Rob Steen
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Sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

International cricket in Pakistan? You gotta be...

As the game's governing body, how can the ICC choose not to send its own match officials to the country but be okay with Bangladesh's players playing there?

Rob Steen

March 21, 2012

Comments: 43 | Text size: A | A

PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf and BCB president Mustafa Kamal arrive at a press conference, Lahore, March 4, 2012
Given the ICC's stance on the security issue, the only logical step Bangladesh board president Mustafa Kamal (right*) could take was to reject the tour © AFP
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Age tends to harden beliefs, but it can soften them too. What was once mere conviction may evolve into rabid dogmatism - to the 18-year-old me, homophobia was a major misdemeanour; at 30 it was a crime; but by the time I was 40 it had blossomed into a fully-qualified, no-holds-barred, utterly indefensible sin. I am now a proud homophobic-phobic. Yet maturity can also, if we're lucky, transform black-and-white myopia into a keener sense of balance. So long as it doesn't descend into racism or any other form of antisocial prejudice, I'm far more tolerant of sledging now than I was in my 20s, when I advocated terminating certain Australians with the most extreme prejudice seen since a certain Austro-German was the toast of Berlin.

The same applies, in some respects, to sporting administrators and management. Once upon a time, not so terribly long ago, it was almost impossible not to see these allegedly well-meaning chaps as uniformly oblivious to the interests, needs and feelings of the players, without whom, of course, they would be less prominent than a grain of sand in the Sahara. (And chaps, as opposed to chapesses, they have invariably been, for all that Nottinghamshire have just appointed English cricket's first female chief executive, the aptly named Lisa Pursehouse).

Yet over the past couple of decades, as social norms have changed, so there have been welcome signs of enlightenment and even compassion. Salaries are far more reflective of the players' value; instead of being uniformly regarded as a threat, some, if not all, players' unions are afforded a measure of respect, and even seen, in some cases, as partners; captains put childbirth before national "duty" without fear of reprisal; technology has been adopted and adapted to enhance fairness and justice, which benefits the combatants as well as the game's credibility and image; rather than sticking to the traditional "buck up and stop feeling sorry for yourself", depression is beginning to be taken seriously - though you can't help but wonder whether the dark ages would still be with us had it not been for Marcus Trescothick's courageous honesty.

Unfortunately, such unquestionably positive developments, however small those steps have been, are countermanded by the ever-rising tide of commercialism, emphasising as it does the sanctity of the bottom line. And in straitened economic times, the gap between what is good for management and what is good for the workers is all the likelier to grow into a chasm. Witness the latest efforts to restore Pakistan as an international cricket venue.

Apparently, there has been a gross over-reaction to the proposal by its own Chief Executives Committee that the ICC should not risk sending its own employees there. That, anyway, was the somewhat knee-jerkish response of Subhan Ahmed, the Pakistan Cricket Board's chief operating officer, who waded into the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA) for being over-sensitive in stating its objections to next month's proposed tour by Bangladesh, a tour about which the game's governing body appears to have sufficient reservations not to permit its elite umpires to stand. To which the only sensible response can be "What absolute tosh!" Or something along those lines that makes it absolutely clear that Mr Ahmed is talking codswallop. Still a bit too Eton-and-Harrow for you? OK, let's put it in modern global English and go brazenly for the c-word - crap.

That the ICC has apparently absolved itself of any involvement in the decision over the proposed tour does nothing to mitigate matters. Quite the opposite. In the words of a media statement issued from Dubai a fortnight ago - a press release that richly deserves instant admission to the PR Hall of Shame - the CEC "recognised that the ICC Board had determined that a decision as to whether a particular tour should take place or not is one for the participating countries". Fair enough, but only up to a point - for instance, does this laissez-faire with knobs on make the ICC Test and ODI and T20 rankings a bit of a fraud?

It was the next part of the statement that truly galled. The ICC's role, apparently, is "limited to considering the safety and security of the match officials after a tour had been confirmed and a security plan produced". In recommending that the ICC approve a "special dispensation" for "non-neutral" umpires to stand in the matches "in the event of the ICC determining that it was unsafe to appoint match officials", the CEC made the unsavoury priority all too clear.

