| Demonstrations, on and off-field, marred the beginning of the England-Zimbabwe first Test. Carrying a banner reading Bowl Out Killer Mugabe, a woman was stopped from reaching the pitch and play was stopped briefly. (AFP)
London: A woman demonstrator, protesting against the Robert Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, ran onto the field at Lord’s just minutes after the first Test between England and the African country started on Thursday.
Carrying a banner reading “Bowl Out Killer Mugabe”, the woman was stopped from reaching the pitch and, while play stopped briefly, she was escorted from pitch by four stewards. She is now liable for prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.
British lawmakers joined protestors outside the home of English cricket and, before the match began, around two dozens protestors sang, whistled and held up placards behind a fence opposite the ornate Grace Gate.
As spectators entered the ground, a roofless traditional double-decker bus drove up and down the street outside Lord’s with a brass band, urging drivers to honk their horns in support.
Former sports minister Kate Hoey was one of eight lawmakers in the protest and one of 94 who signed a motion in the House of Commons on Tuesday against the tour. She handed out leaflets and black armbands to the suited spectators entering the ground. “I’m here like everybody else to show people we should not be playing this match while things are not normal in Zimbabwe,” Hoey said. Protest organiser Peter Tatchell, a long-time anti-Mugabe campaigner, warned demonstrators could disrupt the match. Extra police, including some on horseback, kept watch around the stadium and the nearby subway station.
“We have people on the inside who we hope will succeed in disrupting the match,” Tatchell said. “There cannot be normal sporting relations with an absolute regime that uses torture, rape and murder as weapons of political oppression.
“It’s also wrong that the England cricket board has agreed to play against a Zimbabwe side that has been politically vetted to exclude critics of the Mugabe regime.”
Theatre director Ben Evans stood outside the gates dressed in cricket whites and a white bandage around his head stained with red. “The England Cricket Board is compliant in human rights abuses,” he said. “Sport is about human beings, and in Zimbabwe it’s their rights which are being abused right now.”
Lawmaker Hugh Bayley said allowing Zimbabwe teams to tour England sent a negative message so soon after London decided to bid for the 2012 Olympics.
“If the British Olympic bid is to have any credibility at all, we have to avoid this kind of mistake by our sporting authorities,” he said. “Sport should not be tainted in this way.”
Hoey agreed the Zimbabwe tour could “have an influence” on international opinion of Britain in the lead up to Olympic bid.