April 25, 2008

Factionalism out of control

Malcolm Speed's ousting as the ICC's CEO is an open admission of the hypocrisy, factionalism and naked politicking that has paralysed the game's governing body


Malcolm Speed heads out of bounds ... but the ICC are the ones stuck deep in the rough © Getty Images
 

On the one hand, the early end of Malcolm Speed's tenure as ICC chief executive changes little within a blighted organisation. It had already been announced that he was to stand down in July, after seven turbulent years at the helm, and so all that has really changed is that he will now take no part in the ICC's annual conference, which - as Cricinfo yesterday revealed - will take place in Dubai instead of Lord's for the first time in the organisation's 99-year history.

In the grander scheme of things, however, Speed's ousting is more than just a final humiliation for a man who has found himself at the sharp end of every one of the game's myriad crises of the recent past. It is an open admission of the hypocrisy, factionalism and naked politicking that has paralysed the game's governing body, at precisely the moment when the global game is most desperately in need of leadership and unity.

This is a perilous period for world cricket, for the pace of change this year has been rampant. The Twenty20 format has exploded into life with a force that few could ever have contemplated, and cricket's elite players are being transfixed by the life-transforming sums of money being dangled in front of their faces. There is, in the opinion of one of the men of the moment, Allen Stanford, a "900lb gorilla" running amok in the East, and yet his response - to whack £10 million on the table and declare "take it or leave it" - seems no less ape-ish.

A strong sporting body - or even a weak sporting body that actually cared for the game it governed - would find sufficient voice and authority to declare that enough is enough. But the ICC is nothing more than a burnt-out train-wreck of an organisation. For years it was run as a personal fiefdom of England and Australia; now it's India's turn, as the game's financial powerhouse, to ride roughshod over all comers - rarely more triumphantly than during the recent Harbhajan Singh furore in Australia. Meanwhile, the rest of the world clung meekly to the concept that unity, however unilateral, was better than the anarchy that now threatens to engulf the game.

Now, however, any board that values its integrity would do well to give the ICC as little credence as possible. The fact that it is Zimbabwe that has spread the rot so far and wide is no surprise, but it still beggars belief how they are permitted to get away with it. Zimbabwe's domestic structure is in chaos, they are incapable of raising a Test side and they are barely competitive at any level of the game. And yet Peter Chingoka, their stooge of a chairman, is arguably the most influential man in the game today, all because he is willing to accede slavishly to the BCCI on any and every issue.

Thanks principally to Chingoka, a wedge has been driven between (without putting too fine a point of it) the white countries and the rest, but the man who has allowed this to get out of control in recent months is Ray Mali, whom Peter Roebuck last week described as "a compromised and unworthy president of the ICC". He is another official who is drunk on his own power, which is incredible seeing as he shouldn't even be in the job in the first place. He was only handed the reins as a stop-gap measure, following the death of Percy Sonn in May 2007.

According to those who have watched him in action in the ICC, Mali is as reckless as he is power-happy, so prone to gaffes that he is rarely trusted to speak publicly. Last October, at the Darrell Hair tribunal in London, he stunned his employers - and effectively sealed the case in favour of the defendant - when he declared: "I don't see any reason why Mr Hair should not return to the Elite panel and umpire Test matches." Robert Griffiths, Hair's QC, was obliged to repeat the words to make sure Mali was aware of what he was saying.

Today, Mali wasn't even trusted to comment on the schemozzle emanating from Dubai. He was in South Africa and unavailable "for personal reasons", leaving his successor, David Morgan, to issue the press release that heralded Speed's departure, as well as to face the media at Lord's on Saturday afternoon. Such was the complete confusion that Mali left behind, some of the executive board didn't even know of the decision until it had been announced.

 
 
Any board that values its integrity would do well to give the ICC as little credence as possible. The fact that it is Zimbabwe that has spread the rot so far and wide is no surprise, but it still beggars belief how they are permitted to get away with it
 

Rarely has the ICC moved with such haste - on the Zimbabwe issue they have been dragging their feet for five years. However, the factions within the ICC corridors of power have been gunning for Speed ever since that fateful meeting in March, when the independent forensic audit into Zimbabwe's financial irregularities was swept under the carpet. Speed refused to front up to defend a decision with which he fundamentally disagreed, and from that moment on, his fate was sealed.

Tellingly, Mali and his cronies were desperate that Zimbabwe should not been seen as the cause of Speed's downfall, Cricinfo has learnt. Earlier this week, they saw an opportunity to strike when it emerged that the rebel Indian Cricket League had written to the ICC to seek official status. By dressing that up as an illicit approach to the CEO, they hoped to discredit Speed. However, in a further indication that there are factions within the ICC's factions, this morning's press release explicitly mentioned Zimbabwe as the core issue. It seems there will be yet more power struggles to come.

Speed will not be missed by those who equate his reign with the erosion of the ICC's credibility, but his Teflon-like qualities most certainly will. His stance throughout a dreadful last 18 months - from Hair-gate to the World Cup and beyond - was an implacable calm that, superficially at least, gave the impression that there was a modicum of control being exercised at some level of the organisation.

Now, the ICC is officially out of control - and with it the world game. In a poll carried out today by the Professional Cricketers' Association, a fifth of England's county cricketers admitted they would be prepared to sign up for the reviled ICL. Meanwhile, the best players in the world are preparing to grab whatever cash comes their way in their all-too-brief careers, and hang the consequences. The concept of loyalty in professional sport has long been an anachronism, but the way it is behaving, you'd assume the ICC couldn't care less for the consequences of its actions.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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