 
 
Your average terrorist is hardly likely to target an administrator. They don't have to board the coaches and stay in the hotels and stand around a field for hours on end; they're not the sitting ducks. It isn't them who have to persuade their loved ones that going abroad to play games and fly the flag needn't necessarily mean not coming home
 
The subsequent comments of Mustafa Kamal, president of the Bangladesh board and the Asian Cricket Council, were inevitable, but no less pertinent or heartfelt. Yes, affirmed Mr Kamal, who had been part of a nine-man Bangladeshi delegation that approved the security plans following a briefing in Pakistan earlier this month, of course he wants cricket to "happen" in Pakistan, but "if [the ICC] don't take responsibility, then on what basis can I send my players?" Not an unreasonable question. It should be remembered, furthermore, that, when the security inspection was announced in December, the quid-pro-quo was that the PCB would endorse Kamal's candidacy as the next ICC president.

The verbal jousting had begun when Tim May, the FICA chief executive, sent out a press release wondering, among other things, how on earth the governing body can operate by such double standards, much less admit them publicly. "I am not sure how this idea even got off the ground. If the ICC cannot and will not send its officials to officiate in the series because it has been advised that it is not safe, it simply cannot contemplate any actions that will enhance the attractiveness of the series to others."

The ICC, he rightly stressed, has a duty of care. "It has a duty of care to the players of teams, the officials of teams and the general public, irrespective of whether this is a bilateral event or an ICC Event such as the World Cup. If it has specific information that Pakistan is not safe to tour, then it cannot and should not send a message out to these stakeholders that ICC not only recognises this series, but has gone out of way to change its own Playing Conditions so it may endorse and promote this series."

Now let's go back to that riposte from Mr Ahmed. "FICA always has rigid views sitting thousands of miles away," he moaned on this site. "This is one of the reasons why we don't recognise and endorse FICA at any level. They [FICA] should restrict their comments to those countries they represent."

So let me get this straight. If FICA harboured the same concerns about, say, an Australian tour of England, it would have a right to comment, but since the destination is Pakistan - whose players have thus far resisted any urge to join their brothers-in-arms, or been persuaded to - the fact that another cluster of FICA-associated players are the ones at risk is irrelevant by comparison with the pressing need to tell May and his comrades to mind their own business? Ah, such fraternal concern, such compassion.

It is hard not to mistrust administrative utterances on this particular topic. Nor will suspicion subside unless and until Rahul Dravid ascends the ICC throne hitherto occupied by a succession of chaps who came no nearer to playing in a post-60s Test than me. Given his experiences of rioting crowds, I'm fairly confident that Clyde Walcott - the first to hold such an office and only ex-international to do so - would have counselled against any rash statements or undertakings. And the proposition, stated or implicit, that players are more expendable than umpires - that anybody is expendable - is about as rash as it gets.

No leap of the imagination is required to unravel the mindset that fosters such a stance, however reprehensible it may be. After all, your average terrorist is hardly likely to target an administrator. They don't have to board the coaches and stay in the hotels and stand around a field for hours on end; they're not the sitting ducks. It isn't them who have to persuade their loved ones that going abroad to play games and fly the flag needn't necessarily mean not coming home.

In its defence, the sorely ill-advised press release that so enraged May can be attributed to the ICC's enthusiasm to put an end to Pakistan as a no-go area. Trouble is, the motivation comes across as largely, if not entirely, commercial - after all, the value of TV rights and sponsorship for matches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is hardly going to be a patch on those in Lahore and Karachi. And for all that Test attendances there have often been pitiful in recent times, crowds for the shorter formats can be relied upon to be somewhat more populous than three sheikhs and 400 migrant workers.

So, foregoing plain English in favour of administratish, let's get to that bottom line. Unless those running the game put the participants' safety above all other considerations, the players feel safe, and the ICC sends the best available umpires to officiate a Test in Faisalabad if one is so sanctioned, it would be the very height of irresponsibility to revive Pakistan as a suitable international venue for a spot of bat-and-balling. It would also be more than a little inhumane.

* March 21, 0802GMT: The picture caption was corrected to state Bangladesh board president Mustafa Kamal is on the right-hand side (PCB chairman Zaka Ashraf is on the left).

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton

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Posted by sa1chin on (March 22, 2012, 10:21 GMT)

Sending a team to Pakistan is that particular CC board's perogative. Sending match officials is ICC's perogative. Weather to term it an official Test or One Day status is ICC's decision.Let us be very clear with the jurisdiction each has. Having said that it is extremely risky for Pakistan to invite high profile teams to visit the country as no one can guarantee safety of any one, given the publicity of an attempted attack, weather successful or botched. Such an attempt would close down any chance of international cricket for a decade after peace returns to Pakistan. So better to have patience. Here's wishing Pakistan good luck in the peace process and Rob Steen should not have prejudiced views of the other side of the world especially from the comfort of his desk.

