New Delhi:Zimbabwe looks set to suspend itself from the 2009 Twenty20 World Cup in England, but has retained its full-member status with the International Cricket Council.
The Zimbabwe Cricket delegation at the ICC annual conference will recommend to its board to withdraw from the tournament next June as it has become clear that England would not grant the team visas to compete, the sport's world governing body said on Friday.
"The Zimbabwe delegation has agreed to take this decision in the greater interest of world cricket and the ICC. This recommendation should be viewed as a one-off and will not be taken as a precedent," the ICC said in a statement.
The British government withdrew its invitation last week for Zimbabwe to tour next May in protest after President Robert Mugabe won a widely discredited election that was boycotted by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and marked by violence and voter intimidation. South Africa has also severed all cricketing ties with Zimbabwe.
Incoming ICC president David Morgan said Zimbabwe's status as a full-member of the ICC wasn't an issue for the board.
"The full membership of Zimbabwe is currently not in doubt," Morgan said. "There was not even a discussion on the issue of Zimbabwe's membership."
Zimbabwe Cricket, which will report back to the ICC in one month to relay its board's decision, won't suffer financially from the decision and will receive a participation fee like every competing team.
The Twenty20 tournament stands to earn a total 10 million pounds (US$20 million) for the ICC and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) with nearly 300,000 tickets sold, but it would have almost certainly have felt negative financial implications had Zimbabwe insisted on participating. Had England barred Zimbabwe from competing, the tournament would almost certainly have been shifted to another country.
Outgoing ICC president Ray Mali said the decision for Zimbabwe to step aside was the right one.
"Dealing with the Zimbabwe issue is my responsibility as the leader of this organization, and we had to resolve it and we have found a solution," Mali said. "Everyone in cricket stands to benefit from a tolerant decision. I think we could not jeopardize that tournament _ it had to go on."
The ICC has appointed a three-man committee that includes board members Arjuna Ranatunga of Sri Lanka and Dr. Julian Hunte of the West Indies to advise on when Zimbabwe can return to playing international cricket.
Zimbabwe last played test cricket in 2005 when it hosted India before withdrawing due its declining standard of play. The team has played one-day internationals intermittently, most recently in a five-match series at Pakistan in January and February.
Zimbabwe will ostensibly be withdrawing from international cricket for cricketing reasons, as any move to suspend or downgrade its ICC membership on political grounds was likely to be deemed unconstitutional.
Niranjan Shah, the secretary for the Board of Control for Cricket in India, said before the board meeting that India "would like to fully support Zimbabwe Cricket" in its retention of full ICC member status.
Zimbabwe retains its voting rights that have consistently sided with the four-nation subcontinental bloc, led by India, to form a bulwark against the other test-playing nations.
Morgan denied the ICC was divided on the issue of Zimbabwe, although he did acknowledge that there has not always been a uniformity of view on the board.
"I don't see it as a crack (in the ICC)," Morgan said. "It's not the first time the ICC has not been unanimous about anything and everything, but today this resolution received unanimous support, so talk about the ICC being divided is, with respect, a mistake."
British Culture Secretary Andy Burnham cited Mugabe's influence last week when he instructed the ECB to withdraw its invitation for Zimbabwe to tour in May 2009 to play two tests and three one-day internationals.
"One of the facts that weighed in my mind was you do have to consider the closeness of the cricket authorities in Zimbabwe with the Mugabe regime, that is a very important factor," Burnham told broadcaster the BBC.
Burnham decided against extending the ban to the Twenty20 World Cup as it likely would have resulted in the tournament being shifted to Canada, which has been lined up as a backup host, and could have jeopardized England's suitability to host other events, like the 2012 Olympics and the 2018 football World Cup.
If Zimbabwe returns to international cricket under the same political leadership and England still refuses to play it, Morgan said the English team won't necessarily be in breach of ICC rules.
"Given the instruction not to tour is an acceptable noncompliance within the regulations of the future tours program, so if the British government retains its current stance then England would not be permitted to tour Zimbabwe," he said. "But one would hope that situation will improve and I'm certain that if the conditions in Zimbabwe improve, then the British government will wish to review its position."
Chronology of the Zimbabwe cricket crisis:
Feb 10 - Zimbabwe players Andy Flower and Henry Olonga wear black armbands in their opening 2003 World Cup game against Namibia in Harare to protest against what they call "death of democracy" in their country.
Feb 13 - England's scheduled World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare is cancelled after England refuse to travel, citing safety concerns.
April 2 - Heath Streak's tenure as captain ends after he questions the composition of the selection panel. Tatenda Taibu, 20, is installed as the youngest international captain ever.
April 15 - Thirteen Zimbabwe players with 257 test caps between them go on strike.
April 25 - An inexperienced Zimbabwe team is dismissed for a world-record low 35 in a one-day international against Sri Lanka.
May 10 - The Zimbabwe Cricket Union (ZCU) fires the rebel players.
June 10 - The International Cricket Council (ICC) suspends Zimbabwe's remaining tests for 2004.
Sept 1 - Zimbabwe Cricket (formerly the ZCU) announces new, performance-based contracts for the squad, but the players reject them.
Nov 24 - Captain Taibu cuts all ties with Zimbabwean cricket, citing mismanagement by administrators, unhappiness with the new contracts and threats against him and his family.
Dec 5 - ZC chairman Peter Chingoka and managing director Ozias Bvute are arrested under the country's Exchange Control Act. They are held for two nights for questioning and released without charge.
Dec 22 - The Zimbabwe Professional Cricketers' Association announces "no player will train or avail himself for national duty", prompted by dissatisfaction with the "continued tenure" of Chingoka and Bvute, non-payment of salaries and transport issues.
Jan 6 - Zimbabwe's government takes over the running of cricket with officials saying they are prepared for any repercussions, including the possibility of the southern African nation losing its test status. Government installs a new interim ZC board, with Chingoka reinstated as chairman.
Jan 18 - The interim board decides to suspend Zimbabwe's participation in test matches until early 2007 on account of the poor performances of its teams.
May 31 - The ICC decides the team should not return to test matches until it shows it can perform at the required standard. Zimbabwe drop out of test rankings list in July.
March - An independent audit finds serious irregularities in the Zimbabwe board accounts. The ICC does not call for any sanction, decides there is no evidence of criminality and no individuals had gained financially.
April 25 - ICC's outgoing CEO, Australian Malcolm Speed, is asked to go on leave until his end of contract, indicating major differences among top officials over Zimbabwe.
June 23 - Cricket South Africa, traditional supporter of Zimbabwe, suspends domestic cricketing ties with its neighbour.
June 25 - The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) cancels Zimbabwe's 2009 tour of England and suspends all bilateral ties under instructions from the British government, amid rising violence over a controversial presidential election run-off.
July 4 - Zimbabwe Cricket agrees to pull out of next year's World Twenty20 in England, ending a deadlock in the governing body over calls to sanction the Zimbabwe board.