Cricket and politics in South Africa February 23, 2000

Ex UCB president Ray White lashes out

RAY White, the recently-resigned president of the United Cricket Board, believes the UCB has become "little more than the cricket organ of the ANC" and that the game in South Africa is "fracturing along racial lines". In Pietermaritzburg on Wednesday night as the guest of the local branch of the SA Institute of International Affairs, White said the UCB "is now a cesspool of self-interest and politics" and the off-field problems of the game need to be addressed if the national team are not to slip further and further behind world champions Australia.

"While the Australians have gone from strength to strength, our team is showing the signs of the problems affecting the game in the boardroom. It can all be traced back to the beginnings of the transformation process and ever since then pressure has begun to build on the national team, who were riding the crest of a wave," White said.

Describing himself as "a rejected president", White said he was extremely concerned about government interference in the game and that when he put up "moderate opposition" to it he was "swept away" in "something like ethnic cleansing".

"When the national team were winning the mini-world cup in Bangladesh, winning the Commonwealth Games and murdering the West Indies there was not one word of congratulation from the government. The only thing I heard was 'when they were getting their gold medals in the Commonwealth Games it would have been nice if they did not look like the England team'. When the elections were coming up, the government seized the opportunity to give us tremendous stick, day after day, about choosing all-white teams.

"That is why I made my speech at Newlands when I served notice to those who will interfere in our sport that the UCB were quite capable of running cricket in the spirit of the Rainbow Nation."

Despite the huge cheer his comments received from the crowd at Newlands during that 1999 new year Test against the West Indies and the delight of the players, White said the campaign to get rid of him as president began then and very nearly also claimed the scalp of national captain Hansie Cronje.

"The national team began to feel alienated and they were very angry that the principle of merit selection had been departed from. The crisis came to a head days before the limited-overs series against the West Indies, when Ali Bacher tried to explain the new selection policy to the team.

"Hansie exploded, walked out and caught the next plane to Bloemfontein. It took the intervention of Peter Pollock (the then convenor of selectors) and Ray McCauley (Cronje's pastor) to calm Hansie down, otherwise he would have been lost to the game since last February.

"Although I am a great supporter of Ali Bacher -- 80% of him is better than most people can manage -- he never told me anything about that meeting, which shows the sort of transparency in the UCB.

"Then when an all-white team was chosen for the first two limited-overs internationals in New Zealand, I spent hours in a UCB meeting defending Peter Pollock, Hansie and Ali Bacher. This led to calls for my resignation, and there were even demands that Hansie be flown back from New Zealand to appear before the board to explain his decision. Never mind that it was Hansie who first picked Makhaya Ntini to play, off his own bat, back in Perth in 1998, when conditions couldn't have been better for a young fast bowler -- a decision Hansie has never been given any credit for."

White added that whereas he could not think of a better convenor of selectors than Peter Pollock, he believed his successor, Rushdie Magiet, was "weak".

"Magiet did not even play particularly good first-class cricket and under him the selectors have made a series of blunders that have been difficult to comprehend. Ever since they decided to put Hansie on trial at the beginning of the season, the team has stumbled along."

While the players in the national team continue to fear for their positions, White stepped down as president of the UCB earlier this month, believing his position to be untenable.

His successor is the Capetonian Percy Sonn, who White quoted as saying "it would have been a tragedy if South Africa had won the World Cup because it would have set the transformation process back five years".

White added that "the black/white issue now dominates every decision of the UCB, which does not make the job of maintaining South African cricket at the pinnacle of the game at all easy.

"As Joe Slovo said some years back: 'There will be two revolutions in South Africa and the second will occur under the guise of transformation'. He was so right because a racism I never envisaged before has now been unleashed in the UCB," White said.