The debate over July's tour of Zimbabwe by New Zealand rumbles on, but the chances of it taking place appear to have grown slimmer after comments from John Key, the prime minister.
Speaking on local television, Key said he was prepared to consider ordering the players not to go. At the time of New Zealand's previous tour in 2005, the then prime minister Helen Clark made clear her government's displeasure at the team visiting Zimbabwe but stopped short of actually stepping in to stop them.
"If we send our cricket team to Zimbabwe, we threaten their personal security and safety," Key said. "We threaten the risk that they might get cholera and we're sending then to a regime we don't support."
Unless the government did take such a step, New Zealand Cricket would face having to pay a penalty to the Zimbabwe board if it failed to honour its commitment, even though the country's ministry of foreign affairs and trade warns of an "extreme risk visiting Zimbabwe" and advises against all travel.
"We would stand to be in the gun for a US$2 million penalty as part of the ICC Future Tours Programme," warned NZC chief executive Justin Vaughan. "We have obligations to tour all the members of the ICC. Zimbabwe is one of those."
Key is unimpressed with the ICC's attitude. "You have to ask the question, 'Why would the ICC be fining New Zealand for not sending their cricket team to a country which is so dysfunctional that it is a high risk if our players go there?'," he asked.
It is unlikely the government would agree to pay the fine, as it would be passed on to Zimbabwe Cricket. The two most senior members of ZC, chairman Peter Chingoka and chief executive Ozias Bvute, are banned from entering Australasia because of their links to the Mugabe regime. So the only option if the government doesn't want the tour taking place would seem to be to ban the players from going, much as John Howard did with the Australian team in 2007.
Vaughan will meet with Murray McCully, the minister of foreign affairs, sports and recreation, later this month for further discussions
, while Key is expected to raise the issue at his next cabinet meeting.