Posted by adnan_rifat84 on (March 22, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

My predictions if Bangladesh won Asia cup final against Pakistan then Bangla management will announce the tour of Pakistan, this can be a big deal by Bangla management that let us(Bangladesh) win and you( Pakistan) want some International cricket so we will come to your country, other wise sorry.

Posted by   on (March 22, 2012, 2:03 GMT)

Why does the author have to sing songs for 4 paragraphs before coming to the point? And I cannot help but laugh at people who want to drag BCCI into everything that's wrong with the world! I am no BCCI fan, from it... but let's get some perspective here.

Posted by vswami on (March 22, 2012, 1:58 GMT)

@davidc1984 Players sign contracts with their Boards not ICC and hence the "rights" and "obligations" of players are as per what the players have signed up to their respective boards. Dont like the contractual terms ? Then dont sign up !

Posted by   on (March 21, 2012, 23:53 GMT)

A lot of people commenting here are missing the point. Rob isn't making a comment on the actual security situation in Pakistan. What he is saying is that given the ICC does not feel that it is safe for their umpires to officiate in Pakistan, they should not endorse the tour, nor should they absolve themselves of responsibility for the tour. Why is it that people can't comprehend a simple concept, create a misunderstood picture of what the author is saying, and then attack that picture? Rob isn't attacking Pakistan, and he isn't saying that Pakistan is not safe. He is saying that if the ICC thinks its not safe, they should do something about it (essentially). And he has a very very good point.

Posted by   on (March 21, 2012, 23:25 GMT)

Steen nailed it right here: "It is hard not to mistrust administrative utterances on this particular topic. Nor will suspicion subside unless and until Rahul Dravid ascends the ICC throne hitherto occupied by a succession of chaps who came no nearer to playing in a post-60s Test than me. Given his experiences of rioting crowds, I'm fairly confident that Clyde Walcott - the first to hold such an office and only ex-international to do so - would have counselled against any rash statements or undertakings. And the proposition, stated or implicit, that players are more expendable than umpires - that anybody is expendable - is about as rash as it gets. "

FICA need to be respected & we need real leadership for the ICC for it to truly deserve to represent the game of cricket.

Posted by Dhutugemunu on (March 21, 2012, 21:31 GMT)

I'm not against International Cricket in Pakistan. Is the security level up there enough? We remember that there were some terrorist bomb blasts at Colombo, Sri Lanka when International Cricket Teams were in Sri Lanka. But those players were never targeted. But when Sri Lankan Cricket Team toured Pakistan in 2009 they were the target. Hope you guys remember that Lahore Attack. So that is not a good sign. Targeting Players. Who can assure that this will never happen again in Pakistan?

Posted by awt786 on (March 21, 2012, 20:34 GMT)

well said Akhtar Hassan ,i completely agree with you .

Posted by ss_ton on (March 21, 2012, 20:22 GMT)

That there have been double standards at play when it comes to Pakistan is beyond dispute (at least to me). Pakistan is certainly not a safe place - but then few places in South Asia are. Can this stance have something to do with behind-the-scenes influence exerted by the BCCI? As an Indian, this would not surprise me. I'm absolutely ashamed of this organziation, what its done to the game and how much animosity it has created among the fans around the world towards Indian cricket in general ...

Posted by adis26 on (March 21, 2012, 20:09 GMT)

I happen to think that all the nations are being a bunch of cowards by not allowing countries to travel to Pakistan. I understand the immediate withdrawal but why should teams be stopped going for tours in Pak with extra security and stuff. I long for an Ind-Pak test match but our government has other political issues with Pak Govt. I would like to believe that at least for us Indians, the 'safety' of Pak is not an issue and it should not be for other countries either. However, it is unfortunate that this is the world we live in and hopefully - Pak can make strides ahead in showing that it is a very safe place to travel to.

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Rob Steen Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton, whose books include biographies of Desmond Haynes and David Gower (Cricket Society Literary Award winner) and 500-1 - The Miracle of Headingley '81. His investigation for the Wisden Cricketer, "Whatever Happened to the Black Cricketer?", won the UK section of the 2005 EU Journalism Award "For diversity, against discrimination"

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