September 27, 2010

Prescriptions for the PCB

Get rid of Ijaz Butt, take away some of the chairman's powers and spread them around, hire a CEO answerable to the governing body, and bring in more prominent former cricketers

Change must come. First Ijaz Butt must go. That is a valid and necessary objective. Very soon he will have been board chairman for two years, and a more damaging tenure in the PCB's history has not been seen. Had he any sense of duty, he would have resigned last year, after failing to provide security from terror to a visiting side. People go to jail for less in countries that function.

There are many other reasons for him to go, but uppermost now is practicality. The bald truth is that, because of him, world cricket will not work with Pakistan. India cannot be courted for political reasons. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were lost last year, when Butt pushed for the 2011 World Cup to be taken away from the subcontinent because Pakistan could not host matches. Australia will not forget so soon Butt's opposition to John Howard as an ICC president-elect. England were allies but are now likelier to see him in court.

In the grand scheme of things, the remaining boards are irrelevant in voting terms or financial benefits. Pakistan does not play at home. With England gone, they have one less neutral option (and the existing one in the Middle East is not great financially). The ICC task force to help bring cricket back to Pakistan (headed by the latest board chief Butt has picked a fight with) has made more progress than has been publicly revealed. It will not remain unaffected. The PCB is truly isolated and Butt is the sole cause of it.

What are the ways out of this logjam if Butt stays on? As the board head of a Full Member country, he is also an ICC director. That position has its own code of conduct and his unthinking remarks about another full member may well constitute a breach. A resolution can be put forward by other directors calling for his suspension. The way things are, that is likely to gain more votes than any possible resolution tabled by Butt to remove Haroon Lorgat; quite apart from what anyone feels about Lorgat, where precisely will support for Butt's motion come from?

But beyond the removal of Butt, deeper change must come. It cannot be that Butt goes and another like him arrives, of which there is every chance, given how administration has broadly deteriorated over the last decade. Something very basic has to change in the way the board is run.

What is the problem? In plain words it stems from the chairman and how he is appointed. He is thrust upon the game by the country's president, the patron of the board, and is answerable to him and appointable and sackable only by him. This method of appointment has been in place since the early 60s. At that time there was a good reason for it. Cricket made little money and needed state patronage and funding; the president's involvement was one way of ensuring that.

Over the years, it has come to need neither. The PCB is now a mixed beast; it is not wholly a state institution or under the control of the sports ministry, but the very nature of the chairman's appointment makes it state-influenced.

The PCB generates its own revenue and is the only sports body in the country that pays taxes. Yet because of presidential involvement, over the years, the board has essentially replicated a poorly functioning, politicised state behemoth. It represents the political winds of the day and is full of the inherent failings of precisely such a body. Through chance, capable men are often appointed: AH Kardar, Nur Khan, to an extent Shaharyar Khan, and times are good. If not, then a period of crisis it is. Subsequent appointments, below the chairman, are made not on merit but nepotism, and entirely randomly. The organisation becomes bloated, inefficient, potentially corrupt and eventually of great harm to its own purpose. The PCB is not alone in Pakistan to be like that.

Over the last two years, everything has concentrated solely around Butt. When the ICC were trying to get in touch with him before releasing the statement about the Oval ODI, they didn't try anyone else at the PCB because they didn't know who the second-in-command is, or whether there was one

The most pressing and ideal change, then, is to delink this appointment and to not have the president as patron. Unfortunately, only the government itself has the power to do this, and no state in the world is eager to reduce its own sphere of influence. More realistic might be to hope for something from the current battle being fought over the chairman's powers in Islamabad's corridors of power. The board constitution as it stands prescribes no limits on the chairman's powers and doesn't even specify them particularly well: the chairman has as much power as he wishes, all of it unchecked. This constitution, incidentally, is not the creation of Butt's administration, but of the two preceding his. Butt, though, wants more power. The sports ministry, among others, wants him to have less.

In this constitution, the chairman is also the chief executive officer. He sits on the governing board (the senate of the PCB) and on the general body (the board's parliament). He appoints up to eight members of the governing board (the strength of which varies from 12 to 15 members). He appoints the captain, he approves selection of squads. The senior-most officers report only to him.

In recent administrations there has been valuable delegation of responsibility. Shafqat Naghmi, Saleem Altaf, Abbas Zaidi, Ramiz Raja, all provided not only necessary alternative centres of power, policy and thinking, they were, in themselves, a check on the chairman. Over the last two years, though, everything has concentrated solely around Butt. High-ranking officials refer every query to him, unwilling to speak at all themselves. When the ICC was trying to get in touch with him last weekend before releasing the statement about the Oval ODI, they didn't try anyone else at the PCB because they didn't know who the second-in-command is, or whether there was one.

Quite simply, power must be taken away from the chairman and spread around. Ideally the chairman should be a symbolic head and a CEO should be the man to run the institution. He need not be a man of cricket but one of proven ability to govern. Alongside the CEO, the character of the governing board - or executive council as it has been and might yet be called again - needs to change; it must at once become more independent and powerful. This body must become the engine of cricket administration.

Currently it has the elected heads of regional associations, an elected representative from departments (that are first-class sides), a couple of ex-Test cricketers, an official of the government, the chairman and an unfilled provision for technocrats. To this should be added more prominent ex-cricketers. There is no dearth of former players (such as Iqbal Qasim or Aamer Sohail, to name but two) with developed ideas of how the game can be better governed. Prominent modern leaders of business and industry must be included, to reflect the game's status as business and its future direction as a profitable one. Fewer members should be appointed directly by the chairman. A chief executive should, in fact, be hired by, and answerable to, the governing board.

And though there is a provision for a general body in the constitution, a larger, more representative body of stakeholders to steer cricket in a broader sense - to ensure development and representation in areas like interior Sindh and Balochistan, for example - Butt's administration hasn't even formed one yet.

Elsewhere must be made the more generic changes that any such organisation looking to reform makes. Over the years, to no discernible enhancement of productivity, the PCB workforce has grown to nearly 800. Admittedly in Butt's time they have tried to bring it down, and even if the days when five people ran the board are gone, much flab has to be cut. Happily, among the lower levels of management there are enough who prove that while entire organisations may be rotten, all the people inside them aren't necessarily that way.

These are not vast structural changes. The board does not need, as was suggested at one point in the mid-90s, to go public and float shares. Some call still for an unclear privatisation, but it is unlikely that this can, or should even, be done: the representation of a national side should not be left to what is by nature a private entity.

In any case, the real rot has sunk in at the very top and the process must begin from there. There simply is no other option.

Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of Cricinfo