Percy Sonn July 5, 2006

'Our administration is a bit overblown'

Colin Bryden
Too much bureaucracy? Too much cricket? Percy Sonn on the burning questions of the day

Percy Sonn takes over from Ehsan Mani as President of ICC © Getty Images
What will be your approach to the presidency?
I have been lucky to be vice-president under Ehsan Mani. He's been at the forefront of creating this ICC. He was the real builder of this thing, from the time he was chairman of the finance and marketing committee. My job will be to consolidate what he has set in place. Ehsan is a very hands-on president. I'm a hands-off president. I like to be in control too, but I don't think, of necessity, it's a president's job to do the work. That's why you have a chief executive. Some people perceive Ehsan to have become too operational but it's been for the ICC's good. We are a very much better organisation now than when he took over three years ago. We're much more professional, we've got greater interests everywhere, we've got control, we work to budgets.

What are the biggest challenges?
We face divisions on the political front. There's always the great desire to have power. And there's this huge cake of money. Each director on the ICC board represents a country. These countries have vested interests in each other's performance. We have the ICC events, which we have carved out with the Future Tours Program. But then the individual countries arrange tour programmes bilaterally.

A Zimbabwe game is worth 200 rand but an Indian ODI currently sells for between US$6 million and 10 million, so who would you want to play more often? The challenge is to give fairness and equity to the original objectives of the ICC, to keep the members in line and on track. This includes expanding the game, protecting the laws and the spirit of the game.

What is your response to the perception that the ICC has become too money-conscious and organises too many inconsequential events?
The perception that it is a behemoth is not a good thing. The administration is definitely a bit overblown. Malcolm Speed knows what my views are. The problem is the lack of ability on the national level to manage ICC events. The ICC, of necessity, because it owns these events, has to ensure they take place according to its contracts with its commercial partners.

The other part which grew very large, and which I agree with, is the development section. The ICC has 96 fully affiliated members. Of all those, there are three that can sustain their current level of operations with their level of participating persons. They are Australia, India and England. The rest cannot live without the ICC feeding them.

We've just completed a world cricket league tournament for Africa in Benoni, South Africa. And Mozambique won. They beat Sierra Leone in the final. Suriname won the South American league. Do you even know where Suriname is? We've got a lot of French-speaking countries playing cricket.

Some of the criticism levelled at the ICC is unfair. That Engel guy (Matthew Engel, editor of Wisden Cricketers' Almanack) lost it. I saw what he wrote about the ICC and its so-called meaningless tournaments. Some of his arguments have merit but I don't believe he understands all the underlying reasons.

There are complaints regarding the length of the World Cup - the 2007 one lasts 47 days.
2011 is not entirely entrenched. We still have to sell [the rights for] that. We have to have commercial partners, who obviously want the best tournament because that generates the most money. A more compact tournament usually creates better competition, but it's a balancing act. You have to understand the geography of Asia, the politics of Asia, and the interest it creates there. I say that a 2011 World Cup in Asia need not be the same as a 2015 one in Australasia or a 2019 one in England.

What about the apparent price gouging by hotels in the West Indies for the World Cup?
We've attempted to get the governments - remember we're sitting here with many independent governments - to try and solve this problem. It's supply and demand. They're full already. They've got so little accommodation that they can charge the world. It can diminish the value of the World Cup.

What about issues like player burnout, television replays, bowling actions?
We have sufficient committees to handle these things. We deal with their recommendations. For instance, the cricket committee under Sunny Gavaskar is doing a good job.

Do you see cricket continuing to expand worldwide?
We have this huge Chinese market, we have an American market. I've been told by the Zee Television people that after India the biggest viewership of cricket is in America because of the expatriates. We must continue to explore new markets.

Colin Bryden is the author of Return of the Prodigal: South Africa's Cricketing Comeback among other books