His Lordship bowls a yorker
There are few more inspiring sights in cricket than a fast bowler delivering a well-directed yorker, uprooting the middle stump and sending bails flying in the direction of third man and fine leg.
And there can be little question that if there is an equivalent in the world of sports administration, Lord Woolf and his review team bowled it at the ICC Executive Board when it met in Dubai this week.
High Court judges and international management consultants, of course, choose their words carefully, and the review team will have had very clearly in mind the need to persuade their principal audience, the Executive Board itself and the Full members who currently dominate it, that they must act in the interests of the global game.
Yet the damning nature of their assessment of the present state of the ICC could not be clearer, from the opening sentences of their 60-page report:
If the Board had hoped, in setting up this review, that it would be able to pat a few balls back to the bowler, let a couple go outside the off stump, and then move on, it will be bitterly disappointed. The rattle of stumps is unmistakable.
Time and again the Woolf Report underlines its view that the existing constitutional and financial structures of the ICC, and the ways in which they are implemented, are not compatible with the global needs of the game, and that the self-interested domination by the Full members cannot be allowed to continue.
’Currently, the report states on p. 8, ‘the ICC reacts as though it is primarily a Members club; its interest in enhancing the global development of the game is secondary. In today’s environment this is not an acceptable situation.’
And again, on p. 37:
The measures which Lord Woolf and his team recommend, and which they emphasise should be seen as a complete package and therefore not up for ‘cherry-picking’, are indeed radical: a fundamental change in the composition of the Board; abandonment of the existing subscription-based financial model; the establishment of an ethical culture ‘where all potential conflicts of interest are declared, addressed and assessed’; decoupling of the link between Test-playing status and Full membership.
And underlying all of this there must be an even more fundamental shift in culture, to one in which Board members accept that their fiduciary duty is ‘first and foremost for the benefit of the ICC’.
The desirability of Directors (that is, Board members) who are independent rather than nominated directly by (Full) members is strongly argued, and the report proposes the appointment, at the earliest practicable date, of five Independent Directors, two of whom would be chosen ‘to provide greater diversity of view, with particular consideration given to experience gained from playing, officiating and commentating on the international men’s and women’s game’.
Initially, these Independent Directors would sit alongside the existing members of the Board, but Woolf recommends that the automatic right of Full members to nominate a Director should be replaced by a representative system, with four Directors representing the Full members and two the Associate members.
The Board should, moreover, immediately adopt the principle of one member, one vote, doing away with the existing system which requires seven of the Full members to support any proposal, which ‘means that the votes of the Associate Directors, who represent 95 Associate and Affiliate Members, are merely for cosmetic effect and have no consequence’ (p. 30).
Coupled with all of this, and bound to grab many of the headlines among the Full members, is a proposal to establish separate posts of President and Chairman, the former essentially ‘ambassadorial’ and open to nomination by the members on a rotational system, the latter independent, chosen on the basis of a ‘skills-based assessment’ to lead the Board, and responsible for ‘helping to ensure decisions are taken that are in the best interests of cricket, rather than self-interest’.
The review team acknowledges that these far-reaching chances cannot be introduced overnight, and therefore sets out a transitional plan, starting with immediate abolition of the Full members’ effective veto on Board decisions and proceeding in a series of steps to put the new structures fully in place by 2015.
One such measure would be breaking the absolute link between Full membership and Test-playing status, making it possible for two new Full members to be admitted from July 2013. Even more radically, Lord Woolf proposes that Full members should be able to be demoted if their membership obligations – which need to be defined as explicitly and transparently for them as they currently are for Associate and Affiliate members – are not fulfilled.
The report states in several places the review team’s belief that one key obstacle to the election of new Full members has been the existing financial model, under which 75% of the ICC’s net profits is distributed equally among the Full members, who are consequently reluctant to see an increase in their numbers as it would dilute the share they receive of the profits’.
They therefore recommend the introduction of a new system, under which the ICC would become self-funding and financially independent, and would ‘develop a clear funding strategy to ensure an appropriate allocation of revenue between distribution to Members, funding of development of global cricket and targeted assistance to Members’.
It is here, perhaps, that alarm bells may start ringing for some. The existing distribution of the ICC’s resources is manifestly inequitable, but at least there are guaranteed sums (6% of gross events revenue for the Global Development Programme, 25% of the surplus for Associate and Affiliate members) for those who sit outside the ‘Members club’.
That is why it is so important that the recommendations – all 65 of them, only a few of which we have singled out here – are taken as a whole: in the present climate of partiality and self-interest, abolition of the existing funding formulas would run the risk that the distribution of funding would become more, rather than less, inequitable. Constitutional reform and the creation of a more ethical culture are therefore inseparable from a fairer and more transparent financial system.
’Repositioning the ICC,, the report asserts, ‘ to proactively shape the overall governance of the game rather than its current reactive role on behalf of the Full members is critical.’
Lord Woolf and his team have laid down the challenge. We shall see in the coming months whether those who are currently in charge care enough about the game to respond positively to it.