June 30, 2010

An outcome that could drag cricket to the dark ages

Sure, a candidate can be rejected, but there need to be compelling reasons for doing so, and those need to be made public

The saddest thing about the rejection of John Howard's nomination to the vice-presidency of the ICC is that, prima facie, the cricket world has split, once again, on the lines of race. For years that was cricket's ugly truth: the white nations v the rest; the us v them syndrome underpinned every major conflict in the cricket.

But in recent years cricket seemed to have moved away from post-colonial angst into the lap of naked capitalism. Self-interest remained the guiding principle, but alliances based on commerce rather than race seemed far more palatable. The use of the term Asian Bloc - it had a pejorative ring to it - became rarer as India and Australia, the richest board and the strongest team, moved closer.

It's premature to proclaim an official split or speculate what immediate impact it will have on global cricket, but on the Howard issue it was evident who stood where. Australia and New Zealand stood by their nominated candidate, and they had only England by their side.

There are different ways of looking at it. One is this. Seven members of the ICC board didn't want Howard as vice-president. Clearly, he shouldn't then have been vice-president and president-elect. Democracy doesn't always produce the best outcome, but who'd rather have the other system?

Howard was not the best candidate in the eyes of the cricket world. Even between Australia and New Zealand, he was not the unanimous choice. New Zealand wanted John Anderson, the former chairman of the New Zealand board and a proven cricket administrator; and most other members would have preferred him. But Howard was nominated through a rigorous arbitration process, and New Zealand accepted the verdict with good grace.

Similarly, another process has been completed now. Howard's candidature needed to be ratified by a two-thirds majority - it might never have been applied before, but the provision exists. All over the cricket world, non-executive positions - presidents, chairmen - come through an electoral process, which rarely throws up the best possible candidate. Pawar became BCCI president that way, as did Giles Clarke.

There were clear signs for months that Howard's candidature was unlikely to go through, but CA chose to ignore them. Cricket South Africa chairman Mtutuzeli Nyoka wrote to David Morgan, the then ICC president, pointing out that an "overwhelming number of directors were opposed to Howard". It was strong letter which accused Morgan of acting unconstitutionally, a charge Morgan denied equally vehemently. And the Sri Lankan board openly said that they would vote against Howard. Cricket Australia was within their rights to stick by their man. Howard himself made a trip to Zimbabwe, another known opponent, to lobby support. Evidently that mission failed.

Since Howard had no administrative experience in sport and his association with cricket was limited to his self-professed love for the game, it is reasonable to assume that Cricket Australia chose a career politician in recognition of the political nature of the ICC. And now that he has been eliminated by a political process, CA should cop it in the same spirit.

In a political process, even if it is mere posturing, everyone knows who stands for what. In Howard's case, no one, apart from the Sri Lankan board, has articulated the opposition to him.

There is one crucial difference, though. In a political process, even if it is mere posturing, everyone knows who stands for what. In Howard's case, no one, apart from the Sri Lankan board, has articulated the opposition to him. And the Sri Lankan opposition - that Howard came from outside the realm of cricket administration - was so flimsy that it can't be considered a powerful enough argument to disregard a candidate chosen by two members following due process.

The worst part of the campaign against Howard has been the surreptitious and opaque manner in which it has been conducted. Cricinfo's correspondents, despite repeated attempts, have failed to elicit responses - except from the Sri Lankan board - about why Howard was considered unfit to hold the job.

While the provision for rejecting a candidate exists, the ratification process has always been a formality. For disregarding an established convention, there must not only be a strong enough case, it must also be made public. Even the most dreaded criminals are not hung without being assigned a reason. John Howard, whether you agree with his political stand on Zimbawe's regime, or his support for George Bush, or his personal views on Muttiah Muralitharan's bowling action, deserves the courtesy of being told, as do Cricket Australia and Cricket New Zealand.

