Will ICC take first steps towards best governance?
When the ICC's executive board meets in Dubai over Sunday and Monday, the main item on their agenda will be the 65 recommendations made public in February following the independent governance review, headed by Lord Woolf.
The Woolf review called for sweeping changes in the global administration of cricket and the administration of the ICC, which begins with the executive board itself. It would be unrealistic to expect the board, made up of the heads of the ten Full Members plus three Associate representatives, to give a green light to its own fairly substantial demolition as suggested by Woolf.
Were the ICC's decisions not largely dependent on power equations and political bargaining, the list of items on the board's April agenda would even appear ho-hum. For now, each item contains both minefield and bargaining chip.
Woolf report recommendations apart, the agenda includes the vice-presidential nomination, suggestions regarding how the Twenty20 format should be handled, and the next round of ICC events between 2015 and 2023, including the World Test Championship.
Perhaps Woolf's most contentious recommendation, pertaining to the restructuring of the board, suggests the creation of new posts of independent directors in order to ensure that the board is less dominated by the "bigger" nations. A handful of the Full Members have already commented publicly on the report and made their stands clear. Cricket Australia and the PCB were measured in their comments, saying that it would be wrong to reject the report out of hand and that the ICC executive board should seek a consensus among cricket boards before deciding whether to implement it or not. The BCCI's working committee had rejected the key recommendations concerning the restructuring. The BCCI response to the report noted that their working committee was, "in particular not agreeable to the changes in the structure of the management of the ICC that had been proposed."
In all debates surrounding the ICC and its functioning, the BCCI's bargaining chip, often with smaller Full Member nations, usually rests with the individual country's engagements with the Indian cricket team. The more India tours there, the higher the earnings for the members boards from television rights. The more the tours, the more the revenue; a cold shoulder from India can translate into red on that national cricket board's balance sheet.
At this time, it is the Bangladesh Cricket Board that could do with some friends at the ICC executive board level. Together with Pakistan, it has nominated its CEO, Mustafa Kamal, for the role of vice-president - this means, if sanctioned, he will succeed Alan Isaac as president in 2014. It is believed that Pakistan's support for Kamal's nomination, however, was dependent on Bangladesh agreeing to tour Pakistan and breaking a three-year freeze on international cricket in the country. The ICC had refused to send its officials on that tour, which led to a growing reluctance by the BCB to commit to the tour.
Kamal's role as vice-president could also be affected by a Woolf recommendation stating that under its proposed new board structure, the ICC "consider the position and role, if any, of the ICC vice-president between 2012 and 2014." At the same time the BCB will also be looking for a new television rights partner, its contract with Indian broadcaster Nimbus TV having come to an end.
In this scenario, there could be a surprise ally for the BCB. Only recently it announced it had received reassurances from the BCCI that Bangladesh could be invited for their first full Test series in India since being granted Test status in 2000. This alliance between the BCCI and the BCB may only be fully explained after the board's decisions are announced on Monday.
The sole common ground shared by the ICC and the Woolf review is to be found in the ICC president's office. At its last executive board meeting in March, a month after the release of the Woolf Report, the board suggested re-defining the role of the president, scrapping its rotational appointment, making it a largely "ceremonial" position and creating a new one of chairman. This also happened to constitute two of the 65 recommendations of the Woolf report. Neither side though, clearly outlined the procedure for the election of the new, powerful chairman. In its only public comment on the Woolf report, the ECB had said it "welcomed" the creation of a new post of chairman and the reduction of the role of the president to a ceremonial one.
The major support for the Woolf report comes from the game's minor powers, the Associate nations. The review had recommended the re-examination of the rights and benefits of the Test-playing Full Member nations, a flexibility in the granting of Full Member status and increased transparency in the ICC and its members' dealings.
The Woolf review had advised against "cherry-picking" from among its suggestions, but this could in fact be the only way for the ICC's board to not only be progressive, but to also appear so.
On the sidelines of the board meeting, key officials of the PCB arrived early in Dubai to meet with the ICC legal team. The PCB is aiming to sort out issues pertaining to a proposed amendment to the ICC's constitution that would give it power to suspend a member if there is government interference in the running of the national cricket board. While Sri Lanka Cricket held its first election in seven years, the PCB is linked to the government with the country's president being its patron. As per its constitution, the PCB's chairman is appointed by the country's president without the conduct of any elections. Last June, the PCB had sent a legal notice to and threatened legal action against the ICC. That issue is yet to be resolved.
In the run-up to the meeting of the board, the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) said in a statement that the meeting would "test whether the directors of the board make decisions based on the greater interests of the game, or whether the directors vote on the basis of what is best for their country".
FICA's president, Tim May, said those who had rejected the major recommendations of the Woolf Report regarding restructuring of the board itself 'did not want to give up the right of voting for what is best for their country" and needed "a refresher course as to what purpose they are supposed to perform on the board". He said: "Their responsibility is clear - it is to make decisions based on the greater interests of the game, not the self-interests of the board members."
This meeting will be the first formal opportunity for the board, after the benefit of a month's deliberation, to give a definitive indication of its future course of action. Over the next two days, the ICC's most powerful body will give world cricket a clue as to whether it is willing to take the first step on the road map of best governance or whether that road map will actually end up as just a well-intentioned piece of paperwork.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo