For several weeks now the Australian Government has made it clear that it was not in favour of the national cricket team going to Zimbabwe for a one-day series in September.
The Prime Minister yesterday put the issue beyond doubt and banned the tour, the first such Government sanction in this country. The Fraser Government tried and failed in 1980 to pressure the Australian Olympic team into boycotting the Moscow Olympics, and sporting boycotts of South Africa in the apartheid era were not government-directed.
The Government of Zimbabwe has now struck back with the Ambassador claiming the decision was racist and akin to Hitler refusing to shake the hand of champion black athlete Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics.
Mark Bannerman examines why John Howard has targeted Zimbabwe to set such a precedent.
MARK BANNERMAN: We've been told often enough that sport and politics should not be mixed.
But yesterday morning John Howard, clearly unable to ignore images like this any longer, turned that orthodoxy on its head.
JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: Well the Government through the Foreign Minister has written to the organisation, to Cricket Australia, instructing that the tour will not go ahead.
MARK BANNERMAN: Explaining his decision to ban the Australian cricket team's tour to Zimbabwe, the Prime Minster was not mincing words.
JOHN HOWARD: The Mugabe regime at present is behaving like the Gestapo towards its political opponents, and I have no doubt that if this tour goes ahead, it will be an enormous boost to this grubby dictator.
MARK BANNERMAN: This decision is without precedent, and understandably, it drew immediate reaction.
JAMES SUTHERLAND, CRICKET AUSTRALIA: Issues around foreign policy should be and should rest in the hands of Government. We are a cricketing organisation, whose responsibility and expertise is in managing cricket matches.
MARK BANNERMAN: In Zimbabwe, Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai was deeply thankful.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI, ZIMBABWE OPPOSITION LEADER: I think it's a positive step, it will put the Zimbabwean crisis in the international arena. It is not escaping the focus of the international community.
MARK BANNERMAN: But others doubt this will have any effect on President Robert Mugabe. And they include former Zimbabwean cricketer, Brian Davison.
BRIAN DAVISON, FORMER ZIMBABWEAN CRICKETER: I don't think it's going to achieve anything, really, because the bottom line is he is the man, he is the despot, the dictator, who in fact is holding Zimbabwe to ransom.
MARK BANNERMAN: What do you think are the implications of this kind of decision for the cricket world generally?
JIM MAXWELL, ABC CRICKET COMMENTATOR: Well I think it's for the sporting world actually. I mean does that mean that all of a sudden if the Australian Government thinks that perhaps China's not the place to be because of their human rights violations, or North Korea, that we don't send our team to the Olympics? Or our women's soccer team to play in a tournament in North Korea?
It's an interesting situation, and one worth watching.
MARK BANNERMAN: The question is, why did the Prime Minister act so decisively on this particular issue? And is he justified in doing it?
GIDEON HAIG, CRICKET WRITER: I'm pretty satisfied with it. I've felt for a long time that we should have no business with Zimbabwe, and I think there's a strong argument to suggest that Zimbabwe Cricket, the national governing body in that country, is an organisation with whom Cricket Australia should not have reciprocal obligations.
MARK BANNERMAN: Gideon Haig is a respected cricket writer and investigative journalist. He's been keeping a close eye on Zimbabwean cricket and the way it's run.
GIDEON HAIG: Zimbabwe cricket's experience has been the experience of Zimbabwe, which is increasing and increasingly thuggish State control at all levels of life.
MARK BANNERMAN: In 2003, two senior Zimbabwean players wore black arm bands to protest the Mugabe regime. Not only were they sacked from the team, both were forced to flee the country. There was worse to come.
GIDEON HAIG: The Sport and Recreation Commission of the Mugabe government moved into Zimbabwe Cricket in January 2006. They essentially dissolved the provincial bodies that had been unwilling to meet with the national governing body and basically reproduced the whole provincial structure of Zimbabwean cricket with individuals who are more amenable to the Government.
MARK BANNERMAN: If this is true, there is another question: why has Robert Mugabe and his Government been so keen to take over the running of cricket in that country?
Well, Gideon Haig has a pretty fair idea.
GIDEON HAIG: The fact is that cricket is one of the few parts of Zimbabwean life where you can still get access to foreign currency and US denominated currency. Zimbabwe receives large amounts of money from the ICC for its involvement in events such as the Champions Trophy and the World Cup.
I would be very interested to know how much of that money is getting back to the grassroots of Zimbabwean cricket, given that in Zimbabwe, grassroots are something that you eat.
MARK BANNERMAN: Is it appropriate that the ICC has let Zimbabwean cricket get to this point, where it could be considered in some areas a bit of a joke?
JIM MAXWELL: It's a very difficult situation for them. On the one hand they want the game to develop, but on the other they want to make sure that the game has credibility.
On the score of credibility, they probably should be suspended from One-Day Cricket as well as being out of Test Match Cricket. But with the politics that's at play when the ICC sit down to discuss these matters it's probably unlikely that that suspension is going to take place unless somehow Zimbabwe voluntarily withdrew themselves from One Day Cricket as with Test Match Cricket.
MARK BANNERMAN: In light of all this, you might have thought Cricket Australia would let the matter go, but it seems it still wants to play Zimbabwe.
JAMES SUTHERLAND, CRICKET AUSTRALIA: We need to explore both with Government and with Zimbabwe cricket the possibilities of playing the scheduled matches in a neutral venue.
BRIAN DAVISON: I think that would be a fair compromise.
MARK BANNERMAN: But late today the Zimbabwean Ambassador in Australia put an end to this kind of speculation.
STEPHEN CHIKETA, ZIMBABWE AMBASSADOR: You can't come and play us in Zimbabwe, why should you go and play us outside?
MARK BANNERMAN: For some this might be a cause for regret. Not for cricket commentator, Jim Maxwell.
JIM MAXWELL: I think the same thing still applies. That is, the series is not worth playing because it won't be a contest and given the current condition of Zimbabwean cricket, I don't think it's going to do much to help them to be thrashed by the Australian team. So I don't think it's got much going for it.
Longer term, it will be interesting to see what happens when Zimbabwe adieu to come to Australia and whether or not we'll welcome them.
MARK BANNERMAN: It's an interesting question indeed but while Robert Mugabe remains leader in Zimbabwe, that seems highly unlikely.