Archbishop Desmond Tutu will call for England's cricketers to break their sporting ties with Zimbabwe, when he delivers the prestigious MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey lecture at Lord's on Tuesday evening.
Tutu, 76, was heavily involved in the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and 80s, and he believes that, by taking a similar stance against Robert Mugabe's regime, a powerful message would be sent by the world that Mugabe is a "pariah".
"I would say it is a non-violent pressure that can be brought to bear," Tutu told The Guardian on the eve of the lecture. "People will say Mugabe doesn't play cricket but the more you make him aware that he has become a pariah the better."
"I believe that a significant part of the population in Zimbabwe would say [the cricketers] should not be here, because you are lending a legitimacy and respectability to a country that is in a shambles because of one person."
Zimbabwe are currently suspended from Test status, although they remain in the frame in one-day cricket. They are scheduled to tour England in May 2009, even though the UK government has threatened not to issue visas if Mugabe is still in power.
The situation for the ECB is complicated by the ICC World Twenty20 which follows later in the summer. Zimbabwe, as a full member of the ICC, would be expected to take part, and England can expect sanctions if their representatives are barred. In April, Malcolm Speed was ousted as the ICC's chief executive after falling out with the president, Ray Mali, a staunch supporter of Zimbabwe cricket.
Tutu's lecture will be broadcast live on the MCC website (www.lords.org). His interest in cricket was nurtured by the commentaries of John Arlott on the BBC World Service, but it was its role in the defeat of apartheid that cemented the game in his affections. "Once I was bitten by the bug I stayed bit," Tutu told The Guardian. "It is a myth to say that sports and politics do not mix."