Osman Samiuddin is Pakistan editor of ESPNcricinfo; additional reporting by Sharda Ugra, senior editor of ESPNcricinfo
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The ICC has given its member boards two years to become democratised and free from government and political interference in a bid to improve governance within the game. At its ongoing annual conference in Hong Kong the ICC unanimously supported the proposal to amend its constitution for member boards to have free elections.
Haroon Lorgat, the ICC chief executive, called it a "significant issue" in which, "by the end of 2012, all member boards must have changed or adopted their constitution to comply with the provisions of free elections and non-interference from government bodies".
The boards most affected by the change are those of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh; in Pakistan the president of the country appoints the board chairman; in Sri Lanka the board is effectively answering to the sports ministry; in Bangladesh all board presidents are government-appointed.
The trio had reservations about the proposal when it was first put forth in a February ICC meeting, though by April, the Pakistan board was the only one formally objecting to it. Soon after the April 4 meeting, Pakistan had sent the ICC a legal notice arguing against the proposal; in effect, they said, they had been asked to remove the head of the country from the constitution of the board. The board also argued that the interpretation of 'government interference' - on security matters for example - could be a murky area.
However a series of very low-key but crucial meetings since then with the ICC, as initially reported by ESPNcricinfo, have led to both sides finding a way forward; the ICC has asked member boards to implement the provisions by June 2012 but given them a grace period of an extra year till June 2013 before the possibility of sanctions will be considered. This was a deadline suggested by the three boards. If, by June 2012, enough progress has not been made on the provisions according to the ICC, they will then provide a generic constitution to the boards and ask them to work towards implementing that within the following year. Failing that, the possibility of sanctions - and suspension of membership - remains.
"We had discussions with the ICC over the last few months and we worked on extending the deadline for this amendment," Subhan Ahmed, the Pakistan board's chief operating officer, told ESPNcricinfo. "This now gives us time, effectively 24 months, to discuss with our own government what the ICC wants and how to go about implementing that."
The prospect of changing the PCB constitution to remove the role of the president is not a straightforward one but the ICC is willing to work with Pakistan - and other boards if needed - in bringing about the change. "As every other board, including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, is agreeing to it, then we will also try to implement it as much as is possible and the ICC might also be willing to facilitate," Ahmed said. One of the ideas discussed includes the possibility of ICC officials visiting Pakistan to explain to the government precisely what the changes imply.
The change is something the ICC has been keen on for some time, to try and bring governance of cricket in line with other global sporting bodies such as FIFA and the IOC.
Lorgat said there would be no immediate sanctions and an assessment of progress would be made only after 24 months. "In the next 12 months, boards should be working towards free elections and we will assess the matter again in the 2012 annual conference ... we will try and assist those boards for another 12 months before we apply any sanctions."
When asked how the ICC and member boards would stay clear of government involvement and yet permit the non-compliance over bilateral series in the FTP due to political problems between nations like India and Pakistan, Lorgat said, "I fully realise it is a complex topic and that is why we have allowed for boards to debate, discuss and consider this issue over the next 12 months with their respective authorities.
"We will provide whatever support we can but I do believe it is a step in the right direction. We will work with those boards that need to unravel themselves from government departments."
Lorgat called it the "first step" towards better governance across cricket. "A start in trying to achieve good governance is that governing boards are governed by themselves, in other words, non-interference. So that through a democratic election process you get the right people to run the sport in the country. That's the first step. Thereafter those people have to engage with their counterparts in world cricket to ensure that they govern professional cricket in the best possible way."