Thailand November 23, 2007

Thailand board fails accountability test

It's a year since the Cricket Association of Thailand held its last election

It's a year since the Cricket Association of Thailand held its last election. In the intervening period Thai cricket has been blighted by an internal dispute which has done serious harm to the standing of the game both inside and outside the country.

On November 9, 2006 the CAT's AGM took place in Bangkok. When it came to election of officers, there were two candidates for chairman. One was Ravi Seghal, the incumbent, the other was Vaughan McClear, an Australian national and a long standing vice president and adminstrator. A secret ballot of the 13 constituent clubs was held and McClear emerged the winner by eight votes to five. It was not an unexpected result as Sehgal's methods were not universally popular. The rest of the meeting proceeded normally and after less than two hours the AGM concluded.

But Seghal was not prepared to go quietly. On November 14 the Sports Authority of Thailand (SAT) sent a letter to the Asian Cricket Council in which it advised that it had appointed a brand new committee to run the CAT. It was ostensibly a purge of all foreign nationals, which included McClear. His replacement as chairman was Seghal. It later emerged that this committee had been appointed six weeks earlier but nobody had seen fit to mention it.

Everyone was astounded. At no stage in the past had this been raised as an issue, but within days of Sehgal's ousting the SAT had stepped in. What's more, the ACC seemed eager to accept what they had been told. McClear was sent a remarkable email by the ACC's chief executive Syed Ashraful Huq in which he signed off: "We sincerely hope that you will continue to help and support the development of cricket in Thailand as you have done so admirably and actively in the past."

The issues were twofold. One was that not only had the democratic process been completely ignored - there was not even a question of there being a fresh election with Thai-only candidates - but also that many of those on the SAT list had few or no cricket credentials.

McClear and those who backed him tried to find a compromise solution but the SAT backed Seghal to the hilt, as did Huq. His committee were all from one club - Seghal's - and what angered people more was that letters, which critics insist were back-dated, were produced to back Seghal's position. What those letters stated was that the president of the CAT had to be a Thai national. That was of little consequence as McClear was not standing for that post. But what it did was to allow the president - General Suebsant Trantranont - to appoint his own board.

What was of real concern was why Seghal had not mentioned any of this before the meeting on November 9. It appears that he had hoped to win the election, but when he did not then he resorted to his back-up plan. Quite why the ACC was so eager to support Seghal was equally strange.

One stakeholder told Cricinfo: "No one knows 99% of the people on the new committee, and this committee knows nothing about cricket or cricket in Thailand . They are not even a real committee since they have been shoe-horned into existence."

So what has Sehgal's band of brothers done in the last year. The answer is not much other than to try to eliminate all opposition. His version of the CAT decided that it did not want McClear running the local cricket league, and so it launched with a new league and have took steps to seize control of all the cricket grounds in Bangkok so that McClear could not run the Bangkok Cricket League as there were no available venues.

To do this it entered a contract with Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) for control of its ground. The CAT is paying AIT a monthly fee and in return the institute is supposed to provide groundsmen to maintain the facility. But the turf wicket built by the CAT at AIT is completely useless, and has been since last January when all maintenance was stopped. The artificial wicket that was paid for by the local league teams is still in good order and was used extensively last season.

It is estimated the CAT receives around US$130,000 from the ICC and ACC. This money should be spent on the development of cricket for the benefit of all, but how it is actually spent is unclear, and with the committee now an effective closed shop, it is less certain if anyone will be able to find out.

Sehgal counters that he has been running cricket in Thailand for over 20 years now, and he has done a fantastic job, so he should keep going. The reality is that there are now fewer people playing, fewer grounds, no sponsors, and the national team goes from bad to worse. There is also the fact that he appears to have taken charge in what amounts to a coup and to be running a completely undemocratic body. The website has been taken down and emails go unanswered.

The ACC is unlikely to do anything as it has a friendly, some might say too cosy, relationship with Seghal. The only hope the stakeholders have is that the ICC might sit up and take notice, as it has done in the USA where another dysfunctional board is in place. Until then, Seghal appears set to carry on regardless.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa