Australia Bans Cricket Tour to Zimbabwe
Sunday, May 13, 2007; 12:45 AM
CANBERRA, Australia -- Prime Minister John Howard said Sunday the Australian government has banned the country's cricket team from touring Zimbabwe in September because he does not want to support the regime of a "grubby dictator."
Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. television that his foreign minister has written to the Cricket Australia organization, calling off the tour for the World Cup champions.
"We don't do this lightly, but we are convinced that for the tour to go ahead, there would be an enormous propaganda boost to the Mugabe regime," he said of Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe.
"The Mugabe regime is behaving like the Gestapo toward its political opponents. The living standards in the country are probably the lowest of any in the world, you have an absolutely unbelievable rate of inflation. I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead, it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator."
A spokesman for Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia, Stephen Chiketa, said Chiketa would not be available to comment on the Australian decision until Monday.
On Friday, Chiketa said cancellation of the tour would only hurt children in his country.
"You have young players in Zimbabwe who want to emulate great cricket players in Australia," Chiketa told Australia's Seven television network. "Take your politics somewhere else."
Mugabe, 83, has ruled Zimbabwe since it gained independence from Britain in 1980. He has been criticized by the West and domestic opponents for repression, corruption, acute food shortages and gross economic mismanagement that has driven inflation above 2,000 percent _ the highest in the world. Mugabe has acknowledged that police used violent methods against opposition supporters.
Critics say Mugabe drove the agriculture-based economy into ruin since the government violently seized white-owned commercial farms in 2000 as part of a program to redistribute land to poor blacks.
On Friday, Howard called for the International Cricket Council to cancel the tour, reiterating that the three one-day matches planned would give Mugabe a moral victory. The Australian government then said it was investigating legal ways to cancel the tour without Australia incurring a $2 million fine from international cricket authorities.
Cricket Australia said it might try to play the three matches at a neutral venue.
Howard said the legal basis of the government's decision was solid.