Politics October 18, 2010

Punish Ijaz Butt not Pakistan cricket

The ICC has demanded that Pakistan cricket put its house in order

The ICC has demanded that Pakistan cricket put its house in order. Reform or be expelled is the cry. For any ardent ICC observers this is a shocking statement simply because the ICC is a serial coward when it comes to confronting its member boards. For Pakistan cricket fans the shock is that their team could be expelled from international cricket. Amidst this catalogue of revelations, the least shocking is that Pakistan's cricket board is in a certified mess. I say cricket board, because this week's Twenty20 domestic tournament played out in front of packed houses, has shown that the thrill of Pakistan cricket is still alive.

For once, ICC's statement is unusually clear. It will take strong action to stamp out corruption, and the PCB is clearly singled out as the number one basket case. I welcome a strong stance on corruption from ICC even though it seems like too little too late. I welcome the ICC's censuring of a dysfunctional cricket board even though it happens to be the PCB. Yet there are major issues that the ICC must address.

The PCB is an easy target, isolated and friendless in international cricket. Would the ICC have taken a more powerful member to task in similar fashion? Let us hope so and a precedent has been established but how will ICC behave if India, for example, were to bring cricket into disrepute?

Further, even Pakistan fans might argue that the ICC has not gone far enough. On what basis is Ijaz Butt still at the board table following his outrageous slander and humiliating apology directed at a fellow member state? And here lies my difficulty with the whole issue, should one man's ineptitude be allowed to destroy a country's cricket?

Indeed, who does Mr Butt represent? Does he really represent Pakistan cricket? On a constitutional level, Mr Butt represents the president of Pakistan, the right honourable Mr Asif Zardari. He was neither elected by plebiscite, nor promoted though merit. He does not represent Pakistan cricket assocations because there is no process other than imposition by the head of state.

At a pragmatic level, Mr Butt speaks for himself and runs the board like a dictatorship. Many of the greatest players in the history of Pakistan cricket consider his tenure to be the worst in the history of Pakistan cricket - and this is a mild account of what they have told me personally.

It is not just Mr Butt's damaging strategies and statements that cause concern but he also brazenly overrules everybody that he appoints. For example, the selection panel does not finally select any squad, Mr Butt does. Selectors have resigned thanks to his interference. What qualifies Mr Butt for this monstrous abuse of power other than the patronage of the president? Mr Butt and his PCB cronies do not represent Pakistan cricket, the PCB has become a politically aggrandised cabal of self-interest and limited vision.

At an emotional level, Mr Butt does not speak for the majority of Pakistan fans. He lost us at the first mumbled hello. He doesn't speak for Pakistan fans on the street or on internet forums. He doesn't speak for me or for the vast majority of supporters who follow this blog or exchange views with me on Twitter. His support is non-existent in the Pakistani media and the Pakistani parliamentary sports committee.

So what does Mr Butt represent? He certainly does represent all that is worst in politicised cricket adminstration. Ultimately, though, Mr Butt represents nobody but himself and his president. That being the case, surely the ICC should take personal action againt Mr Butt rather than punish Pakistan cricket? Why should millions of people suffer for one man's maladministration?

Apart from barring Mr Butt from holding office in cricket adminstration, the ICC must begin to reform all cricket boards that are run on a political basis. If FIFA can do it, why not the ICC? For all its talk of well-meaning task forces and integrity, the ICC has failed to take the boldest possible steps to protect the future of international cricket. At the same time, it could have rid Pakistan cricket of its permanently pressed self-destruct button.

The PCB has been put on notice in no uncertain terms but the Pakistan Task Force is a hostage to the whims of the president of Pakistan and his political motivations. The ICC's actions are full of intent but not strong enough. Worst of all, Mr Butt's name is conspicous by its absence from last week's ICC statement. Pakistan cricket is being murdered and Mr Butt is slipping into the shadows.

Yes, Pakistan cricket requires reform, and root and branch reform at that, Pakistan cricket requires all the help it can get, but it is Mr Butt who requires punishment.

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