February 16, 2009

Stormy up north

The recent upheavals in Canada's cricket administration have dented its image

Cricket Canada president Ben Sennik (left) © Eddie Norfolk

For the first time in a long time, Cricket Canada is staying on message. It doesn't matter whom you speak to in the organisation, the line is the same: "There is no crisis in Canadian cricket." As one member of the board's executive committee put it, there is actually disbelief that the media has portrayed the firing of the CEO, Atul Ahuja, as a descent into chaos.

Ahuja's abrupt departure may not be an earth-shaking catastrophe, but to act like the dismissal of the most important man in Canada's cricket administration is a routine affair is at best disingenuous and at worst indicative of a complete inability to see how Cricket Canada is perceived by those outside the organisation.

The fact that Cricket Canada has been unable to explain the reasons behind Ahuja's axing lends credence to the notion that his dismissal was political or motivated by something as petty as a personality clash between the CEO and the board's president.

A source close to both Ahuja and to Cricket Canada president Ben Sennik explained the differences in the two men's approaches: "Atul is a go-getter. He sees opportunities and he goes after them. He was a paid employee, not someone who needed to worry about getting re-elected, so he didn't care about stepping on people's toes when something needed to get done. Ben is more careful about these things."

One of Ahuja's detractors in Cricket Canada, who also did not wish to be identified, described Ahuja as abrupt and someone who constantly rubbed people the wrong way. "He would have got more done had he used sugar instead of vinegar."

And while Cricket Canada's executive committee and the various other officials might not see Ahuja's departure as significant, those who control Cricket Canada's purse strings certainly do. Publicly the main sponsor, Scotiabank, has not commented on Ahuja's dismissal, though rumours persist that its confidence in Cricket Canada has been shaken to the extent that funds to the organisation could be frozen. Scotiabank maintains that its links are with Cricket Canada itself and not a particular individual, but it is understood that they are closely monitoring the implementation of the initiatives and projects for which funds have been allotted.

The ICC too has refused to comment on Ahuja's dismissal though it, too, is said to be keeping tabs on the situation, and has in the past urged that the roles of CEO and president be clearly defined.

As recently as the day of Ahuja's ouster, the ICC sent a letter to Cricket Canada criticising, among other things, the ineffective selection policy that saw 35 or more players take the field for Canada last year, and the organisation's inability to sort out long-standing issues, such as a redrafting of the Cricket Canada constitution. In such circumstances, the firing of the CEO without cause is akin to playing with fire. Canada may be an important ICC Associate, but it is not so important that the ICC will continue to fund it if its directives and advice are flouted. Cricket Canada simply cannot afford to look dysfunctional.

If Cricket Canada wishes to avoid the fate that the USA Cricket Association suffered, where ICC recognition and funds were lost, then the interests of cricket, rather than the next set of elections, must be paramount for administrators

Ahuja had always stated that his goal was to move Canadian cricket out of weekend-picnic mode into something more professional, and it is clear that in the year or so that he was running the show, Cricket Canada broke out of stagnation. He was the key figure in securing sponsorship with Scotiabank and initiating the Quadrangular T-20 Cup that saw Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe come to Canada.

Articulate, with a salesman's charm, Ahuja presented cricket as an attractive commodity to sponsors, and Canada as an attractive destination for international teams. Cricket Canada itself was projected as an exciting organisation with many initiatives on the go, one to which it would be wise to hitch your wagon before Canadian cricket shot off into space. In some respects that dynamism may have contributed to his downfall - too much too fast for an establishment prone to slow, tentative steps. That sheen has gone, with Ahuja. His loss is significant, and yet Canadian cricket will survive, for no individual is bigger than the game.

There are still many people in the Cricket Canada set-up who deeply care about the sport and wish for it to thrive, but for progress to truly happen, petty politics must be put aside. Ahuja's exit from the scene and the unprecedented scrutiny that this has brought to Cricket Canada's affairs must have a sobering impact on the people who run the game in this country. The days when cock-ups in Canadian cricket went undetected and unreported are over. If Cricket Canada wishes to avoid the fate that the USA Cricket Association suffered, where ICC recognition and funds were lost, then the interests of cricket, rather than the next set of elections, must be paramount for administrators. The CEO fiasco now needs to be put aside and the trust of stakeholders must be restored through actions that demonstrate maturity and responsibility.

