IT is to our nation's eternal shame that an England cricket team will play a World Cup match in Zimbabwe next month.

The honour of hosting a major international sporting event should not be bestowed on a country wracked by repression and starvation, ruled by a merciless tyrant.

Do not overestimate the ability of Robert Mugabe's propaganda machine to exploit the occasion to its full potential.

The blame for such a state of affairs lies not with the England and Wales Cricket Board, but squarely with the British Government.

Remember this is a Government which came into power promising to have a foreign policy with an ethical dimension.

Government ministers afford an abhorrent regime like Mr Mugabe's the dignity of diplomatic links and membership of the Commonwealth, yet expect 15 professional sportsmen to make a sacrifice in the national interest.

To implore the ECB to do what the Government refuses to do, and without compensation, is not ethical. It is the height of hypocrisy.

There is, of course, a chance the Zimbabwe game will not go ahead if there are concerns about the safety of the England team and its entourage.

And it is to be expected that the Government will exploit this avenue to avoid further embarrassment.

But this cop-out must not be allowed to mask the Government's abject failure to make a principled stand on behalf of the repressed population of Zimbabwe.

Olympic fiasco

PLANS for this country to host the 2012 Olympics are dead in the water.

Only with the wholehearted support of Government and the British public does a bid stand a chance of being successful.

What hope can there be when we are dithering over whether to make a bid or not?

As the lone voice for sport in the Cabinet, Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell should be championing the case for the Olympics.

Instead, she insists that making a bid is in the balance because of the likely costs and the dread of failure.

Such lukewarm enthusiasm is not going to inspire those who will ultimately decide who will host the 2012 Games.