Key stands firm over Zimbabwe tour

By Lincoln Tan

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The Government is unlikely to agree to the Zimbabwean Sports Minister's request to let the Black Caps cricket side tour there in July, says Prime Minister John Key.

"We are considering the options available to the Government, but in our view, Zimbabwe represents a significant risk for the Black Caps," he said yesterday.

David Coltart, appointed Sports Minister when his Movement for Democratic Change leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, became Prime Minister in the new coalition Government, said he would vigorously lobby the New Zealand Government to let the team tour.

Mr Coltart said New Zealand had an obligation to tour, and if needed he would travel here to persuade the Government.

"My call to the New Zealanders is clear and unequivocal. People have to give this coalition Government a chance, and that applies to all levels, cricket included."

But Mr Key said he doubted if Mr Coltart could even come to New Zealand, because of international sanctions against the regime of President Robert Mugabe.

The Prime Minister has said he is prepared to order the Black Caps not to tour Zimbabwe on safety and health grounds. The team should also boycott the country on moral grounds.

"We don't support that regime. We don't support what is happening in that country, and we don't want to give a signal that we do."

But Mr Coltart said the tour was in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe and its cricketers and could help to promote positive change.

"I am not turning a blind eye to the inadequacies in our cricket and our country. My call must not be interpreted that way. My call is in the interest of the public, the players and cricket in Zimbabwe. My call is in terms of sportsmanship," said Mr Coltart, a white elected senator from Bulawayo.

He was confident the unity Government would bring political improvements.

"We will look at the wider political issues seriously. My wish is that by the time they [New Zealand] are scheduled to come in July, these issues would have been addressed."

The Black Caps toured Zimbabwe in 2005 despite public comments from the Prime Minister at the time, Helen Clark, that she did not want the trip to go ahead. She stopped short of barring the team from going. In 2007, John Howard banned the Australian cricket side from travelling to Zimbabwe.

- ADDITIONAL REPORTING: AP

- NZ Herald

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