Ram Varadarajan interview March 24, 2008

Varadarajan looks to a brighter future

Ram Varadarajan puts forward his case as he stands for election as president of the USACA

The much-anticipated elections to the USA Cricket Association's board of directors take place with many believing that they are the USA's last chance of salvaging their standing within the international community. Three candidates are challenging for the presidency. In the second of our interviews, we talk to Ram Varadarajan, whose slick campaign has attracted considerable attention.

Ram Varadarajan: 'It's time to change the status quo' © Cricinfo
In a year of presidential elections, what are the main items on your manifesto?
Our manifesto has several key elements: restore confidence in USACA and make it relevant to all US cricketers and enthusiasts restoring credibility with ICC and gain re-admittance to international competition; bring professional management, transparency, inclusion, reporting; recognize the various needs of cricket - recreational cricket, professional cricket, youth cricket, women's cricket, etc; promote good process and order in USACA activities that USACA; improve communications; make the website a vibrant window to US cricket; raise funding for national and local US; build an incentive based plan - a partnership between USACA and the leagues - so that we can fund leagues whilst promoting good governance and an overall strategy for developing cricket in US; promote professional cricket consistent with the ICC; promote infrastructure development for cricket in all regions of the US; grow USACA by providing the right environment that makes it worthwhile for many other clubs and leagues to join the USACA family; get serious on youth cricket, not only at schools but also at universities by promoting inter university matches and setting up cricket scholarships; work on a grassroots effort to build promote and build women's cricket.

Given all that has happened in the last few years inside US cricket, what drives you to stand?
The world is full of examples where one person has taken a stand and made a difference. If someone did not take a stand, there would not be civil rights in America; women would not have the right to vote, etc. Long odds do not worry me - as long as the cause is right. Fundamentally, I am a cricket lover through and through and I feel the timing critical to usher in change. The status quo will lead to a ten-year drought in US cricket. I also believe that I have the skills that are required for the job at hand. In a nutshell, a personal conviction, shared by my other team members, to help US cricket to develop to the next level, is what drives me.

In short, where has the USACA gone wrong in the last five years?
I am really focused on the future and am not dwelling on or thinking about the past. That is behind us and is for historians to analyze. I do want to understand the past - only to learn from it, so that we do not repeat the same mistakes.

You have been the country meeting with regional administrators. What is the message that you have been told?
I have been overwhelmed and humbled by the outpouring of support. 20+ league presidents have pledged their support. Not all of them are willing to go public at this point - for a variety of reasons, but we are hopeful of ushering in a velvet revolution come March 29. My travels have convinced me that there is tremendous hope, enthusiasm and several grass roots programs running. However, USACA, our national body, has largely become irrelevant to many regional folks. We need to have national programs to develop cricket and build strong national teams to give our youth international opportunities.

How would you respond to people who say that Gladstone Dainty is the man to lead the USACA?
They must be from Mars ... more seriously, it the prerogative of the electorate to make their decision. I think the results are in the open for all to see I would urge them to review that fairly. In my travels, I have met very few folks that have expressed the sentiment of your question - most are aching for a new inning. Through my manifesto and the Bill of rights, I have also painted a canvas of what a well-run national organization can do - once people understand what is possible, then they will support my campaign. Clearly, a new team, a team with decades of professional business management, is needed to take cricket to the next level.

Over the last two or three years US cricket has been deeply divided. How will you bring together all those factions ... and can you?
My travels through the country are a clear attempt at understanding the issues in US cricket. I have also espoused the benefits of a unified front - and this has been resonating. This is one of the reasons to put together a slate of candidates for this election. I have married philosophy with action. It would have been very hard otherwise to prove to the electorate my sincerity of my plan. I pledge to run an open, transparent and inclusive organization. We need everyone's to help take cricket forward. We are reaching out to everyone in US cricket to get on board - there is a role for everyone in the future.

