The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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England free to abandon tour of Zimbabwe
- ZCU can appeal to ICC if visitors pull out

England’s planned visit to Zimbabwe next October was looking doomed Tuesday after Ehsan Mani, president of the International Cricket Council (ICC), confirmed that the sport’s world governing body was unable to impose penalties on teams who pulled out of touring fixtures.

The ruling should free the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) to ditch their Zimbabwean commitments, which are likely to be unworkable in any case. Unless Robert Mugabe is removed from power over the next year, there is little chance that the same players who refused to fulfil their World Cup match in Harare will have a change of heart.

England have yet to work out a financial settlement with the ICC over that no-show in Harare on February 13. As things stand, £2 million of their share of World Cup income is still being withheld. But at an ICC summit in Dhaka Tuesday, Mani explained that such penalties did not apply to what he called “bilateral series”.

Assuming there is no change in Zimbabwe’s political situation, England could cite safety and security grounds for their non-attendance — just as they did, without success, during the World Cup. Once again, though, they are unlikely to get away scot-free.

ECB chairman David Morgan was forced to reaffirm his commitment to the series last spring, as Zimbabwe would otherwise have pulled out of their two-Test series in England in May. But if Michael Vaughan’s team should still fail to arrive in Harare next October, the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) could then appeal through the ICC’s disputes resolution process, just as Pakistan did when New Zealand pulled out of a tour there last year.

To take the chain of events one stage further, if the panel’s ruling went against England the ECB would probably find themselves being charged reparation, which would be calculated in accordance with television rights deals, ticket sales, catering and marketing costs. This could mount up to a substantial sum.

England’s team sponsor, Vodafone, are uneasy about the prospect of a Test series in Zimbabwe as their chairman, Lord MacLaurin, made clear six weeks ago.

MacLaurin, who was Morgan’s predecessor at the ECB, threatened that Vodafone might withdraw their £ 4 million annual sponsorship deal if England chose to play there.

Those looking for an encouraging precedent could turn to the case of Australia, who were due to visit Zimbabwe in April 2002. The tour was postponed indefinitely when John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, took a prominent role in Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth. The tour has been rescheduled for next May.

That series could prove an important litmus test for England’s players, whose concerns could be eased if Australia encounter no difficulties. But even that might not be enough to convince them of their safety.

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