Zimbabwe sports minister urges New Zealand to tour

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) – Zimbabwe's new sports minister, David Coltart, said Friday the New Zealand cricket team has an obligation to tour the troubled African country in July.\r\n

Movement for Democratic Change member Coltart, a white elected senator from Bulawayo, said he would vigorously lobby the New Zealand government to allow the team to tour.

My call to the New Zealanders is clear and unequivocal,» Coltart told The Associated Press. «People have to give this coalition government a chance, and that applies to all levels, cricket

included. I would like to see the New Zealand team touring Zimbabwe. If it need be I will go to New Zealand to persuade them to come.

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said earlier this week he was prepared to order the players not to tour Zimbabwe on safety and health

grounds and had previously said the team should boycott the tour on moral grounds.
I’d be deeply sceptical about whether they would be going,» Key said. «We don’t support that regime. We don’t support what’s happening in that country, and we don’t want to give a signal that we do.

But Coltart, who became sports minister as part of the new coalition government which has MDC leader Morgan Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister, said the tour was in the best interests of the people of Zimbabwe and its cricketers and could help promote positive change in the country.

I am not turning a blind eye to the inadequacies in our cricket and our country, Coltart said. 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.

However, Coltart conceded that political repression in the country made it difficult for touring teams to come.
It also applies to the broader context of political sanctions. We need to build measures. For as long as people are in detention it’s hard to lift sanctions, he said. The same applies to cricket. For as long as there are concerns in the game here then my words will fall on deaf ears. If the whole political situation has not changed it will be hard for them to come.

He said he was confident that the new unity government would lead to improvements in the political situation.
«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, Coltart said.

After nearly 30 years of one party rule by President Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, Zimbabwe’s economy has collapsed, with a widening cholera epidemic and spiraling prices.

Last year, official inflation based on the tumbling local Zimbabwe dollar was given at 231 million percent but the state statistics office is no longer able to calculate the inflation rate because of acute shortages of gasoline, food and most goods.