A New Deal for the ICC majority?
One of the strongest recurring themes in Lord Woolf’s Governance Review report is the indefensible inequity in the ICC’s constitution and practices between the ten Full members and the 95 Associate and Affiliate members.,/p>
It affects all aspects of the management of the world game – the composition of the Executive Board and Council, the allocation of funding, participation in tournaments – and Lord Woolf and his team are in no doubt that it must be tackled directly if the ICC truly aspires to being a leading international sports body.
One of the most fundamental changes recommended in their report is the abolition of the distinction between Associate and Affiliate members, making all 59 current Affiliates into Associates.
Rather curiously, perhaps, no argument is advanced in favour of this proposal, the only hint of the review team’s underlying thinking being the suggestion that ‘[m]embership categories should be simplified’.
Affiliate membership was introduced in 1984, at a time when there were eighteen Associates. Italy was the first country to be admitted to the new category, with Switzerland joining them a year later.
Under the present constitution, Affiliate members have significantly fewer rights than Associates, with five elected representatives having voting rights in a Conference which includes ten Full members and 36 Associates
But when one considers that the Full members each get three votes for every one exercised by the Associates and the Affiliate representatives, and that three-quarters of the Full members’ votes must be in favour of any resolution for it to be passed, that difference turns out to be comparatively tiny.
Can anyone be surprised that the review team recommends that this system be replaced by ‘one person, one vote’, commenting that the present arrangement ‘conflicts fundamentally with cricket’s values’?
What is less clear is how the abolition of Affiliate membership might impact on the election of new members. At present, there are explicit criteria for admission to both Affiliate and Associate status: an Affiliate, for example, must have at least eight senior men’s teams and four junior teams, while for Associates the requirements are 16 in each category. There are similar distinctions in such areas as staffing, grounds, education, planning and finance.
There must surely be a danger that if Affiliate membership were to disappear, the requirements for prospective members would be significantly raised, making it more difficult for aspiring countries such as El Salvador and Hungary to gain admission. This, one feels, would run counter to the entire thrust of Woolf’s overall approach, not to mention that of the global development programme.
Equally far-reaching, of course, are the review team’s proposals regarding progression from Associate to Full membership, and for a significant reduction in the massive reserved powers and privileges currently enjoyed by the ten Test-playing countries.
Taken together, these measures would represent a revolution in the way cricket is governed, and it is not surprising that the first shots of resistance have already been fired by the Full members’ surrogates among the media.
Lord Woolf and his team must have expected to encounter opposition from those whose power derives in part from the ICC’s present, grossly inequitable system of governance, and they have both marshalled their arguments carefully and tried to find ways of making the changes more palatable to those who have least reason to accommodate change.
There’s a very telling sentence in the report’s introduction:
Let’s reflect on that for a moment. It can only mean that some of those consulted – we could have an educated guess who they might be – are actually prepared to argue that cricket’s governing body does not have a responsibility to act in ‘the best interests of the international game as a whole’.
Given the events of the past couple of years that doesn’t come as a huge surprise, but it remains profoundly shocking. And if those voices carry the day when the Board meets in April, the last vestiges of credibility will be blasted away from the ICC, making it a laughing stock among global sports organisations and potentially opening it up to challenge before the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
It is, of course, true that there are more obstacles in the way of progress than the intransigent self-interest of a small number of powerful officials: the straitjacket of the Future Tours Programme, for example, makes the creation of a fairer, more development-orientated international schedule difficult, and that is underwritten by some harsh financial realities.
But these are challenges which have to be met, and met head-on, if the ICC is to become the sort of governing body it claims it aspires to be.
Woolf calls for the same level of financial transparency to be applied to the Full members as is currently the case for the Associates and Affiliates, and this is essential if the distribution of funding is to be based on need rather than the existing system of restricted self-reward.
The present set-up puts the great majority of ICC members in the role of Dickensian paupers, holding out their bowls in the hope of receiving another dollop of gruel. The Global Development and High Performance programmes have achieved a great deal, but their underlying philosophy is one of charity rather than co-responsibility.
It’s true that cricket is largely dependent on the income-generating capacity of the Sub-continent and its diaspora, and upon the global reach of television. That does not mean, however, that the moguls who derive their power from those facts have the right to run the game as if it were their personal fiefdom.
Haroon Lorgat’s greatest achievement may turn out to be that what happens next will take place in the open, and the Board will know that the position it takes will be subjected to intense public scrutiny.
We just have to hope that that will lead them in the direction of wisdom.