Cape Town: England’s hopes of switching their World Cup match away from strife-torn Zimbabwe were hanging by a thread on Thursday after tournament organisers rejected their official request.
The tournament’s technical committee, meeting just two days before the World Cup launch, refused to move the February 13 game from Harare despite England’s concerns over political and social unrest in the country.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), who made a submission to the committee before the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU), and three security experts were heard. The board has one last right of appeal.
The controversy-plagued tournament, the most ambitious ever staged by the sport, is due to start with an Olympic-style opening ceremony on Saturday followed by the first match between main hosts South Africa and West Indies on Sunday.
The long-running row between England and Zimbabwe, however — echoed by New Zealand’s refusal to play in Kenya and Australia’s worries over travelling to Bulawayo — is likely to end with England appealing against the decision to a judge.
Under tournament rules, they have three hours to lodge that appeal which could be heard on Friday in Cape Town.
The appeal could be made to two of the independent commissioners, Justice Albie Sachs of South Africa or Justice Richard Otieno Kwach of Kenya, sitting alone. The third commissioner Justice Ahmed Ebrahim of Zimbabwe, a former ICC Match Referee, will not be called upon because his country is involved in the dispute.
ECB chief executive Tim Lamb said: “We are very disappointed. We are in the process of preparing our appeal.”
If England lose, they are likely to forfeit the match — as well as facing demands for millions of dollars in compensation — which would be a major blow to their chances of reaching the second round.
The Zimbabwe issue has simmered since December, when British government ministers urged the England team to boycott the Harare match.
Britain accuses Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe of rigging his re-election last year and compounding a food crisis by seizing white-owned farms.
Meanwhile, South Africa President Thabo Mbeki has echoed calls made last week by his predecessor Nelson Mandela, saying that England and New Zealand should play World Cup matches in Zimbabwe and Kenya as scheduled.
“I think (Mandela’s) right,” Mbeki said at Tuinhuis, his official residence in Cape Town, after being presented to the South Africa team. Naturally we have been quite involved in the build-up to the games in Zimbabwe and Kenya, particularly in matters relating to security.
“We are satisfied with the security of the matches in both countries, and also with the security of the players. We fully support the decision of the ICC that security concerns in both Zimbabwe and Kenya have been resolved.”
“When people say that it’s for security reasons they don’t want to go (to Zimbabwe and Kenya), we just don’t understand,” added Mbeki.
“When we say here are professionals who have dealt with the (security) matter, we then add please say what the problems is.
“(Former) President Mandela was perfectly correct to say the games should go ahead and the response from the ZCU is understandable.”
The ZCU on Wednesday upped the stakes by announcing that it would refuse to play if the February 13 game is moved to South Africa, the tournament’s main host.
Mbeki said he had been briefed by the ICC’s Safety Committee, who had visited Kenya to assess whether the country had addressed earlier safety concerns. He added that South Africa would lend support to Kenya in the form of air surveillance as well as deploying members of the South African police.
On a lighter note, Mbeki expressed confidence that South Africa could become the first host team to win the World Cup.
“We have a great confidence in this team and the people have a great love for you,” he said, after being presented to captain Shaun Pollock and his team mates. “I hope they will support you as you progress to the final, which we will win.”
Co-hosts heads not invited
The heads of Zimbabwe and Kenya will be absent at the opening ceremony in Cape Town on Saturday as they have not been invited by the ICC.
ICC revealed that they had invited neither Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe nor Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki to attend the mega spectacle, the Daily News reported on Thursday.