The Woolf debate begins in earnest
All things considered, it could have been a good deal worse: given the noises which came out of India in the immediate wake of the publication of the Woolf Report, a decision to go on talking has to count as some kind of moral victory.
Reading between the inevitably somewhat gnomic words of the ICC’s media release, there must have been a ‘free and frank’ exchange of views about the need for fundamental change, and it is encouraging that it was at least agreed that there was a ‘real need’ for further discussion – even if it’s slightly bizarre to find the Board members acknowledging that they need ‘to develop a clearer understanding of the role of the ICC’.
If they don’t already have that, one might reasonably, who the hell does?
Still, we must be grateful for any sign of progress, and the absence of the sound of doors slamming on Woolf and his analysis of everything that is wrong with the ICC at present can only be a good thing.
So what will follow, between now and the Board’s next meeting in June, is ‘informal discussions amongst [the Directors] and their Member Boards’, with a view to creating a greater degree of consensus about how to proceed.
In this iterative process, the three Associate and Affiliate representatives will necessarily have a crucial role, even if their votes count for little or nothing under the ICC’s existing constitution.
They face the tricky task of building a realistic plan of action on behalf of their 95-member constituency, while at the same time creating as strong a coalition as possible with any Full members who understand that this is the moment at which the 15-year hegemony of the BCCI and its allies can be challenged, and perhaps substantially weakened.
The revolution which the ICC unquestionably needs will not happen overnight. We will not see massed crowds of cricket fans assembling in Dubai Sports City, or at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, waving placards demanding change. But the debate about Woolf has the potential to become cricket’s Tahrir Square.
As Monday’s media release claims, a start has already been made, with the separation of the offices of President and Chairman and the introduction of the TAPP targeted funding scheme, and one might add the welcome reversal of the punitive decision to cut the 2014 men’s World Twenty20 tournament to twelve teams.
But these are, in the context of Lord Woolf’s recommendations, small-scale changes which have no real impact on the essential problems posed by the ICC’s ludicrously inequitable constitution and indefensible funding structure, and the issue facing those in the Board who are open to reform is how to persuade their colleagues that reform along the lines proposed by Woolf is in everyone’s – or at least the great majority’s – best interests.
Some measures could be implemented immediately. There is no reason why the Board should not reaffirm ‘the primacy of ICC Directors’ fiduciary duties to the ICC’ (recommendation E2) when it meets in June, and while it might not be realistic to expect an open declaration to this effect, it would be an important step if the Directors were to agree among themselves that they will ‘neither seek to place undue influence on other Members, nor allow themselves to be influenced inappropriately by other Members to support the interests of individual Members’ (E3).
This in itself would be a cultural change which would transform the way in which the ICC conducts, and is seen to conduct, its business.
The appointment of Independent Directors is no doubt a more controversial move, but it is certainly necessary if that cultural change is to be made truly effective. Acceptance of the concept should therefore be one of the top priorities in developing a consensus, and the meeting in June should take the first steps towards implementing recommendations B8 and B9, under which five Independent Directors should be appointed forthwith.
Equally, nothing could demonstrate more clearly to the ICC’s stakeholders a readiness to reform than the adoption of recommendation M10, the principle of one Board Member, one vote, abolishing the grotesque arrangement whereby any four Full members can block any measure.
Anything less than a package involving these reforms would demonstrate quite clearly that those who currently dominate the ICC are not interested in meaningful change, and are prepare to continue abusing their position in pursuit of their own narrow interest and at the expense of the game and its future.
At the same time, the Board should agree in June to the initiation of a series of further reviews: of the funding of global cricket (F4), of membership categories and their relationship to playing status (M1-6), and on the longer-term structure of the Board (M11) and of its major committees. These reviews should report in time for a fundamentally-restructured ICC to be in place by the 2013 Council meeting.
Is any of this in any way likely? There are plenty of cynics who believe that the ICC is incapable of change, that the power of money will ultimately determine that the BCCI’s baneful influence prevails.
They may be right, but if they are, then it will be to the detriment of the game, and to the detriment of those who lack the courage or wisdom at this defining moment to put the bell on the cat.