Faraz Sarwat is the cricket columnist for the Toronto Star and the author of The Cricket World Cup: History, Highlights, Facts and Figures

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harmandeep on February 18, 2009, 23:23 GMT

    All of the people waiting to get a stab at Cricket Canada, you need to see what is really going on. Yes Cricket canada is having difficulties at the top within the management However, being apart of the junior canada program, being a part of the canada u15 team, which beat all of the teams at the Americas cup , i have realized the amount of effort cricket canada is putting in to get juniors up to the top. Most people are looking at the fact that Canada is not performing well heres the reason people being selected right now are from other countries mainly india pakistan and windies. Howevr the fact of the matter is that they came here to improve there life and not thre cricket. Lukckily they were able to make the canadain team. SO for all the peope saying tat canada is not getting anywhere, the reason for it is that cricket is just beginning to be recognized and you will not see results for another 5-10 years.Canada will contend in the u19 world which will be hosted in 2012 in toronto

  • Nick on February 17, 2009, 13:30 GMT

    such a shame....i am canadian-born but australian-raised and was finally allowing myself a glimmer of hope for my native country to raise itself from the quagmire it has been in for so long (developements such as the proposed inter-city league and the sponsorship from scotiabank seemed very positive), only for them to be dashed by this ugly incident, reminiscent of squabbling subcontinental boards. i realise that Atul Ahuja isn't everyone's cup of tea and his enthusiasm could easily be seen as gung-ho or brash, but here was a man that was starting to make cricket appealing to canadians, and taking real steps to bring the game forward. it's just terribly disppointing....c'est terriblement decevant.

  • Naeem on February 17, 2009, 6:49 GMT

    The situation in Ontario is similar to how it is in Quebec as described by king1985. Plus if I may add two of the biggest leagues - Toronto and District Cricket League (T&D) and Etobicoke and District Cricket League (EDCL) are denied full membership of the Ontario Cricket Association (OCA) because of political issues. Funds and selections are distributed/made based on favourism and not true talent. Very pathetic as this region has a lot of potential.

  • Faisal on February 17, 2009, 2:57 GMT

    I play for a club in the province of Quebec, and i strongly urge ICC to take a deep look at whats going on in Canadian Cricket, how players are being selected, not only for the National Side but also at the provincial level. The amount of favortism and discrimination that goes on in this Board is beyond anyone's imagination and more then any other Board in the world. People say India, Pakistan, Srilanka, West Indies boards are curropt and bad, imagine what a slum it will make when all of these come together under one board.....guess what thats canadian Cricket Board for you....where presidents and CEO are "hired" not elected. Not only that, please kindly come and see the conditions under which we play, what cricketing standards are being followed, what type of grounds we have, and especially what kind of balls are we given by QCF.

    ICC must cut all the funds, in any case we still pay 100+ CAD$ to play cricket and run our own club, why they need ICC money and where does it go anyways

  • prince on February 16, 2009, 19:25 GMT

    The people running this country's cricket should take a good look at themselves and make sure they are acting in behalf of game's betterment and not petty disputes among themselves, all these people do not need to bring India's or Pakistan's or westindies style of boards management into this. Canada has always regarded itself as a free and a multicultural country so please act for the good of the game. you have soo much talent here from india, pakistan and westindies and even born canadian who love the game of cricket .. nurture them ..make them into world class cricketers .. dont work on making yourself world class pliticians so you can lobby for a seat in ICC.. i say shame on them who hold their interests before the game itself .. i am a canadian citizen 24 yrs old who cud've been made into a good player had i got the opportunity . but there were no academies i cud go to .. so i say work on making academies . make the game available to the kids who will grow into future superstars

  • Neil on February 16, 2009, 10:46 GMT

    The ICC needs to focus all its energies into player development. Bangladesh is probably the best place to start - the team's lack of success is worse than any other Test nation starting out at any other time in history. Once Bangladesh has turned around and is able to stand on its own two feet, the ICC should then focus on other nations like Canada or Ireland with the stated goal of bringing them into full membership based on merit. As it stands now, neither Bangladesh nor Zimbabwe should be considered full members and field Test, ODI and T20I sides because their teams just do not merit such inclusion. Personally I'd love a Canadian Test, ODI and T20I team - but only one which merits such advancement. The ICC needs to spend its millions doing this.

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