Time to stand up and be counted
The ICC Executive Board meeting on Sunday and Monday will unquestionably be the most important for fifteen years, and arguably the most significant in the Council’s 103-year history.
For this meeting will consider what is to be done about Lord Woolf’s scathing critique of the way in which the ICC is governed and his recommendations for fundamental change in the Council’s constitution, financial structure, and working practices, and how the Board responds will ultimately determine the future shape of the world game and the credibility of the ICC as a global governing body.
It was not in itself surprising that the BCCI’s Working Committee was quick to reject the report, since its blatant abuse of power over the past fifteen years is a leitmotiv which runs through Lord Woolf’s analysis, even if it is for the most part left implicit.
But the rapidity of that response – it came within days of the Board’s receiving of the 60-page document – was certainly striking, and by illustrating the BCCI’s arrogance and essential contempt for anyone else’s point of view it served to confirm everything that Woolf had said about the unfitness of the ICC’s existing set-up.
This can scarcely have gone unnoticed by the other Full members, even those who have been ready enough in the past to do the BCCI’s bidding. Several have issued much more cautious responses to Woolf’s recommendations, suggesting that it would be unwise to reject such a careful and detailed report out of hand.
And the outcomes of last month’s meeting of the Chief Executives’ committee indicated that there had been a certain change of atmosphere in the corridors of power in Dubai, with at least some of Woolf’s criticisms being taken on board.
Tinkering at the margins cannot, however, be an adequate response to such a far-reaching call for fundamental change.
Lord Woolf insists that his 65 recommendations are an unbreakable package, and even if it is unlikely that all 65 will be adopted, it is vital that the Board accepts the core proposals for restructuring of the Board, revision of the ICC’s membership categories and their implications for playing levels, and changing the underlying funding model – and the vision which explicitly underpins them.
Significantly, Tim May, the chief executive of the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA), this week threw his weight behind Woolf’s proposals, calling on the ICC Board members ‘to make decisions based on the greater interests of the game, not [their own] self interests’.
‘A number of Boards have indicated, May added, ‘that they will reject the major recommendation of the Woolf Report to adopt an independent Board, because they do not want to give up the right of voting what is best for their country.
‘Their responsibility is clear – it is to make decisions based on the greater interests of the game, not the self interests of the Board members. The players and FICA want ICC to be a strong, decisive, respected and independent ruling Body that encompasses good governance.’
In fact, a moment’s reflection should suggest to the Full members whose votes will determine the future shape of the ICC, and therefore of world cricket, that even self-interest demands that they seize this – probably final – opportunity to stand up to India’s overmighty cricket barons and insist upon a root-and-branch reform.
The truth is that the BCCI needs the other Full members almost as much as they need India: how much would those fabulously lucrative television contracts be worth without the system of major global tournaments, Test series, ODIs and Twenty20 games which pit the Full members against one another?
Narayanaswami Srinivasan and his crew may believe that global enthusiasm for the IPL, and the much-repeated fact that India generates 80% of cricket’s income, give them infinite bargaining, or threatening, power, but without international cricket the game’s appeal would be much diminished, and this is the moment at which the other Board members must call the BCCI’s bluff and use their collective strength to stand up for the future of the game.
This is the moment, too, for the three Associate and Affiliate representatives among the directors to speak in their most insistent and persuasive manner on behalf of the 95 members whose interests have too often been subordinated to those of the dominant minority.
As Woolf notes, the inequities of the existing ICC constitution have never been more eloquently illustrated than by the Board’s appalling decision to restrict the 2015 World Cup to the Full members alone, but it will be a different kind of eloquence which will be needed around the Board table to ensure that such a travesty of governance can never be repeated.
The ICC’s development programmes, for all their manifest weaknesses, have been cricket’s greatest achievement of the past fifteen years, and it is time to introduce structures of funding and governance which truly reflect that fact.
It would be too much to hope that this meeting will adopt all 65 of Woolf’s recommendations. But if it caves in to the BCCI and its allies, slamming the door on meaningful change, the ICC will rightly be condemned as a governing body which is unfit to preside over the game of which it claims to be so proud.
‘I do not have a problem,’ former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed says at the conclusion of his revealing memoir Sticky Wicket, ‘with [India’s power] as long as that influence and control are exercised fairly, transparently and with the interests of the game as the paramount consideration.
‘The representatives of the other key countries . . . will have to ensure that this occurs and, from time to time, will have to be prepared to stand up and be counted.’
Lord Woolf’s analysis demonstrates irrefutably that the ICC Board has frequently failed to ensure that its decisions have been made ‘fairly, transparently and with the interests of the game as the paramount consideration’, and presents a powerful argument for changes which could ensure that in future cricket gets the governance it needs and deserves.
This, if ever there was one, is the moment for the representatives of the Council’s other 104 members to stand up and be counted.