The Woolf review February 2, 2012

ICC must address conflicts of interest - Woolf report

Conflicts of interest at the ICC board level must, in the words of the Woolf Report, be "declared, assessed and addressed" to end years of decision-making that have been affected by back-room dealings and little transparency.

The report devotes considerable time to the matter of ethics, painting a grim picture of the ICC board's ethical practices and knowledge of how best to conduct its business. Conflicts abound, whether they be those inherent in representing the ICC and the board member's own country at the same time, or ones related to commercial links or dealings between nations.

"Some of those interviewed complained of a lack of openness and transparent behaviour where conflicts of interest, particularly at director level, could occur. They were left in doubt as to whether Member Boards' interests were promoted over the ICC's interests," the report said. "Due to the lack of disclosure, remarkably, no person interviewed could recall, for example, a situation where a conflict of interest was disclosed and the Director concerned excused himself and abstained from voting on a particular issue.

"Given that conflicts of interest are likely to arise from time to time in an organisation such as the ICC, this may indicate that the underlying requirements in this and other areas have not been made sufficiently clear, or are not sufficiently understood or observed."

Vast differences in financial strength between Full Members, from India at the top to Zimbabwe at the bottom, have created an unequal balance of power. The matter of financial loans between Member nations came up in the report as a frequent matter of conjecture among board members.

"Some of those interviewed believe that there are occasions when those with greater financial leverage are able to use their financial power to influence voting at the ICC Board, for example, through the offer of a future tour that would bring additional revenue to the host Member," the report said.

"The disparity of the financial positions of Members creates an environment in which it is possible that one Member may approach another Member for financial support or a loan. Such transactions could potentially create (or be perceived to create) a conflict of interest and could jeopardise the independence of Members. There is currently no requirement for such financial arrangements to be disclosed to the ICC and therefore the ICC would not necessarily be aware if loans were being made between Members and any consequent impairment of independence.

"Concerns were expressed that the way a Director voted may have been influenced by factors beyond the specific issue in hand in order to obtain favourable treatment for another project."

The matter of gifts and inducements is addressed, with the ICC asked to refrain from providing "lavish gifts, hospitality or entertainment to members". At the same time, the game's governing body should "undertake regular risk assessments to identify those commercial arrangements and individuals that are most likely to attract attempts by third parties to inappropriately influence the ICC's decision making".

Government interference in cricket decisions is also outlined as a problem, though the report states that "governments taking an interest in the development of cricket and providing support and patronage to Member Boards may be acceptable or even desirable. It is a matter of achieving an appropriate balance between support and interference. It is important for the credibility of such safeguards that once defined, they are enforced rigorously and consistently."

In order to rid the ICC board of these conflicts and compromises, the report calls for the declaration of all potential conflicts of interest, with any board directors standing to benefit personally from a board decision asked to be excluded from decisions related to those matters.

The ICC has an existing code of ethics, which the report says should be reinforced and applied to every ICC office bearer, as well as commercial partners and intermediaries such as commercial agents. The report recommends that sanctions be drawn up for violations of the code, and the place of the ethics board be elevated to monitor governance and commercial practices at each level of the ICC.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here