July 1, 2010

A grave new low for lowly ICC

John Howard has been knocked back - and knocked back without even an opportunity to address the rejectionists

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?

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?

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Deepanjan on July 1, 2010, 13:56 GMT

    Being and Indian - I totally accept the shenanigans of BCCI, and ICC at large on this issue. It's obvious who arm-twisted the final outcome. Divisive decision, biased and largely unfounded - sure! John Howard's political career, controversies, daft comments - they might not 'officially' matter - but it has incited enough adverse opinion for the boards to use the veto they hitherto have not. Like it has been 'accepted' as a prerogative of the nominating nation - they are not 'supposed' to give a reason for their snub ( for God's sake, stop using the 'snub to Australia' card, that is petty!). Gideon! as much as you rail and rant, or don't care - it is your journalistic bias towards Howard too. I'll put it straight - Sir John Anderson(NZ) would have been selected without a murmur!

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2010, 13:52 GMT

    @ Lees_Legends: David Marr's profile of John Howard in the Sydney Morning Herald in July 1998 makes it abundantly clear that Howard was fascinated with South Africa and would have visited the country in the 1980s had he not been advised against doing so. Marr met Howard and spoke to him at length for the profile.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2010, 13:50 GMT

    But Murali IS a chucker, Zimbabwe IS run by a dictator. So im failing to see the problem there.

  • sushil on July 1, 2010, 13:45 GMT

    Australia, England and Newzealand have had there good days when they could rule the ICC and its regulations. They enjoyed those days and now its the other half which was on receiving end till now is calling shots. One who start digging in identifying the reasons of why Howard's candidature was rejected, you smell a political reason but that's how it has been. Moreover, Howard has been a true politician and if he want this position he better win it politically because as they say he has no credential to be ICC's vice pres. His comments towards Zimbabwe, murlitharan, or the biased umpire were politically motivated and never helping the situation in cricket. As someone wrote above "as you sow, so shall you reap. He did politics so he is facing politics and let him win his rights by politics.

  • Harpalsinh on July 1, 2010, 13:34 GMT

    UnderDog1630 I like that idea. Ram5160 completly agree with you on that. I guess this is what you call karma. Whatever he said or did on his presidency time came back to bite him. How can you call world's best bowler a chucker? Was it because your world dominating team did not have any answers for his bowling? Or introduce politics to cricket because you did not agree with Mugabe's regime. Lastly the man ran the country, and I'm sure in order to do that he probably was in politics for long time so when he ran Aus, he had all the experience needed to run the country. But he has no experience in the Cricket. It would be like George Bush running for presidency of NFL(Nat'l Football League) or MLB(Major League Baseball) in US. Having an experience is one thing but if it is not towards the job you're applying for then your resume goes at the end of the pile. & that's what happened to him. Australia & Gideon Haigh get over this and nominate Sir Anderson of NZ. He seems more suitable.

  • Rajagopalan on July 1, 2010, 13:33 GMT

    I am loving this. Honestly. I am loving this. For all the injustice and inexplicable treatment of Asian boards and players over the years this kind of revolt is long over due. Have it boys.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2010, 13:26 GMT

    Mr. Gideon, the rotationary system that exists to appoint a VP and a Prez is not a black cheque for that region to appoint any tom dick or a harry! And the ability of other regions to object and block is called democracy. Howard has a very dubious reputation as a diplomat and is highly polarising agent for the cricketing world; the last thing Cricket needs. What happened to gentlemen in Oz/NZ like Border, Waugh, Sir Hadlee, Sir John?

  • Ullas on July 1, 2010, 13:24 GMT

    For those who dont know about the selection process where Howard with no background in cricket administration overcame a very reputed cricket administrator and buisnessman Andrerson: A selection committe of a memeber each from each country was decided to submit their finidngs.This selection committe was chaired by an Aussie and finally it looked like the numerical advantage was the only thing in favor of Howard.Australia had its time with Speed. Why not give chance to NZL who has an excellent and reputed Anderson as a candidate instead of nominating somebody who has reservations from almost all part of the world except for Australia. As Haigh is a historian, he would know about the time when England and Aussies used to have the veto power in ICC. Is that the sort of dark ages you are referring to? For people who talk about the hypocracy of Indian disapora, well we didnt hear from any of you when Aus-Eng controlled ICC, so why talk now? Isnt that hypocracy on your part too?

  • Krish on July 1, 2010, 13:21 GMT

    Guys who talk so much against Howard - how good is Pawar my friends. Whole of India if not others know how much corrupt he is and he knows very little about sport administration forget about indian admininistration - not to mention about the mess up he made in IPL. Where as Howard in spite of his adamant views governed the country for 11 years without a single black mark. I never voted for him when he was a PM policy wise but he was one hell of an administrator and that is the reason AUS NZ chose him for the role. Trust me, as people point out it is the guilty complex of the six nations fearing that he will bring some radical measures to clean up the mess Pawar might have left or keep Inida and allied countries making ICC another IPL that he was pushed out! it is sheer cowardliness if not anything else.People talking against him to link up Mandela should also rememnber that he honoured him as well as a companion of the order of Australia. ICC is unlucky to miss out on a good admin guy

  • Chandu on July 1, 2010, 13:10 GMT

    Wonder What was the " rigorous and orderly process" in which NZ was arm-twisted?

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