Chingoka ban could have major consequences March 19, 2008

England at risk of ICC shutout

Martin Williamson reports on the serious issues facing the ECB if the UK government refuses to allow Peter Chingoka into the country

Heath Streak and Peter Chingoka face the media in London at the start of Zimbabwe's 2003 tour. Neither Chingoka or his team appear to be welcome back © Getty Images
The ECB faces a nervous wait after the ICC executive board made preparations to move their annual meeting in June from London to Dubai in the event that Peter Chingoka, the Zimbabwe Cricket chairman, is refused a visa to enter the UK.

Despite all the recent debate on the subject, Cricinfo has learned that Chingoka has not actually applied for a visa, and until he does the UK government has refused to give a definite answer on whether he is likely to be granted one. It is expected that he will submit an application to the British Embassy in Harare on his return from Dubai.

If it is refused, as it was last October, then the ICC will immediately scrap plans to hold its conference at Lord's and switch it to its headquarters in the UAE. "The meeting is scheduled to take place at Lord's as usual," an ICC spokesman said. "If Mr Chingoka's visa application is denied, we will cross that bridge when we get to it. I don't want to speculate."

While that will be an embarrassment for the ECB, the knock-on consequences are far more serious. Cricinfo has learned that the ICC executive will also reconsider plans for its lavish centenary celebrations, which were to be centred on Lord's.

And while the UK government seems likely to block the bilateral series between England and Zimbabwe in 2009 from going ahead, if Chingoka is not allowed to attend the ICC World Twenty20 which follows on in June, then, again, the ICC executive board made clear that the tournament would not be allowed to go ahead with one of their Full Member chairmen absent. There is speculation that South Africa could be used as an alternative venue.

This puts the ECB in an almost impossible position, and all it can do is lobby the government and try to persuade it that the damage to the English game by keeping one man out of the UK will be disproportionate to the political fallout resulting from allowing him in.

The government is in an equal quandary. Since Gordon Brown became prime minister, it has taken an increasingly hard line on Zimbabwe, and the foreign office decision to bar Chingoka last year was taken after advice from Harare which flagged his close links with the Mugabe regime. If it now climbs down then it is sure to face a grilling in parliament and the media over double standards.

Privately, many inside Westminster had been hoping that the ICC's independent forensic audit would see the removal of Chingoka and his replacement by a figure with less baggage and no discernable political links.

It now seems that Chingoka, who many Zimbabweans hold accountable for the rapid decline of the game inside the country, could cause far more damage to English cricket than he has ever been accused of in his homeland. Little could give more pleasure to ZC's patron, Robert Mugabe.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo