ECB chairman holds talks with Chingoka
Clarke's visit was very much below the radar and was not reported in the UK media. That it happened at all only emerged when Zimbabwe's Independent newspaper claimed that Clarke had offered to pay ZC £200,000 if it withdrew from the proposed tour to England in 2009.
Fears are growing that the new hard-line approach of the British government towards Zimbabwe in general and those believed to have links to the Mugabe regime in particular could lead to a ban on all Zimbabwe players and officials.
Chingoka himself was barred from entering the UK in October, a major blow to him as he has family in London, but there is no evidence that the government proposes a wider ban. "He has been refused a visa because of the role he plays within ZC as Mugabe's commissar and particularly because of the financial irregularities that have occurred," a source at Westminster told Cricinfo. "There is certainly no blanket visa ban on Zimbabwean sportsmen - although there have been calls on the government to consider a general sporting boycott."
The Independent report stated that Clarke made the financial offer - ostensibly to go towards development - in return for Zimbabwe cancelling their 2009 tour and agreeing to postpone England's return trip scheduled for 2012. It appears that Clarke is keen to avoid the almost non-stop issue of England playing Zimbabwe which has dogged the board for several years.
Ray Mali, the acting ICC president, attended the meeting, although an ICC spokesman told Cricinfo he was there "only in the role of a facilitator".
In a statement, the ECB said that such talks were not untoward and that meetings had also been held with other boards about future schedules. "These are the normal and regular conversations which take place between the Boards in international cricket," Clarke said. "The summer of 2009 is exciting for the ECB but it also has some logistical issues which need to be resolved."
It has also been rumoured that the ECB may lobby the government in a bid to get Chingoka allowed into the country to attend next June's annual ICC meeting which will be held at Lord's. He was initially barred from travelling last summer but was eventually granted a short-stay visa. It was widely believed the climb-down came after ECB officials asked Richard Caborn, the then sports minister, to use his influence as it was felt Chingoka's absence would have compromised David Morgan's ultimately successful bid to become ICC president.
Chingoka, meanwhile, insisted that ZC would not lobby to be granted visas. "The FTP commits every member to host and be hosted as scheduled," he told the newspaper. "It's our own right to have these tours. Zimbabwe's players must be allowed to participate. We don't need to lobby where we have rights, but the complications being created are for the ICC to resolve."