Ireland deny undue pressure over Zimbabwe trip
Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive, has denied that the Irish cricket team were placed under any undue pressure to travel to Zimbabwe for an Intercontinental Cup match and one-day series in September. Speculation over whether Ireland and Scotland would travel to Zimbabwe was ended when Ireland confirmed their intentions, while Scotland opted out of the tour following advice from the Scottish government against visiting the country.
"Cricket Ireland had made entirely its own decision on this," Deutrom told The Irish Times. "Of course we had to take the ICC's own views, or what the international cricketing fraternity is doing, with India and Sri Lanka's recent tours there. Clearly, that movement towards normalisation, certainly of cricketing structures in Zimbabwe, and of course the movement towards normalisation of political structures, meant it was something that we were duty bound to investigate ourselves."
Zimbabwe were originally admitted to the Intercontinental Cup on the understanding that their 'home' games would be played at neutral venues. There had been a possibility that South Africa would host the team's matches, but in May the ICC related to Cricket Ireland (CI) Zimbabwe Cricket's belief that the relative improvement in the political and cricketing structures in the country meant that it was no longer acceptable to play home matches anywhere other than Zimbabwe.
CI contacted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in Dublin and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London to seek advice on the implications of making the trip. They were given the all-clear, but although the DFA continue to have no objections to Ireland's tour a subsequent change in the FCO's stance led to Scotland's decision to abandon their trip.
"Back in 2008, the advice was that we shouldn't travel from a safety and security perspective," said Deutrom. "From a political perspective, playing cricket in Zimbabwe wasn't something that Cricket Ireland would have even contemplated at that stage.
"However, when we received the message from the ICC, and there was certainly no diktat from them, it was simply a reasonable question about what is the situation with your governments and would you be able to go back and check. We received information from the FCO and the DFA in June that they had no objection to us going."
Ireland players, team management and officials also met Zimbabwe sports minister David Coltart ahead of their decision. Coltart, a former human rights lawyer, was one of the founding members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) that is now part of a unity government with Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF.
"There were a number of questions at the meeting relating to safety and security on the ground, relating to the situation with hotels and hospitals. I raised all of these with the minister and asked him to explain his views on that.
"He also talked about the situation in the country and his own views about how he feels Zimbabwe is very similar to that in South Africa in the early 90s, when South Africa's sporting teams were readmitted to international competition while the apartheid regime was still in power."
Ireland's tour could run into further controversy as it will mark Phil Simmons' first trip to the country since he was axed as Zimbabwe's coach before taking up the role for Ireland. Simmons has taken legal action against ZC in an attempt to recover the $400,000 he claims he is still owed after being sacked without compensation with two years still remaining on his contract in 2005.
"He obviously had some concerns. Phil's previous position was that he certainly had no intention of going back to Zimbabwe," said Deutrom. "I'm guessing this has come a little bit earlier than he would have wanted, but we've made sure he has as much comfort in terms of his decision to go.
"I've spoken to him about this and he does genuinely believe that the situation has moved on significantly from when he was there, even from the situation two years ago."