Brown could bar Zimbabwe cricketers

Gordon Brown could step up his opposition to Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe by preventing the African nation’s cricketers from touring England next year.

A Downing Street spokesperson admitted the government would have to address the issue after the Sun newspaper quoted a government insider claiming the Zimbabweans would be prevented from playing cricket in 2009.

“I think that it’s very early to be making these sorts of decisions,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.

“We obviously will need to discuss this with the English Cricket Board closer to the time. A decision will have to be made about this at some point but we are not at that point at the moment.”

Gordon Brown has taken a strong stance against Mr Mugabe’s leadership since becoming prime minister last year. Last month he boycotted a summit of European and African leaders because of Mr Mugabe’s attendance.

Intervention in the sporting calendar was shied away from by his predecessor Tony Blair. In 2003 prolonged angst over whether a scheduled World Cup match in Harare should go ahead prompted the government to say it was not empowered to order a match cancellation.

According to the Sun’s source Whitehall officials now believe “no one should sit on the fence when it comes to Zimbabwe”.

“We can’t pretend it’s not a matter for government a moment longer. it is quite clearly our responsibility to stand up and be counted.”

One argument used during the 2003 furore was that the ECB faced sweeping fines if it refused to play fixtures. Now Zimbabwe’s Test status has been rescinded such penalties would not be imposed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the sport’s global governing body.

Shadow foreign minister David Liddington said yesterday the government should have made the decision to act against Zimbabwe sooner.

“While I support this latest development, Gordon Brown’s new tough stance against Mugabe has come far too late,” he said.

“The government has allowed Mugabe’s regime to carry on unchallenged for too long and should have taken measures like these sooner.”

Zimbabwe’s economy has contracted by 40 per cent in the last ten years and hyperinflation is now endemic following Mr Mugabe’s land reforms.