The late Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was blocked from joining the MCC because John Major feared setting a ‘dodgy precedent’, newly released archives have revealed.
According to the British online publication Daily Mail, the prime minister said that if the Zimbabwean despot was allowed honorary membership of the prestigious cricket club other members ‘won’t like it’.
Mr Major, later Sir John, a huge cricket fan, made his comments on a handwritten note on a Downing Street briefing paper.
The archives show that the Foreign Office wrote to him shortly before Mugabe’s state visit in 1994 asking him to bestow a gift on the president.
The letter says making him a member of the Marylebone Cricket Club at Lord’s would be an ‘appropriate gesture’ because the pair ‘established a rapport’ when Mr Major played in a match during a Commonwealth meeting in Harare in 1991.
The following year Zimbabwe returned to Test cricket.
The memo notes how ‘others involved… were not so supportive’, in part because Mugabe ‘had not played a significant part in the resurgence of Zimbabwe cricket’.
A reply from a Downing Street official said ‘it does not seem worth persuading a reluctant MCC’.
Mr Major wrote: ‘I’d leave it. Many MCC members won’t like it + it is a dodgy precedent.’
The archives have also revealed how Mr Major was invited to Barbados in 1996 to bowl the first ball of the Sir Garfield Sobers International Schools Cricket Tournament.
Whether the invitation from Barbadian prime minister Owen Arthur was dispatched with the expectation of an established front-order batsman assuredly guiding one towards the boundary, or with the hit-and-hope logic of a tail-ender optimistically spanking it with eyes firmly closed, the invitation at least got a response.
‘Few things would have given me more pleasure than to bowl the first ball and take the opportunity for a holiday in Barbados with Norma,’ Mr Major said of the prospect of tacking a few days with his wife on to the engagement.
‘It is correspondingly painful to have to tell you that I will simply not be able to manage it. July is a particularly busy time for me and it is impossible to get away.
‘I am nevertheless enormously grateful for your kind invitation.’
The official letter, released by the National Archives, Kew, also reveals a handwritten note from Sir John to his Caribbean counterpart declaring his apparent sadness at missing out.
‘Oh, how sad!’ he wrote.
‘I would have loved to come – I’d love to see Barbados (and cricket) and one day I will!’
Mugabe died in 2019 aged 95 after he served as President for 38 years.