April 3, 2015

Mustafa Kamal's own goal

The former ICC president ignored the fact that for a holder of a high-profile public office there is no separation of public and personal identities

In an episode of his popular satirical weekly show Last Week Tonight on American network HBO, John Oliver tears into FIFA for splurging $27 million to produce a film on itself. "Who makes a sports film where the heroes are the executives?" he asks.

Well, from what we have seen emerge from the ICC over the last few days, Oliver may have his answer. They may not have found a "hero" in Mustafa Kamal, but the ICC certainly has discovered an inadvertent comic suited perfectly for the lead role if they choose to go down the same path as their footballing counterparts.

Kamal resigned as ICC president after being denied what he described as his "constitutional right" to present the trophy to the winners after the World Cup final. On that argument alone, there is no counter. That the president is entitled to hand over the trophy is part of the ICC constitution.

But amid the outrage, fuelled by Kamal's vociferous and righteous outbursts, it must be asked if he forfeited that right by his extraordinary attack on the integrity of the match officials appointed by the very organisation he presided over. And he did so without a shred of evidence, and in the middle of the tournament.

Already under intense pressure in a high-profile World Cup game with an intrusive media waiting to pounce on the slightest error, the last thing umpires need is for their integrity to be questioned by means of innuendo and baseless suspicion. As ICC president, Kamal sits above them on the food chain, and his task is to protect not target them.

Mustafa Kamal didn't realise that it's his job to speak in favour of cricket, not his own country © Raton Gomes

If they erred, he must explain and empathise, not inflame and provoke. If the umpiring standards troubled him, he should have raised his concerns behind closed doors. If a particular umpire's decisions were suspicious to him, his job was to bring it to the attention of fellow members in a formal meeting, not in public.

Kamal did no such thing. And despite the benefit of hindsight, he felt no need to apologise, yet he expected to be granted the limelight and privilege of handing over the World Cup trophy. In essence, Kamal demanded he be allowed to exercise what he saw to be his right as president despite having spectacularly failed to perform what was his duty in the job.

Kamal should have seen the writing on the wall in the immediate aftermath of his comments. In an unprecedented move, the ICC issued a strongly worded statement the day after the controversy. "The spirit of the game dictates that the umpire's decision is final and must be respected," the ICC said. "Any suggestion that the match officials had 'an agenda' or did anything other than perform to the best of their ability are baseless and are refuted in the strongest possible terms."

Having been chastised publicly by the organisation he leads should have made Kamal recognise the rage among the rank and file - in this case the umpires. To offer an "explanation" in response and no apology was a gross miscalculation on his part.

Amusingly, in its official communication, the ICC claims Kamal resigned for "personal reasons" and that he had no "complaints to make against anyone". At his press conference on landing in Dhaka, Kamal was a lot less subtle and also made another bizarre remark. "The ICC asked me why I spoke in favour of Bangladesh," he said. "For me, country comes first, before I am the ICC president. That's why I spoke in favour of Bangladesh."

Kamal claimed that his observations were made in a "personal capacity". In doing so he ignored, wilfully or otherwise, one of the fundamental principles of holding public office: there is no separation of public and personal identities

Kamal clearly has a coloured understanding of what a senior administrative role in a sporting body such as the ICC entails. He is not in the position of ICC president to speak in "favour" of his country; he is in the job to speak in "favour" of cricket.

Kamal also claimed that his observations were made in a "personal capacity". In doing so he ignored, wilfully or otherwise, one of the fundamental principles of holding public office: there is no separation of public and personal identities when you assume a position of high profile.

Even if he held that opinion privately, his position demanded restraint rather than fuelling the fire. Or was Kamal, a professional politician, playing to a constituency? Seizing the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of a "nationalistic" cause is certain to attract a significant number of eyeballs.

The larger point is simply this: Mustafa Kamal remained unrepentant despite undermining the organisation he worked for in a leadership position. He made himself an object of ridicule and worse still, maligned men who draw their strength from their integrity. He did not deserve a space on that podium.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75