Politics January 8, 2008

ICC's giant stride towards irrelevance

The process of South Asian, and especially Indian rule, in international cricket has taken some time to reach a conclusion, but it has today with the removal of Steve Bucknor

If historians ever want to mark the period when power in cricket shifted to South Asia then this is it. Just over a year ago Pakistan clashed with Darrell Hair, now India have done battle with umpire and match referee. Both Test matches might have been lost by the complainant but they recorded landmark off-field victories.

Any Pakistan fan will have considerable empathy with the plight of Indians. They believe their team to be victims of fundamental injustices and they are unwilling to tolerate a slur on their reputation. Pride matters more than the result.

Yet there are two issues we must not forget in the mayhem.

First, while it might be almost impossible to judge the veracity of the charge against Harbhajan Singh--is one man's word better than the other's?--calling a fellow cricketer a "monkey" goes way beyond sledging. It is a racist term and cannot be excused. I'm afraid that South Asians are as likely to be as racist as any another population group. It is a sad fact and we must accept it and condemn it. My sincere hope is that Harbhajan was misheard. An appeal seems a fair resolution at this stage.

Second, removing Steve Bucknor from the Perth Test is a crushing defeat for the ICC. Umpires make mistakes. If we strive for perfection then all decisions should be deferred to and made in consultation with the third umpire. If we value the unpredictability of human error in cricket then we must point out but tolerate Bucknor's errors. Either way, Bucknor did not force a Test match to be abandoned--Hair's failing--he is the latest in a long line of umpires to have inadvertently encouraged a result. Either way, ICC has set a worrying precedent by bowing to Indian pressure.

The process of South Asian, and especially Indian, rule in international cricket has taken some time to reach a conclusion but it has today. Just as the days of English and Australian governance of cricket called out for some balancing power, the dominance of the South Asians requires a similar counterweight.

This week's events are lamentable for any overtones of racism, just as they are lamentable for any overtones of corporate bullying. My greatest regret, however, is that the ICC has failed to develop systems of governance that prevent the hegemonic rule of one or two powers. In this the ICC is replicating the failings of almost every known international organisation. It is a giant stride towards irrelevance.

Kamran Abbasi is an editor, writer and broadcaster. He tweets here