Or is it that the reasons are so hollow and petty that no board wants to put its name to them? Gideon Haigh has already pointed out,, forcefully and with rigour, the shallowness of some of the possible objections. I don't agree with him on every count. Cricket Australia, I believe, was wrong to pick a candidate who was potentially divisive, but the intrigue and back-room games that preceded the rejection of his candidature, have not merely been discourteous but threaten to drag cricket back to the age of acrimony and mistrust.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Robert on July 1, 2010, 22:41 GMT

    @jillpreston "if Murali had the same bowling action as he always had, but was fair skinned, or was an Australian, will John Howard have criticised him?" Howard would never have had the opportunity to criticise Murali if he was Australian. Murali would still be kicking around at club level 3rds pleading for a bowl from his skipper who would rightly be replying, "Sure kiddo, soon as you stop chucking it!" IMO John Howard was a poor candidate and John Anderson was far better placed to achieve consensus. Howard was a purely political appointment and was never going to be accepted by those boards with vested interests in maintaining current stats quo.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2010, 14:33 GMT

    Howard should start as a management trainee with the ICC

  • Sage on July 1, 2010, 14:11 GMT

    Sri Lankans are the friendliest compassionate, caring and most hospitable people in this world. But that does not give any cricketing administrators to have their way. The first ever ICC spirit of the game award was given to Sri Lanka for a reason even the following year. Look at cricket games played in Sri Lanka. It doesn't matter which country plays there if you are great the people are humble enough to applaud any cricketer. John Howard made the biggest mistake by criticizing a cricketer of world class also handicapped. So if Mr. Howard needs to be appointed in the future, I would suggest he better go to Sri Lanka or any other Asian country and do volunteer service. Because you make a statement as the prime minister of a leading nation you got to stand by it as a leader. Unfortunately Mr. Howard made a wrong statement. Wake up Mr. Howard this isn't 19th century. I'm very pleased that he was not appointed. Mr. Speed you have your opinion we have ours and the Nations have spoken.

  • Girish on July 1, 2010, 13:27 GMT

    very good article!i think John Howard was rejected not bcoz he was new to the game but the fact that the BCCI was afraid that He would dominate ICC and bring about rapid changes. The BCCI has SLC, and Bangla cricket brd in its pocket and pak did not not have any other choice. The BCCI has done everything to get things done in its favour. this is going to take the game backwards and we can soon see game becoming more money oriented.

  • Pradeep on July 1, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    From 5 minutes spent on Wikipedia: 1.Howard suggested that to support "social cohesion" the rate of Asian immigration be "slowed down a little". 2.Howard said the idea of an Aboriginal treaty was "repugnant to the ideals of One Australia" 3. Howard repudiated her views seven months after Hanson's controversial maiden parliamentary speech. 4.Howard was the only living former Prime Minister who declined to attend the February 2008 apology made by Kevin Rudd with bi-partisan support. 5.Howard refused the landing of asylum seekers rescued by a Norwegian freighter-Tampa affair. Why not write an article about Howard s failings and controversial playing of the race card for votes? His political positions are absolutely germane to this issue.

  • Chaitanya on July 1, 2010, 12:26 GMT

    What I would like to know is why Howard was chosen as the joint candidate when Anderson was available. Australians might talk about politics but it looks a lot like CA arm twisted NZ into nominating Howard. Something tells me most New Zelanders are happy about this rejection.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2010, 12:19 GMT

    Well well well Australia starts it again. They tried to dominate this game in the past. Now they should come to reality and forget Howard's nomination. Let's get on with it. Get an ex-cricketer more matured than Howard please

  • Z on July 1, 2010, 12:00 GMT

    Sambit, is the 'dark ages' bit in the subject line a pun or what! People are getting so cynical these days, that even this article will be looked at with suspicion! You can imagine some people in Australia saying...are these really Sambit's views...does he want to be politically correct... is he trying too hard to please the white population etc..?! If one person (Howard) is attracting such widespread condemnation, perhaps we should investigate his forgettable past to arrive at the reasons.

  • Vinay on July 1, 2010, 11:33 GMT

    Its realy amazing to see how an democratic process is been made into a issue. The decission to select or reject a condidate's nomination is within the board's right, and rightly done so. And they have also requested both the boards to nominate another person insted of the rejected one. Where is the question of losing grace? Does this mean they donot have any one better than howard? When did one man became so important to a great nation like Australia, a person who is not even in power any more. and why is Indian board blamed, there were five other too who rejected. After reading the articles present on cricinfo it is certain, Oz are realy bad losers.

  • Daniel on July 1, 2010, 10:56 GMT

    @jillpreston: Yes, he would have. Would he have said so if Murali was playing for Australia? Maybe not. He was a fan of his national team, like a lot of people are here. Most fans, when they see someone they think is getting away with something against their team, they speak up, no matter what colour they are.

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