You have said that the current USACA executive is not representative of the whole USA. How would you address this?
Our team has people from all over the US and with various cricket backgrounds. The VP candidates on my team - Shahid Tahir from Michigan and Manaf Mohamed from Florida - are great examples. We are listeners and in my travels I have been hearing what is important to many people in different regions with various levels of cricket development. Our plans specifically aim at helping cricket, in all its forms, develop all over the country.

There has also been criticism that the US side, when it played, was not representative of the country. Again, how would you address this?
Our management team will run a careful process to find the best possible selectors, coaches and leaders for our national teams. Once we get buy-in on the process, and it is done in a transparent and processional manner, we can get the entire country behind it. Once appointed, it will be job of these appointees to find and develop the best talent form around the country. USACA management will support them, but not interfere. Tournaments (regional, inter-regional, international, etc.) will be one way they can identify the best regional talent for inclusion in the national teams. We will require the selectors to look nationally for talent. We are also going to promote better record keeping. This way we can keep track of player stats - and not just rely on hearsay information to make decisions.

We will be pushing aggressively for international re-admittance and to build our reputation back up. We need to get international tours started ... it will take some time to restore confidence in the international community.
Given the ICC's well-documented views on the USACA under Dainty's tenure, how will you restore the USA's standing internationally?
If elected, my team and I plan on quickly meeting with the ICC in an attempt to rapidly have the current suspension lifted, the freeing up of frozen development monies. We will be pushing aggressively for international re-admittance and to build our reputation back up. We need to get international tours started. Participation in the World Cup is top of mind. It will take some time to restore confidence in the international community.

One of the most widespread criticisms of the USACA has been its complete lack of transparency, most evident in the way that stakeholders are kept in the dark and the website at times moribund. How will you remedy it?
Good management. This is a very important issue. That is why we published the Bill of rights. Moribund is an excellent word ... the picture of the week on the front page of the website is a two-year old picture. The new USACA constitution has reduced the number of regions from eight to seven - northwest and southwest have been merged into West - but the website still shows eight regions - It is the second title line on the website. The web is a powerful communication tool and cricket stakeholders will see information and reports from the professional team leading USACA under my overall direction.

Funding has always been a problem. What plans do you have for attracting investors to the game?
My team has met on this issue and we have a plan. It is a three phased plan: * Get ICC relationship restored and get maximum funding for USACA * The second phase involves getting sponsorships. There are several assets at USACA's disposal that can be leveraged to get a fantastic set of sponsors. My team and I have drawn up a set of global companies already involved in sponsoring cricket in other markets. We will work with the ICC to ensure that there is no conflict in the brands. * We will promote professional cricket. That will also be a source of significant funding for USACA.

There has been some criticism of your campaign that it is at times too simplistic in what you believe you can attract financially and how you get leagues etc involved. What do you say to those people?
Aim high. In my career I have experience raising large amounts of capital as do other members of the team, such as John Thickett the candidate for treasurer. We believe with hard work and application we will be able to raise capital to develop cricket in the USA - several of us have already successfully done it. We have management depth to do this. We plan to share some best practices with the regions and leagues to get them raising money too. Many cricket enthusiasts will need to get engaged in these initiatives and we will be pushing many people to help us. We will raise fundraising from a high street store front campaign to a marketing campaign at a corporate board room. Of course, professional cricket will provide another huge source of funding.

Where do you think you can take US cricket to in five years time?
A growing sport with increased participation all around our nation for adults, children and women. A healthy cash flow allowing for continuing development and increasing success and standing for our international teams in their competitions. A robust organization with defined processes in place. A wide network of advisors and volunteers that help with the workings of USACA. I am also a firm believer in term limits - so that we can get new talent flowing through the organization.

In short, why should someone vote for you?
We are committed to restoring confidence both domestically and internationally in US cricket through good management practices. Our team has an impressive track record of success and very importantly we are confident we can take cricket in the US to new heights. It's time to change the status quo.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo