The run-off presidential election is about to take place in Zimbabwe. After the opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out amid beatings and killings of his supporters, the winner will be President Robert Mugabe. There's been some grumbling from neighbouring governments in southern Africa, not happy at both the general embarrassment of Mugabe's behaviour and the amount of Zimbabwean refugees steadily heading across the area's borders. But any hope of a political solution still seems to rest with the 'quiet diplomacy' strategy of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki - a strategy that has been a spectacular failure.
It's difficult for Britain to put more pressure on Mugabe, because any intervention by the former colonial power feeds into the anti-British propaganda that he uses to help explain the country's dismal economic state to his people. However, something the British government did this week offers a clue to the way forward. Next year's cricket tour to England by the Zimbabwe team was called off. It's a small sporting sanction, but there's a bigger one the rest of the world can take to put the heat on South Africa.
Major nations around the world should threaten to take the 2010 football World Cup away from South Africa. It was sporting sanctions that played a significant role in undermining South Africa's apartheid government during the 1970s and 80s. Now, the threat of another one could be the blunt instrument needed to prod Mr Mbeki into forcing Mugabe into a political deal. Just as the Beijing Olympics will be for China, the 2010 World Cup's supposed to be the party that shows South Africa off to the world. It's a prize the South African government values more than anything else. It's the lever the world needs to pull, to try to end the killing in Zimbabwe.