A Woolf @ the ICC Door

Sharad Pawar, ICC President

There is a saying in government and consultancy along the lines of: “never ask a question to which you do not know the answer”, or “never order a review where you cannot predict the findings”.  It is highly likely that there are at this moment several highly placed members of the International Cricket Council wishing they had observed this dictum before sanctioning an inquiry into their governance, or perhaps even wishing they had heard the dictum earlier.  That is because the blandly entitled “An Independent Governance Review of the International Cricket Council” overseen by Lord Woolf and assisted by PricewaterhouseCoopers, has the potential to radically shift both the powerbase of the organisation along with its practices. (http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/DOWNLOAD/0000/0093/woolfe_report.pdf )

Lord (Harry) Woolf served as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and was prominent in 2011 when he headed an inquiry at the London School of Economics into the awarding of a PhD to Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, son of the now departed Libyan dictator.  That led to the high profile resignation of LSE Director Sir Howard Davies.  Woolf also headed an inquiry at BAE (British Aerospace) into arms deals with Saudi Arabia, and has long been noted as an advocate of human rights and procedural transparency.  In the words of Yes Minister, it was a “brave decision” to have him head the ICC review.

The reason for that is simple; ever since the early 1990s when the ICC suddenly became wealthy on the back of massive television rights largely generated out of India, the ICC has clearly been out of its depth in trying to run the orderly development of the game around the world.  The new wealth, or more precisely its sources ran counter to the ICC’s essentially post-colonial structure and outlook.  Dissatisfaction was inevitable, rife, and deep seated, as demonstrated at moments like the failed attempt to slide former Australian John Howard in as a Vice-President that would have seen him become President later.  That move was stymied by India aided and abetted by a host of “small” nations who ranged up against the “old gang” of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.  It was a North v South moment.

India is at the heart of this because something in excess of 70% of total world cricket revenue is now generated from there, and that comes from developments like the IPL and the huge commercialising of the 20/20 game form.  Players like Chris Gayle are content now to stay in conflict with his Board (West Indies), not play test cricket and roam the world as a mercenary picking up millions of dollars for playing a form of the game essentially sans meaning.  Apart from the odd thrilling test match conjured up, crowds in India and the West Indies and elsewhere stayed away from the long form cricket, and serious observers of the game like Gideon Haigh (who made a submission to the inquiry) openly began to ponder the starkness of the future even while defending the test form. (http://www.espncricinfo.com/thebig_2000_test/content/story/519422.html ).  Something had to be done, so enter Woolf.

The report came in with 65 recommendations and some of them are shattering both in what they intend and the situations they are designed to remedy.

There is a group of recommendations arguing for both an independent Chair to lead the Board, and three (3) independent Directors.  This is a massive change because to this point the boss role has gone to someone who has worked his (and that is a point in itself) way through the world of cricket administration (rather than management) and, given a lucky run, landed up at the top of the world tree.  If Woolf has his way this changes, and a new world of professional management comes in.  (That is not to suggest there have been no sharp people there before: Giles Clark, Chair of the England and Wales Board, for example, had a massively successful business career).  The independent leavening is clearly designed to strike at this past practice.

India is probably feeling the pressure more than most, especially given Recommendation B7 that suggests anyone appointed as an ICC Director must relinquish all positions on the home Board – that will make life very difficult if that is applied to regional associations in India where people like Sharad Pawar, India’s Union Minister for Agriculture and just ending his stint as President of the ICC, have traditionally made their power bases.

This pressure is accentuated in Recommendation E1 where there is a call for all conflicts of interest to be declared.  The immediate suggestion, of course, is that hitherto they have not been declared, and this has severe implications.  Much of this emanates from the IPL where the situation now arises that the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), N. Srinivasan, is also Chair of the family company that owns the Chennai Super Kings in the IPL.  Many observers point out that this is a clear conflict, and similar incidents have been experienced at the ICC level.  Adding to the murk are some still untested but highly colourful financial episodes attached to Lalit Modi, the first boss of the IPL who claims, essentially, that several BCCI  figures had a conflict of interest and were, indeed, receiving large sums in those positions of conflict.

As if all that was not enough, Woolf argues that the old membership base should disappear, too.  Not so long ago the ICC had over 100 members around the world (senior ICC officials were as likely to be found in Argentina and China “ on business” as they were in the normal cricket environs).  Yet just ten (10) of them had anything like full membership.  When it came to the distribution of the spoils, the minnows felt duded – 75% of the profits go to the 10 full members (who do pay higher subscription fees it should be said).

To fix that Woolf now says there should be a clear process by which current “minnows” can become full members, including in playing rights, and then, most importantly, that there should be a clear principle of one member one vote.  That immediately sharpens the political bargaining and alliance process that was really begun back in the 90s by Jagmohan Dalmiya when he rounded up a lot of minnows to win  a World Cup hosting for India,  and then used that to create the TV revenue that has led to all the recent issues.

All current parties, then, have a lot to fear even if the wider cricket world nods its head to Woolf and says “Yes, of course, should have happened years ago”.  Some observers like Sambit Lal, editor of ESPNCricinfo, is sceptical, seeing the report as naïve  in its outlook and insight and recommendations.  (http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/552288.html ).  But all the proof will be in the implementation, of course, and therein lies another story.

Main photo credit, cricket in Samoa, Raphael Kessler

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  1. […] because it reflects the sentiments of the Woolf Report on the International Cricket Council.  (https://professorbrianstoddart.com/2012/02/09/a-woolf-the-icc-door/ )   Lord (Harry) Woolf served as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and has long been noted […]



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