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Aussie govt willing to compensate organisers

Canberra: The government has increased pressure on Australian cricket authorities to boycott a World Cup match in Zimbabwe, saying it would consider helping pay compensation to Cup organisers if the world champions refused to play.

The ACB has committed to playing its February 24 match vs Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, but talk of a boycott has intensified amid heightening safety concerns.

Foreign minister Alexander Downer said he held concerns about the safety of Australia’s cricketers and their supporters and wanted the ICC to switch the match to a “more appropriate venue in Africa.”

Downer said the ICC might have to compensate the Zimbabwe Cricket Union if it cancelled any of the six World Cup matches scheduled for Harare and Bulawayo. “Our answer to that is, well, if compensation has to be paid, (the federal government) will have a look at making a contribution ourselves to that compensation,” Downer told a Sydney radio station Monday.

Downer earlier revealed that Jonathon Brown, Australia’s High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, sent a “disturbing report” to the government suggesting that Zimbabwean police could not guarantee a controlled response to protests planned during World Cup matches.

The government handed Brown’s report to the ACB, which sent key administrators to South Africa Monday to meet with the team and review the safety situation in Zimbabwe.

Sandy MacDonald, an Australian lawmaker and an observer at the 2000 Zimbabwe national elections, criticised the ACB for not pulling out of the match.

“How long will it be before the ACB realises that it is a mistake to put the Australian team in harm’s way by insisting they play in Zimbabwe'” he said.

“It has been abundantly clear for months that Zimbabwe has become increasingly unstable... It is now time for the ACB to take some blunt advice: ‘Wake up, it is unsafe for the world champions to play in Zimbabwe’.”

Labour leader Simon Crean, who heads the main opposition party in the Australian Parliament, said the government should insist that its cricketers withdraw from the Zimbabwe match.

“If the travel warnings have been upgraded, the government has only one choice,” Crean said.

According to the foreign minister, the matches had to be moved so that “Mugabe isn’t able to use this showcase international event as a way of promoting the idea that all is well in Zimbabwe and that his regime is a benign and decent sort of a show,” added Downer.

ECB’s Zimbabwe trio

In London, the England and Wales Cricket Board has delegated three of its members to decide whether to ask for England’s match in Zimbabwe to be moved to South Africa.

The ECB, whose management board met on Monday, will consult coach Duncan Fletcher and captain Nasser Hussain before deciding on whether to request the February 13 match in Harare be relocated.

The three-man delegation, chairman David Morgan, chief executive Tim Lamb and John Pickup, will also consult the Professional Cricketers’ Association. (AP)

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