England prepare to scrap Zimbabwe tour
Robert Mugabe: his regime's poor record on human rights now key to the future of the tour
England seem likely to cancel their winter tour of Zimbabwe when the 15 members of the England & Wales Cricket Board's management meet next week. A 17-page report submitted by Des Wilson, the former vice-chairman of the Sports Council, which will greatly influence the management committee, is expected to state that now moral and political reasons should be considered as well as those of player safety.
Wilson's document suggests that moral issues alone should prompt England to give the tour a miss. "The safety and security of a touring party can in today's circumstances no longer be the only factor in deciding whether or not to proceed with a controversial tour," he told The Times. "Can we tour this country knowing what we do about its stance on human rights and the suffering of its people?"
The main thrust of the ECB's argument for not touring Zimbabwe during the World Cup was player-safety, but if it accepts Wilson's suggestions - and the indications are that it will - then the tour is almost certainly dead in the water.
Last year, David Morgan, the ECB chairman, gave assurances to his Zimbabwean counterparts that England would honour the tour. His comments, made to prevent Zimbabwe cancelling their trip to England last May, are likely to be disregarded in light of the report.
Since then, Robert Mugabe has pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth, following widespread protests over his regime's poor record on human rights, and critics insist that the human-rights situation inside the country continues to deteriorate.
And unlike the World Cup boycott, which resulted in England being heavily fined by the ICC, there would be no penalties for refusing to go, as the ICC has no juristiction over bilateral tours. The only real potential pitfall is that Zimbabwe might in turn refuse to participate in the ICC Trophy which is taking place in England in September. But since that is an ICC-administered event and not a bilateral tour they might face penalties from the governing body for withdrawing.
Zimbabwe recently hosted a full series against West Indies, and Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are all scheduled to tour there later this year. If England refuse to tour, the ECB might suggest moving the series to a neutral venue.