The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Blair puts ECB under pressure

London: British Prime Minister Tony Blair heaped pressure on cricket authorities on Wednesday to stop the England team playing in Zimbabwe but insisted he had n o power to prevent them going.

Ministers will meet officials from the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) on Thursday to discuss their dilemma over World Cup matches being staged in Zimbabwe but the government’s wishes are already crystal clear.

“We have expressed our view very clearly that they should not go but as with the decision over the 1980 Olympics, it is not within our power or ability to order people not to go,” Blair told parliament.“We have made it quite clear to the cricket authorities that we believe that it is wrong that they should go. I hope they take account of that advice.”

Zimbabwe is scheduled to h0ost six of the 54 matches in the World Cup being staged mainly in South Africa from February 9 to March 23. The Australian government has also raised concerns about playing there.

The ECB has been put under increasing pressure to boycott the match England are due to play in Harare on February 13 following President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme, which opponents blame for the country’s deepening economic crisis and food shortages.

Several England players, including captain Nasser Hussain, and ECB chiefs have said that if the decision to boycott the Zimbabwe game is a political one then it should be taken by the government, not a sporting body. Officials said another ECB wish, for compensation should they agree to pull out, is unlikely to be agreed to.

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