The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Form a govt body to decide on Zimbabwe

When the ICC made its decision on Zimbabwe and the World Cup, announcing that it was safe to go there, some people said that it was now up to the players to decide whether it was right.

My reaction was that this was faintly ridiculous. Going to Zimbabwe is a moral issue, and a very important one, and it is not up to cricketers but to government politicians to make the decision.

I’m not naive and I have been to Zimbabwe before, but this decision is not one that I, as England captain, am in a position to evaluate in sufficient depth.

We are currently involved in the toughest Test series I have ever known, with the Melbourne and Sydney Tests back-to-back, and we are halfway through a one-day series involving Australia and Sri Lanka. We also have a World Cup party of 15 to name by Tuesday and an injury list that seems to grow longer by the day, the latest casualty being Craig White.

In these circumstances it is, yes, faintly ridiculous to suppose that the England captain and management have the time to sit down, watch CNN and BBC World, and come to the informed moral judgement which it is necessary to make about going to Zimbabwe.

In fact it is asking a lot of all cricketers — who spend their time in dressing-rooms and hotels, completely insulated and spoilt — to make such a complicated decision. Some of the players in our World Cup party, when we can get around to naming one, will be young lads who have never been to Zimbabwe before.

In my opinion, therefore, the government should set up a sporting body of some sort — above the ECB and the ICC — to make this moral decision about Zimbabwe on our behalf, and we will then happily abide by it.

Robert Mugabe is a major world leader. A few years ago I was a lad playing cricket for Ilford 2nd XI, and now I’m expected to make a political judgement on whether or not I should lead the England team to Zimbabwe and perhaps shake the Zimbabwe President by the hand. It must be right that the decision is made at a higher level than sport, by a government body.

Even if it means that England will forfeit points by not playing in Zimbabwe, that would be willingly done if the government believes it right that England should not play. Cricket, and qualifying for the Super Six stage of the World Cup, comes a long way down the list of what is important, especially compared with people starving.

Such a government body was needed last winter, it is needed now and it will be needed again as there are sure to be similar situations which come up in future. Last winter we had a different but equally difficult decision to make about going to India in the wake of September 11.

Young players like James Foster and Richard Dawson, who had never been to India, were suddenly expected to decide whether the country was safe. We made the right decision to go, thankfully, but it is asking a lot of cricketers to keep on making such complicated judgements.

Such a government body could advise all sporting teams on whether it is morally acceptable to go and play in certain places.

We would then have consistency and we would know the decision is being made for the right reasons. When the ICC made their decision that it would be safe for teams to go and play in Zimbabwe, they obviously had to take financial considerations into account.

Safety is not the main issue at all. I’ve toured Zimbabwe three times — for a two-Test tour in Zimbabwe in 1995-96, for a one-day series after our tour of South Africa in 1999-2000, and last autumn for a five-match series of one-day Internationals — and I have never once felt threatened.

This time it would appear to be different as it is a World Cup, not just a series between Zimbabwe and England.

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