August 31, 2011

Whatever happened to accountability?

While players have become professional on and off the field, those who govern them have largely remained amateur in their attitudes. That needs to change drastically

Sooner or later every cricketing country is going to need an Argus report, or rather a Crawford review, for that is the one set up to examine the way the game is run in Australia. Don Argus was merely asked to consider the cricketing set-up, and to that end recommended changes to the way the team was chosen and coached. Crawford and other governance experts were invited to examine its structures.

Cricket grew up in another age, a period of autocratic rule, or else sprawling committees populated by the earnest or ambitious. Then players were underlings and the game lived upon a pittance. No one played it for money. A man might as well open a shop. As time passed cricket became an industry, and the players hired agents to advance their interests, formed associations and were able to choose between versions of the game, some of them offering rich rewards.

Off the field, old-fashioned officials found themselves running an industry. As the players became more professional the administrators remained locked in a bygone age, the over-romanticised time of the amateur. Sport was a recreation, a relaxation; it was not to be taken that seriously.

Of course it could not last. Money poured into the coffers, with TV contracts reflecting both the growing middle class in India and the worldwide nature of sport itself. Suddenly it was possible to watch matches on laptops or on screens in remote villages. With a lot of money at stake, the game became vulnerable to opportunists, rorters, conmen and so forth. No longer could cricket assume that the good of the game was in the forefront of official thinking.

Accordingly governance became a vital issue - arguably the most important in the game. Experts might debate the lbw law, or discuss throwing, or complain about bad light and other technicalities, but ultimately everything goes back to the quality of decisions taken and the calibre of the men involved (no sign yet of women administrators). And the best way to guarantee that is to develop the sort of accountability and judgement that is expected of the boards of major companies.

Events indicate that cricket has too often and too easily fallen into dubious hands. At times it has been used as a means of self-enrichment. Money has changed the balance off the field, pushing cricketing folk into the background while promoting financial experts or those capable of presenting themselves in that light.

At the same time the world changed, with the old powers forced to accept a smaller role, reflecting shrinking economies and diminishing influence. Cricket was no longer a British game run from Lord's. The headquarters moved to Dubai, and India became both the main source of revenue and the game's driving force.

No country has made the transition from amateur to professional smoothly. Accordingly cricket continues to suffer the consequences of the widespread failure to apply best practices as observed in other sports and fields of endeavour. At present the West Indian players seem hell-bent on suing their board for millions of dollars, presumably as compensation for lost returns. Not that the West Indies board has been sagacious, or even entirely trustworthy, but the conduct of the players seems self-indulgent and destructive. The only way forwards is to seek fresh structures capable of surviving scrutiny and populated by independent members.

Ultimately everything goes back to the quality of decisions taken and the calibre of the men involved. And the best way to guarantee that is to develop the sort of accountability and judgement that is expected of the boards of major companies

Sri Lankan cricket, too, has been plagued by crises off the field. For years the game has been put in the hands of interim committees, themselves at the whim of politicians. Plainly the system does not work. Far from making a packet from the recent World Cup, the board contrived to break the bank. Critics insist that cronyism was rampant.

Nor has Pakistan been able to build sustainable cricketing institutions. Not that it has been easy in so troubled a country. Indeed, that is part of the problem. Cricket is not played by a handful of Nordic nations with much in common. Rather it is pursued to the highest level by a bunch of countries often breathing fire, uncertain of their own standing, and vulnerable to disturbances of various kinds: civil war, and forces of nature, government intervention and so forth.

Nor has India been a beacon of proper conduct. Mr Srinivasan, secretary and president-elect, sets the tone by combining official duties with ownership of one of the IPL franchises. No wonder the players pick the IPL before the West Indies tour. As it stands, few countries take Test cricket seriously. Several pay lip service to it, but then organise two-Test series or else send their players overseas a week before the first match is to be played.

South Africa has also been shaken by turmoil off the field. Insufficient attention has been paid to the nasty and sustained fight between the two senior officials at CSA, Mtutuzeli Nyoka and Gerald Majola. Inevitably money was the cause of the problem. Majola accepted bonuses from the IPL for extra work connected with staging its second edition, and other events. Unaware of these payments, and grateful for the extra revenue, CSA also awarded bonuses to Majola and other staff members. Attempts to sweep the matter under the carpet were thwarted by a High Court judge convinced that accountability was essential and that an independent examination was needed. The auditors criticised Majola over bonuses and also over the way family members were allowed to travel on board tickets. Majola was severely reprimanded and reminded of his responsibilities.

The list could go on. Cricket in the USA has for an unconscionable time been run by a bunch of self-interested people lacking the vision and selflessness required to renew the game. Kenya has not been without its complications. Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from a long period of financial irregularity.At least one of the new franchises' CEOs was sacked recently. Even now player payments are well behind schedule, and the chairman of selectors has conflicts of interest.

At least the Australians are trying to modernise the way the game is run in their country. The Crawford report is expected to recommend the abolition of the old system whereby each state sends two candidates to the board, a system calculated to reward long service as opposed to recognising exceptional ability.

Happily the ICC has undertaken a similarly rigorous review of its own structures, and likewise promised to adopt and apply the conclusions. It's a vital step in the right direction. Cricket cannot be a healthy and honest game unless it is properly run. Accountability is crucial and it has been in short supply.

Peter Roebuck is a former captain of Somerset and the author, most recently, of In It to Win It

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