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British ministers call on ICC to ban Zimbabwe

Two leading British politicians have written to the ICC requesting that Zimbabwe be kicked out of international cricket

Cricinfo staff

Jack Straw: written to the ICC © Getty Images
Two leading British politicians have written to the ICC requesting that Zimbabwe be kicked out of international cricket because of the country's rapidly deteriorating human rights situation.
Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, and Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, wrote to the ICC after a film from Amnesty International highlighted the plight of those affected by President Mugabe's slum clearance programme Operation Murambatsvina - which translates as "drive out rubbish" - has left an estimated 700,000 people homeless.
"What we are trying to do now is ratchet up the pressure on the ICC, who have the power to act to change their rules," said a source at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. '"The situation according to the foreign office is getting significantly worse. Tessa feels it's right that government isn't seen to be sitting back and letting this happen."
Kate Hoey, the former sports minister who has actively campaigned against England playing cricket against Zimbabwe, said that Straw had become more hardline in recent weeks. "'Cricket gives us an opportunity. A ban sends a message out that Zimbabwe is not a normal country in any sense."
The letter, which was leaked to The Observer, is said to ask the ICC to waive fines against countries who decide to boycott matches against Zimbabwe. "We would now like to ask if the ICC could reflect on the current situation and take a view on whether or not they see international cricket fixtures against and/or in Zimbabwe to be appropriate while such widespread human rights abuses are taking place."

Protestors outside Lord's on the first day of the Zimbabwe Test in 2003 © Getty Images
Last November, England played four ODIs in Zimbabwe, despite polls showing most people thought they were wrong to go. The overriding reason for the England board's decision was fear that it would be severely fined by the ICC if it stayed away. Asked at the time whether moral issues should feature and whether matches against Zimbabwe should go ahead, David Morgan, the ECB's chairman, said they should not, adding that "otherwise world cricket would grind to a halt".
The British government was criticised for not stopping the tour, but ministers pointed out that they could not ban a side from travelling.
The latest approach to the ICC follows similar requests from the New Zealand and Australian governments. While the ICC has steadfastly maintained a stance that Zimbabwe's politics are not a factor in any decision on the country's international status, it is coming under increasing pressure to take some action. Yesterday's newspaper revelations that President Mbeke of South Africa has tired of trying to find a diplomatic solution to Zimbabwe's problems could further add to that pressure.
Add into the equation that Zimbabwe's recent performances on the field have been woefully poor, and it seems inconceivable that the issue will not be high on the agenda when the ICC executive meets in Dubai next week.