A grave new low for lowly ICC
Say what you like about the members of the International Cricket Council, they are utterly consistent. No matter how far you lower your expectations, they always find a way to underperform.
The ICC presidency has existed for 13 years. It has rotated among regions based on the ten Test nations six times. Not once has the nomination caused a murmur: it has been accepted as the nominating nations' prerogative.
Australia and New Zealand, after a rigorous and orderly process, offered Australia's second longest-serving prime minister as the next holder of that office. John Howard was content to serve a waiting period of two years as vice-president, without a vote, without remuneration: quite a gesture of humility for one who has been a country's leader. Now he has been knocked back - and knocked back without even an opportunity to address the rejectionists.
Why? Nobody will say, because nobody so far has had the nerve to stand behind such a calculated insult, both to the individual, and to the country that elected him, for better and worse, four times. The best the ICC can do is a press release stating that his nomination "did not have sufficient support" - making it sound like a chiropractic problem rather than a political one.
There were all sorts of reasons to develop a distaste for Howard the prime minister. I've made a few of them myself. But were any of them relevant to his ability to hold the presidency of the ICC? It involves chairing the board of a sporting body, a job for which he was content to serve a two-year apprenticeship, not holding down the chair in quantum mechanics at MIT. Rather like Tom Brown's objections to Dr Fell, the main objection seems to be that … errr … people object to him.
What little we do know is that the first hint of opposition came a couple of months ago from Zimbabwe, which had their own bone to pick with Howard for his disapproval of their indefensible government. Like Alexander Pope's critics, however, Zimbabwe were "willing to wound, afraid to strike". This role was left to Cricket South Africa's chairman Mtutuzeli Nyoka, who appears to have set himself up as a kind of arbiter of racial okayness.
Howard, it's rumoured, was once disrespectful of Nelson Mandela, even if nobody seems to know when or how, and this also must have been a while ago, because Howard was also responsible in November 1999 for making Mandela an honorary companion in the Order of Australia. Perhaps Nyoka is sincere in his objections; perhaps not. He has so far exhibited no courage in his convictions, and from the organisation that inflicted Percy Sonn on cricket, objection to a former Australian prime minister is pretty hard to take seriously.
Ultimately, however, responsibility lies with the chaotic, fratricidal, law-unto-itself Board of Control for Cricket in India, for had it chosen to back Howard, the decision would have gone through on the nod. The BCCI likes to think of itself as cricket's leader - as, indeed, it is, by any economic measure. But where was it when actual leadership was required? Sunk in its own macchiavellian intrigues, busy trying to claw back a facilitation fee from World Sports Group, and poring over Lalit Modi's hotel and limousine expenses. Suggestions in the Indian media are that the rejection stems from internal upheavals at the BCCI, where ICC president Sharad Pawar, who supported Howard's nomination, is on the nose with his former colleagues for being too close to Modi. Who knows? And who, ultimately, cares?
This mixture of hopeless shilly-shallying and posturing has brought cricket's global governance to a grave new low. The decision is neither constructive nor forward-looking; it reeks of enmity and envy. How ironic that the nomination of Howard should have been deemed so "divisive", and "divisiveness" such an unforgivable sin - what could be more divisive than rejecting a nomination of Howard's eminence without explanation?
OK, so now expect one of those high-quality cricket debates involving a generalised, free-floating, received-wisdom idea that Howard must be a racist, because of something someone once heard from somebody who remembers reading something on the internet about stuff. He said that thing about Murali, didn't he? And what about those Indian students, eh?
But there are no high-falutin' principles involved here. Six member boards of the ICC have decided, jointly and severally, that it will play well in front of their home constituencies to rub Australia's noses in it. In this context, some remarks vouchsafed last week by Ozais Bvute, the unloved chief executive of Zimbabwe Cricket, are worth examining.
Bvute began by insisting that reports of Zimbabwe's opposition to Howard were all a beat-up: "A section of the international media has erroneously created the impression that we have been at the forefront of a motion to block Mr Howard's nomination." Hard to see where the international media got that impression from: the presence of Howard in Harare with Cricket Australia's chairman Jack Clarke must have been a complete coincidence.
Bvute continued: "This is not only maliciously incorrect but also ignores the fact that our structures dictate that such a decision can only be taken by the ZC Board which is in fact still to meet and state a position on the matter.' Please enjoy: instruction in democratic processes from Zimbabwe, whose president has made such a fine art of the principle of "vote-early-vote-often".
Bvute concluded: "Our concern has and always will be the welfare of the game. Our final decision and vote will be guided by what is in the best interest of cricket in this country." Except that Mr Bvute manages to contradict himself in a single bound, because "the welfare of the game" and "the best interests of cricket in this country" are not the same, even if they may on occasion be parallel. It would be in the best interests of Zimbabwe cricket to play India every week; but this would be much good to the welfare of the game in general.
Let's give Bvute some credit. While others cower, he is prepared to stand by his cock-eyed thinking. But if his remarks can be taken as indicative of attitudes at ICC, then its members have given up trying to be FIFA, a body acting in the international interests of its sport, and are content to be a tenth-rate United Nations, all piss, wind and parish-pump politics. Can it get worse? I'm sure ICC is up to the challenge.
Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer