ICC structural reforms February 4, 2016

Winds of change cloud cricket's real issues

The ICC's commitment to repeal its structural reforms of 2014 is laudable, but it would be wrong to pretend the game was in rude health before the Big Three era

Sports administrators are used to being ignored, which is exactly the way they like it. But scandals in international football, athletics, tennis and cricket in recent months have forced the men in suits into the spotlight.

Too many sports have been slow to recognise the urgency for reform. At least the aftermath of the latest ICC board meeting provides hope that cricket accepts the need for radical change. "We collectively want to improve the governance in a transparent manner, not only of the ICC but also the member boards," were the rabble-rousing words of Shashank Manohar, the ICC chairman.

It seems that the winds of change are blowing in Dubai. Two of the architects of the ICC restructuring in 2014, N Srinivasan and Wally Edwards, have already gone. The third member of the triumvirate, Giles Clarke, might well soon join them: Australia and South Africa have already said they will not support his bid for ICC chairmanship, while New Zealand and Sri Lanka could also oppose Clarke. Whether he stays or goes might not even matter: constitutional reform is already on the ICC's agenda.

Manohar's words make clear that the ICC is poised to return to a pre-2014 world. But those who imagine that simply undoing the Big Three's constitutional reforms will be a panacea are deluded. Just because cricket is run egregiously now does not mean it was run much better before Clarke, Edwards and Srinivasan engineered their restructuring.

Remember the Woolf Report? "Cricket is a great game. It deserves to have governance, including management and ethics, worthy of the sport. This is not the position at the present time," declared the only independent report that has ever been conducted into the workings of the ICC. It slammed the ICC for acting "primarily as a members' club" and instead advocated independent governance, in line with the best corporate governance practices. This was in 2012, two years before the ICC's restructuring.

Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, was merely articulating what had long been known. Cricket before the Big Three did not have governance worthy of the name.

It was a dysfunctional mess. The lack of independent governance meant that all important decisions were made by representatives sent to the ICC by Full Member boards: an obvious conflict of interest. The Woolf Report exposed the hypocrisy of Full Member boards, including those of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and West Indies, embracing the idea of independent directors and governance in their own national boards while not deeming it necessary in the ICC.

Cricket before the Big Three did not have governance worthy of the name

In the absence of strong leadership from an ICC deliberately designed to be weak, the system of governance lent itself to bigger countries using a mixture of carrot and stick to get smaller Full Members to vote with them in the ICC board. The Big Three had de facto power at the ICC long before they seized de jure power, too. It was long a running joke in ICC meetings that when India raised their hands in meetings, whatever the issue, so Zimbabwe's representative would do too.

"A number of countries were not prepared to challenge India and would simply support India for fear of what the reprisal might be," an ICC insider says of the regime before the Big Three. "It was very much a club environment. Decision-making was based upon vested interests."

Those who think life was significantly better for Associate and Affiliate nations before the Big Three are also sadly mistaken. The 2015 World Cup was originally planned to be a ten-team event with no pathway for qualification for Associate nations; that the 2019 World Cup will be ten teams merely follows through on plans made long before the ICC restructuring.

In the days before the Big Three, the ICC failed to pursue Olympic involvement, despite the transformative impact this would have on Associate nations. And leading Associates continually suffered from Full Members' refusal to play them: Ireland played just nine ODIs against Test teams between the 2011 and 2015 World Cups, while, risibly, Kenya had five ODIs against Test opposition in the 35 months after reaching the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup.

When Ireland reached the Super Eights in the 2007 World Cup, they received US$56,000; Zimbabwe, knocked out in the first stage and, at that time, in self-imposed exile from Test cricket, earned US$11 million on account of retaining their Full Member privileges.

And while the pathway to Test cricket today appears ludicrously convoluted, the pre-Big Three regime never even told Ireland and other Associates what they needed to do in order to become Test nations or, more importantly, Full Members. The reason was clear: Full Members did not want their pie to feed 11 mouths rather than ten. The ICC allocated 75% of funds to the ten Full Members and just 25% to the 90-odd Associates and Affiliates. No wonder the Woolf Report slammed the ICC as a body whose "interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary".

Old boys: Giles Clarke and N Srinivasan oversaw the ICC's 2014 restructuring © Getty Images

This is not to deny that the pre-Big Three model was preferable to the new status quo. If the pre-2014 ICC revenue distribution model was reintroduced, it would result in Associate nations receiving over US$300 million from 2015-23, according to Ehsan Mani, the former ICC president. West Indies would receive an extra US$40 million as well. The erosion of the executive power enjoyed by the Big Three nations would also be welcome.

Yet while the notion of an independent ICC chairman is laudable, the governance reforms fall way short of what the Woolf Report envisaged. Lord Woolf advocated a board comprising an independent chairman, four directors representing Full Members, two directors representing Associates, and five independent directors. Now, just as before the Big Three took charge, the ICC board comprises ten directors representing Full Members, three who represent Associate Members, and no independent directors at all.

Nestled at the bottom of the latest ICC press release is a small reminder that, even under the apparently newly enlightened regime, all ICC members are equal but some are a lot more equal than others. For the next Under-19 World Cup in 2018, the ten Test nations will qualify automatically, along with the best-performing Associate in the ongoing tournament. The upshot is that only one of Namibia and Nepal, who have both qualified for this year's quarter-finals, will secure an automatic berth to the next competition. New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and Australia (who pulled out of the tournament on security grounds) all failed to reach the last eight but are assured of their places.

Just because the Big Three made cricket's governance even less adequate is no reason to blithely revert to what existed before. Until 2014, the ICC was a snooty Victorian club masquerading as an international sports governing body, run according to the interests of its ten Full Members - not its 105 overall members or, more generally, for the betterment of the game. That is no template to go back to.

Cricket might never again have such an opportunity to make its governance fit for purpose. Now is the time to pay heed to the maxim of Rahm Emanuel, Barack Obama's former chief of staff: "Never let a serious crisis go to waste."

Tim Wigmore is a freelance journalist and author of Second XI: Cricket in its Outposts

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