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ENGLAND’S one-day tour of Zimbabwe will go ahead despite the fact that 13 cricket correspondents, including those from the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and the BBC, were yesterday banned from the country by Robert Mugabe’s regime.

The England and Wales Cricket Board say they cannot abandon the tour, due to start on Friday, because otherwise they will face heavy penalties as the rules of the International Cricket Council do not cover media accreditation.

England captain Michael Vaughan last night condemned the decision not to accredit correspondents — those from The Times, The Sunday Times, News of the World, Sun and the Daily Mirror have also been barred from entry — just over 24 hours before they were scheduled to arrive in Harare.

“I think it’s totally wrong and I’m flabbergasted by the decision,” said Vaughan, just after his team had beaten Namibia in Windhoek in their second one-day game. “Whether you like the media or not, they have a huge role to play in the game. Through giving the game exposure and with TV rights they bring the game 60 per cent of its income.”

Vaughan, who might have missed the tour had he accepted Duncan Fletcher’s offer to rest him, said that though the trip would feel unnatural, his team were unlikely to withdraw.

“There’s something very wrong if our media can’t get in to cover a tour,” he said. “I don’t know how a cricket tour can be called a cricket tour when our media aren’t involved. I wouldn’t pull out because of it, but I’m in contact with Richard Bevan, the Professional Cricketers’ Association rep, asking for advice.”

Bevan, who arrives in Johannesburg today, was equally trenchant in his criticism. “We’re extremely disappointed in the decision to ban certain newspapers and broadcasters. It’s an unacceptable position for the game to be in,” he said. “I know there are significant discussions taking place but I’m not optimistic.”

David Morgan, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, who flew out to Harare last night said: “The fact that these 13 journalists have been refused entry doesn’t constitute the force majeure that will allow us to cancel our tour. This tour is being undertaken as part of the Future Tours Program of the ICC and that is silent on foreign media accreditation. In my judgment, refusal to grant accreditation is not acceptable non-compliance with the Future Tours Program. When I get to Harare I’ll try to find out why these journalists haven’t been allowed into the country and denied accreditation. I’ll do my utmost to get them accredited but the tour will go ahead.”

Morgan crafted his words with care, suggesting he had already been advised by lawyers. But there are high-level cricket sources who feel this is the time to take a firm moral stand with the Mugabe regime.

One of them said: “The ECB should tell the Mugabe regime and the ICC to go take a jump. It’s quite clear they have cherry-picked certain media organisations they feel are hostile to the regime, which has nothing to do with cricket. It doesn’t matter what the fine print of the Future Tours Program says. It’s entirely unacceptable that a country should go on a cricket tour and the hosts should dictate which cricket journalists of the visiting country can come in to report the tour, based not on cricketing considerations but wider political issues. This is very disturbing.”

Morgan only heard the news just after 2pm yesterday when Peter Chingoka, president of the Zimbabwean Cricket Union, rang him to say that an e-mail was on its way to the ECB telling him which journalists had been granted accreditation. Morgan asked him to tell him on the phone and as he drove from Wales to Heathrow he was told that of the 29 journalists who had applied 16 had been granted entry, leaving 13 outcasts.

The e-mail send by the ZCU’s rather inappropriately named media spokesman, Lovemore Banda, lists the names of the cricket journalists, their passport numbers and a word against each name. It is either Granted or Non Granted.

Last night there were a flurry of calls between Morgan, Chingoka and Ehsan Mani, president of the ICC, who said: “We’re seeking clarification. I’ve spoken to Peter, David and the Zimbabwean High Commissioner in London.”

Kate Hoey, the Labour MP who has been at the forefront of the campaign against the Mugabe regime, said, “The ECB and the Government should immediately call the team home. This is a time to show some moral courage and take a stand.”

© Mihir Bose

      

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