Ignorance is not bliss

If anyone had any lingering belief the ICC was the genuine guardian of the world game's integrity, its decision earlier this week to absolve Zimbabwe Cricket of any financial wrongdoings should have made them realise the reality - the ICC is an organisation increasingly dominated by agendas and political expediency.

To many inside Zimbabwe, the independent financial audit of the country's cricket administration presented the last chance for the ICC to do something to help the game there without necessarily casting it into isolation, and expel the men who have overseen the steep decline of the game there. But few held out much hope that anything would be done.

By the time KPMG was appointed to undertake the task in June 2007, critics of ZC fumed that it had had more than 18 months to sanitise the accounts. Senior administrators had been pleading with the ICC to investigate but their calls since 2005 were dismissed as being the actions of "disgruntled stakeholders". These administrators included people who were previously inside the ICC's close-knit hierarchy and others who worked tirelessly to get Zimbabwe Test status. What's more, no accounts have been produced by ZC for public consumption since 2005.

Peter Chingoka, the ZC chairman, and his board could, it seemed, do nothing wrong and anything it liked. The worst excesses were there for all to see, but those running the game repeatedly looked the other way. It took the local Sports and Recreation Commission to finally demand action in 2006, and a year later a report by a Harare-based firm, selected by ZC, revealed enough holes in the accounts to force the ICC's hand.

KPMG presented its report to the executive earlier this week and it seems discussions were far more drawn out than the terse statement issued by the ICC suggests. In the end ZC was saved by the same people who have protected it through some of its darkest days since 2003 - India and South Africa. While they only make up a small element on the executive board, their influence far outstrips their size.

India have stalled any action on Zimbabwe for years, the trade-off being a simple one. In return for their support, Chingoka slavishly backs their every move. He is even confident enough to boast about the nexus in his less guarded moments. South Africa's reasoning is tied in more to local politics, but the last two ICC presidents, the South Africans Percy Sonn and Ray Mali, have given Zimbabwe cricket their unwavering and unquestioning support.

Against that backdrop, the reality was that it would have taken something remarkable in the KPMG report for the ICC to be stirred into action. Even so, it was forced to concede that the report "highlighted serious financial irregularities". Despite that damning indictment, which would be enough to sink most other public officials, the ICC casually added that ZC would be allowed to sort matters out internally. The same people responsible for the "serious financial irregularities" are to be trusted to police themselves, with seemingly no accountability.

What's more, the ICC refuses to make the audit public, nor has it, as requested, handed the UK government a copy to allow it to decide if Chingoka is fit to be allowed entry to the UK. That has to raise concerns about quite what the irregularities are and what else the report contains. We may well never know. Perhaps the truth is too embarrassing?

The biggest indication of how bad things might have been can be gauged from the absence of Malcolm Speed at the media conference in Dubai that followed the decision. Speed, as the ICC's CEO, would normally have been there, but he was missing, and the ICC declined to explain why, even though a brief "otherwise engaged" could have ended speculation.

The reason might be traced back to last June, when Speed and Faisal Hasnain, the ICC's chief financial officer, reported to the board in a leaked report that "there is uncertainty regarding pseudo agreements as referred to by ZC. The auditors and ICC have been misled about these transactions ... It is clear that the accounts of ZC have been deliberately falsified to mask various illegal transactions from the auditors and the government of Zimbabwe. The accounts were incorrect and at no stage did ZC draw the attention of the users of these accounts to the unusual transactions. It may not be possible to rely on the authenticity of its balance sheet."

And yet we are asked to believe that nine months later all is well. Speed's absence is increasingly being seen as a sign of his disgust at what has happened, and nobody within the ICC appears to be suggesting otherwise.

Inside Zimbabwe, the reaction is one of anger. Whatever line the ICC chooses to peddle, the people trying to keep the game alive can see that last summer ZC received US$11 million from the World Cup and yet at grass-roots level there is almost nothing. Where, they ask, has that money gone?

The ICC doesn't appear to care, continuing to pour funds into a bottomless pit with carefree abandon. This grates with many Associates who have to survive on a fraction of the income gifted to ZC and have far more scrutiny of their affairs.

As is the case on so many occasions, those inside Zimbabwe, and some of their apologists outside, will accuse anyone criticising the ICC's findings as being racist, colonialist, or having, to use a favourite phrase of Chingoka, "hidden agendas". It's a great smokescreen to cover the truth - a truth the ICC prefers not to let anyone know.

This week the ICC could have made a difference and done the right thing. Instead, it chose to follow a path of overt self-interest. There is as much chance of the South African monitors appointed to police Zimbabwe's presidential election - of whom, fittingly, Sonn was one in 2002 - reporting deficiencies in Robert Mugabe's election win next weekend as there is of the ICC acting over Zimbabwe's glaring problems. And these are the people we entrust with the welfare of the game.