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England urged to skip Zimbabwe Cup visit

London: A junior Foreign Office minister suggested on Tuesday that England’s cricket team should not play in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe is engaged in a political stand-off with the international community.

“I hope that the England cricket team takes cognisance of the fact that if they go to Zimbabwe, they will go in very odd circumstances that may not reflect to their credit,” Foreign Office Minister for Europe Denis MacShane told a parliamentary committee.

Zimbabwe are due to host six first-round matches of the 2003 World Cup in Harare and Bulawayo in February-March, but fears have been expressed over player safety due to political upheaval in the country. England are scheduled to play Zimbabwe in the capital Harare on February 13.

MacShane, who was sitting in for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at the Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, added, however, that it would not be appropriate to call for a specific ban on England playing in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has been plagued with violence in the wake of Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme, leading to calls for the Zimbabwe matches to be moved to South Africa.

Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC, said late last month that countries whose teams refuse to play in Zimbabwe could face legal action.

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