The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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British govt in Beefy line of fire

London: English cricket legend Ian Botham has whacked the British government for six, accusing it of “hanging England’s players out to dry” by prevaricating on whether World Cup matches should be played in Zimbabwe.

While urging England cricket chiefs not to go ahead with a match against Zimbabwe scheduled for February 13 in Harare, Prime Minister Tony Blair has refused to order the England team to pull out.

The government has also ruled out compensating the England and Wales Cricket Board for any financial penalties incurred as a result of a boycott.

“The situation in Zimbabwe is an area where the government should pull their fingers out and make a stand instead of hanging England’s cricketers out to dry,” Botham told The Daily Mirror, echoing the sentiments of England captain Nasser Hussain.

“I don’t think it should be left to the players to make decisions when the consequences go far beyond the boundaries of sport.”

The government has argued that playing matches in Zimbabwe would be tantamount to endorsing the regime of president Robert Mugabe, who stands accused of myriad human rights abuses and rigging the presidential election earlier this year.

Botham added: “We are well aware of what is going on in Zimbabwe — the country is being systematically raped and pillaged — and it’s wrong to turn a blind eye to a humanitarian crisis.

“The government needs to get off the fence, spell out its position to the ECB, and hopefully common sense will prevail.

Meanwhile in Sydney, Australian Prime Minister John Howard said he is trying to rally international support for a boycott of World Cup matches in Zimbabwe.

Howard said his government was trying to get other countries to join Australia in calling on the ICC to change its mind on playing in Zimbabwe.

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