By their deeds shall ye know them
As time passes and we have the opportunity to reflect on what happened in Hong Kong last month, gaining further insights into the events themselves in the process, the conviction grows that the ICC Executive Board not only struck a blow against the hopes of emerging cricket nations to qualify for the World Twenty20 competition, but that it effectively subverted its own Strategic Plan, which it had adopted as recently as 4 April.
Nothing could illustrate more effectively the poverty of the ICC’s policy-making procedures or their subordination to raw power and naked financial interest. Nothing could point up more starkly the contradiction between what the ICC says and what it does.
It is, perhaps, not surprising that the versions of the Strategic Plan 2011-15 which are available on the ICC’s website are confined to glittering generalisations and glossy photographs, but even those generalisations have been fatally undermined by the disgraceful decision to revert to a twelve-team tournament for the 2012 and 2014 Twenty20 tournaments, apparently as a punishment for the Associates’ and Affiliates’ successful campaign against an all-Full member World Cup.
It is only when we get into the detail of the full, yet-to-be officially published version, however, that the real extent of the betrayal of 28 June becomes evident.
Behind the repeated headline statements about creating a ‘truly global game’ and building ‘a platform for global growth’ lies the declaration that the ICC’s meritocratic pathways ‘will provide crucial impetus to our long term vision of growing the number of competitive teams in all three formats’(that is, multi-day cricket, ODIs and Twenty20), and the Plan even proclaims that ‘an expanded World Twenty20 and qualifying structure provide unprecedented global aspiration’.
As late as the eve of the ICC’s annual shindig, chief executive Haroon Lorgat was still insisting that T20 was the way forward for the emerging nations, and that the 16-team events in 2012 and 2014 proved the Council’s commitment to global development. Yet that policy was swept away on 28 June in a scandalous act of petty revenge by the Full member bully-boys.
What does this reveal about the ICC’s aspiration to ‘decision-making in the best interests of the global game’? It reveals that ‘global’ may take in Christchurch, Melbourne, Mumbai (of course), Harare, London and Kingston, Jamaica, but that it does not extend to Dublin, Toronto or Nairobi, and still less to Buenos Aires, Entebbe, Kabul or Port Moresby.
The ‘best interests’ in which the ICC Executive Board really acts are those of the Full members, and the Full members alone. The 95 Associate and Affiliate members are there as little more than decoration, and window-dressing for the benefit of the IOC as the ICC fitfully attempts to get cricket into the Olympic Games.
In other respects, the Strategic Plan suggests that to the extent that there is a coherent strategy, it is one which takes a rather different view of global development than that which has prevailed up to now.
The most telling phrase in the section on ‘Promoting the global game’ is that referring to ‘“Breakthrough” initiatives to build the audience beyond 2015’, which is later linked to a new market penetration strategy. That, the document makes clear, means China and the USA, although it concedes that other potential growth areas should perhaps be considered.
The Plan even goes so far as to suggest that a major global event might be awarded to ‘a non-traditional market with growth potential’, which raises the prospect that April Fools’Day articles about a World Cup in China or the United States might not be so wide of the mark.
At the same time, investment in the emerging countries seems certain to be more carefully targeted, focusing on ‘nations with performance potential’ and a redistribution ‘to prioritise countries with high prospects of participation growth’.
These are not bad ideas in themselves, provided that they are implemented equitably and transparently, and that they are not a mere excuse for throwing millions of dollars at the BCCI’s current favourites. Any such distribution needs to be clearly based on measurable criteria, and to be linked to the goal of ‘growing the number of competitive teams in all three formats’.
Why the events in Hong Kong last month are so deeply disturbing is that they are pretty strong evidence that nothing of the kind is even remotely on the cards. The ICC cannot be trusted to govern to the standards it claims to adopt; on the contrary, it is ruled by the blatant self-interest of a small minority, tainted by allegations of corruption from time to time, and it does not give a twopenny damn about the needs and aspirations of the vast majority of its members.
That is why the governance review which it has initiated is so important: nothing short of a root-and-branch restructuring of the ICC’s institutions can ensure that the noble ambition of creating a ‘truly global game’ is not just a plaything of the BCCI and its allies, to be invoked when it suits them and dumped when they feel like it, .
In the meantime, the decision to restrict the next two World Twenty20 tournaments and to hold a ten-team World Cup in 2019 must be fought with the same determination as the successful campaign to cut the 2015 World Cup. Only through such a battle can the ‘world-class environment’ that the ICC purports to aspire to be achieved in reality.