28 DECEMBER 2002, Page 55

No go Zimbabwe

Michael Henderson

THEY were drowning cattle in the rivers of Zimbabwe last week. It makes a change, I suppose, from slaying humans. White farmers being responsible for all the evils visited upon that country (and we need not argue about that, we are all good liberals now), they must face the consequences of their negligence, their bigotry, their whiteness. Isn't it grand to belong to the human race?

Now, here's the really hard bit. Our cricketers are supposed to be going to that sad land in February to take part in the World Cup. If you don't feel ashamed by that prospect, you may never. Nobody should be going anywhere near Zimbabwe at present, and certainly no sportsmen. Just think: the country is being run down, deliberately, by a genocidal crackpot, and people at Lord's are thinking about their team's prospects of making the quarterfinals. What a disgraceful, lily-livered bunch of buttock-tremblers. Let's try to be fair to the International Cricket Council, the game's governing body. They evidently hold the game to be above politics — except, of course, that was not the case when South Africa were thrown out of that confederation three decades ago. The sad truth is, as we have discovered in so many ways since, that they despise the treatment of black people by overtly racist regimes, unless it is black people who are guilty of suppression, as is the case in Zimbabwe.

But England are not bound by the ICC. The England and Wales Cricket Board can say, freely, 'There are some games we will not play.' Has anybody heard them say that? Who cares if England forfeit their match in Zimbabwe, and fail to qualify for the Super Sixes? There is a chance here to make an unequivocal point on behalf of the human race, but Lord's is all a-quiver at the prospect of upsetting the cricket community.

Go on, upset them! For once, do something brave. It's not as if England are going to set the world on fire and, even if they were, the response should still be the same. There are, however hard the ECB bigwigs try to deny it, more important things in the

world than sport. Here is a wonderful opportunity to tell the murderer Mugabe what the world thinks of him, and all Tim Lamb and his pals can do is gawp at each other.

Get off your knees, you little men. Come out now and declare that England will not play cricket in Zimbabwe until it is a fit place for people to live. And don't give us that bullshit about taking advice from the government. Courage, mes braves! Dare to choose 'the road not taken'. English cricket is not, as some dullards would have you believe, run by 'racists'.

MCC, to its great credit, declined to send teams to South Africa in the Republic's wilderness years. Although critics sometimes ignore that gesture, it remains true, and the club is entitled to think that, on the whole, it did the right thing. Now there is a chance for the ECB to do the right thing, too.

One does not expect brave gestures from Salopians, but Lamb could now honour the game he played and which now, as chief executive of the ECB, he represents. Call off the visit, Tim. If you don't, people will call for your head on a plate. Should England go there two months from now, you will be taken either for a fool or for a knave. It's entirely up to you.