwe violates the sport's true spirit, which is all about fairness, honsety and integrity."





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