May 7, 2013

Silencing the voices of truth

Tim May's removal from the ICC cricket committee maintains the eclipse of the outspoken at the governance table

For once, Tim May was something less than frank. In the days before his summary removal from the ICC's cricket committee, May was careful not to speak publicly about his looming exit at the hands of the BCCI and their preferred candidate as players' representative, one of the board's in-house television commentators, Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. Instead he let the heads of other players' associations speak out about the manner of his removal and its unsavoury implications.

This silence felt highly ironic, since May has, for more than a decade, been one of international cricket's most unapologetic voices. Since leaving his post as the chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association in 2005, May has served exclusively as the figurehead of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations, more smoothly referred to as FICA. He has used this post to agitate, cajole, and rage against various ills afflicting the game, from near-sighted scheduling and questionable security arrangements to the often-lengthy delays in player payments.

As might be expected, May's position and his willingness to speak out on matters that did not reflect well on cricket or its administrators in many countries - certainly not just India - did not endear him to various boards or decision-makers. At one point in 2006 he was described as "unnecessarily belligerent" by the then ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed.

But May carried on fearlessly, safe at least in the knowledge that the players he represented were broadly supportive of his fierce convictions and plain-speaking methods. It was with grudging admiration that Speed wrote of May in his illuminating account of cricket administration, Sticky Wicket: "The players regarded him as their leader. They relied on his judgement and his understanding of the game's finances. We were to learn that he had a high level of support across the player constituency."

To gain further insight into May's trenchant presence at global negotiating tables over the past 15 years, it is worth recounting a few of his more memorable lines. These were seldom spoken with the dry wit May was admired for within the Australian dressing room when he bowled in fruitful tandem with Shane Warne. Rather, they were delivered with the kind of righteous fury familiar to those who watched Simon Katich in action at the Sydney Cricket Ground theatre in mid-2011 after the loss of his Cricket Australia contract.

On the ICC's prevarication over Zimbabwe in 2005: "Players are only too happy to recognise their responsibility to the game's image but equally recognise that the game's administrators should be answerable to the same standards of conduct expected of the players. The game's handling of the present Zimbabwean issue has disillusioned and disappointed the majority of players around the world."

On the new ICC Future Tours Programme, 2006: "The FTP is a disaster because it puts no upper limit on the amount of cricket that can be scheduled. There are five or six guys in the five leading sides in the world who play Tests and ODIs, and they are being flogged. You only have to look at the doping record in baseball to see that recovery not enhanced power, is the motivation for most drug misuse. The more we push players the more they might look at options."

On the Harbhajan Singh-Andrew Symonds affair, 2008: "The priorities of each board have been misdirected at best - one hell-bent on protecting its image and the other hell-bent on protecting its revenues. Allegations of intimidation, interference and some good old 'backroom bullying' have unfortunately been all too prevalent in this issue and other issues. Racism is a sensitive and very serious issue within our respective communities. The boards have failed in their responsibility to uphold their respect for this issue. They have failed the players, they have failed both the ICC's Code of Conduct and the ICC's Anti-Racism Code, and they have failed the communities where racism is a real, live issue."

The most concerning element of the May episode, and those that preceded it, is that continued skewering of those expressing unpopular opinions from time to time will leave the game's governance even more aimless and self-interested than it already is

On the Woolf Report, 2012: "Player rights will be better protected and respected if the game is governed responsibly and decisions are made in the wider interests of the game, rather than in the self-interests of those who sit on the board. Players want the ICC to be the best possible organisation it can - we want the ICC to grow the game, to make smart, unbiased decisions, and to be free of conflicts of interest in decision-making."

Frank and unfettered views these, all guaranteed to upset someone, somewhere in cricket's web of power and influence. In that sense, it is perhaps a surprise that it has taken this long for the BCCI - or another board - to curb May's influence at the ICC. He had already faced up to a certain marginalisation at the IPL, where India's steadfast refusal to recognise or share information with players' associations had forced cricketers to seek other opinions on safety, logistics, and the like.

But May's exit from the cricket committee should also be seen as the latest episode in a disheartening trend away from plain speakers in influential posts around cricket's governing body. Over the past decade or so, numerous figures have been pushed to one side, their names synonymous with various moments of rancour in the game, often though not always involving India. The recently deceased former match referee Mike Denness, the former ICC chief executive Speed, the would-be ICC president John Howard, and Speed's successor Haroon Lorgat all spring to mind. And now May.

These men did not share too much in common, and often found themselves opposed to each other. But one thread running through all their stories was a desire to address the game's pertinent issues head-on, regardless of how that might look. It is an approach that does not often win friends. It is also anathema to many on the subcontinent, who prefer a more circular, backroom process, for reasons of culture and history, as much as for the more immediate financial or political considerations of the moment.

The most concerning element of the May episode, and those that preceded it, is that continued skewering of those expressing unpopular opinions from time to time will leave the game's governance even more aimless and self-interested than it already is. Those who wish to take up posts in the future will do so having either sworn off their former frankness or having risen to the role because they never demonstrated such qualities in the first place. This is in every way a shame, for now more than ever cricket is in need of leaders capable of clear thinking and fearless speaking.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here