A Brave New World: The Future of South African cricket

by Mar 28, 2014Magazine

by Liam Brickhill

Welcome to cricket’s brave new world. The more egregious elements of the controversial Position Paper may have been watered down, but the spirit of the thing remains much the same. Under the guise of much-needed reform, India will rule, drawing in so much revenue that they effectively become too big to fail, while England and Australia sit on either side of the throne and the rest of the world’s cricket teams fall into line in the royal court.

It’s all happened so quickly. Barely a month has passed since a draft of the Position Paper, written up by a “working group” of the ICC’s Finance & Commercial Affairs (F&CA) committee – in which the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Cricket Australia (CA) and ECB are key members – and calling for a radical revamp of cricket’s governance structures and revenue distribution, became public knowledge.

For a time it seemed Cricket South Africa’s would be the loudest dissenting voice, and with good reason. The proposals, in their original form, would have effectively shut South Africa out of the governance of the game and relegated their status as one of the best Test sides of this, or any other generation. When it came to the crunch, and in this case that crunch echoed with the sound of a fat wad of dollar bills hitting the floor, world No. 1 status counted for nothing. South African pride was affronted, and a major stand-off loomed.

No longer. CSA’s initial reaction to the tabled reforms had been to call them “fundamentally flawed” and “in breach of the ICC constitution”. The ICC suggested, after the executive board meeting in Dubai at the end of January, that there had been “unanimous support” for the resolutions, but this wasn’t the case and it took another week of intense negotiations for the Big Three to bring South Africa over to their side and secure a vital vote for a majority. Come June, the reforms will kick in and when deals are brokered with giant TV conglomerates such as Subhash Chandra’s Zee corporation and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp for the next cycle of global cricket broadcasting rights, from 2015 to 2023, cricket’s new era will have well and truly arrived.

We have also been told that the BCCI and CSA are close to agreeing a bilateral touring agreement for the next cycle, which would appear to signal an end to the feud which reportedly began with South Africa’s appointment of Haroon Lorgat as chief executive, and threatened to derail India’s tour of the country late last year. The BCCI’s beef with Lorgat has simmered since he backed proposals to place the ICC in the hands of independent directors during his time at the helm of cricket’s former governing body, and the Indians’ relationship with CSA has see-sawed ever since Lorgat moved south last year.

Until then, the two boards had endured what appeared – perhaps superficially – to be a harmonious special relationship. India was the first country to host South Africa after the Proteas’ reintegration into international competition in 1991 and South Africa came to India’s aid in 2009 when an alternative venue for the Indian Premier League was hastily sought due to a clash with federal elections. Since then, South Africa have also hosted the Champions League twice.

But as a tectonic power shift continued to take shape, the relationship thawed. The BCCI suggested that Lorgat needed to apologize, though they neglected to go as far as saying exactly what he needed to apologize for, and then rattled its sabres by unilaterally shortening their tour to South Africa. The gravity of that threat was borne out by the amount of money South Africa would have stood to lose, had India pulled out completely, due to lost television rights.

Special relationship no more. The BCCI are a superpower, and superpowers don’t make decisions based upon morals, ethics and friendships: they operate out of self-interest. And thus, now that South Africa’s assent has been needed to push these reforms through, they have been courted once more. The BCCI have attempted, at least in public, to distance themselves from the Lorgat issue and as recently as last week BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel remarked: “As for Haroon, it is a matter between CSA and ICC. The BCCI has nothing to do with it and the matter wasn’t even discussed.” The incentive for towing the line has been presented, and South Africa has already been shortlisted, along with UAE, Bangladesh and India, as a potential venue for the IPL in 2014, another potential clash with federal elections in India having arisen.

As with almost all of cricket’s governing boards, CSA’s own modus operandi also remains worryingly opaque. As a case in point, consider their dealings with journalists Telford Vice and Firdose Moonda. In October last year, CSA’s row with the BCCI over Lorgat’s appointment as chief executive had reached a tipping point. India’s mooted end-of-year trip to South Africa hung in the balance, with heated negotiations at a very delicate stage. It was at this point that David Becker, a former member of the ICC’s legal team, chose to get in touch with two South African journalists: The Times’ Telford Vice and ESPNcricinfo’s Firdose Moonda. Becker supplied the journalists with a statement alleging that mismanagement and lack of transparency in ICC leadership, among other nefarious deeds, were behind his resignation from his position.

When CSA heard about this, they contacted the journalists directly: such a story, exposed by South African journalists, could have scuppered their negotiations with India, who were implicated in Becker’s allegations. What happened next is surely worthy of a fuller investigation. Vice has suggested that there was an attempt to co-opt them, and when that didn’t work the two journalists were shunted unceremoniously out into the cold. Though they’ve not been stripped of their accreditation, efforts have been made to make their jobs as hard as possible, simply for attempting to do their job as journalists. So let us remember that CSA, for all their initial opposition to the approaching cricketing oligarchy, have some issues with their own way of doing things.

Let us also not pretend for a moment that, more widely, the global governance of cricket was not crying out for change. Cricket needed better leadership. The game needed to be reformed, and some of the changes to be made – such as the clearing of a path Associate teams to play Test cricket, the creation of the “Test Cricket Fund” and the reform of the dysfunctional Future Tours Programme – are indeed worthy. But the effect of what has just taken place after the second round of meetings, this time in Singapore, will shrink-wrap the game and the illusion that cricket is defined by its gladiatorial contest of cork, leather, willow and flannel will disappear entirely. The curtain will fall. The game is today delineated by markets, television rights and advertising. Or, more simply, by money and power.

India have a lot of both already, and will soon have a whole lot more. Central to the original draft was a change to the ICC revenue distribution model to give the BCCI, ECB and CA a graded percentage share of ICC revenue, with a larger portion going to these three boards than any other. We’ve been told that there will be more revenue for all nations because of the lucrative television deals waiting to be made, but the financial gains will flow in far, far greater amounts to India, and to a lesser extent England and Australia, than to anyone else. These three will also dominate the executive committee that draws up major policy, though they will still have to have that policy ratified by the full board.

Starting with England and Australia, every cricketing nation has been forced, finally and definitely, to cede to India’s power. Bangladesh have come out in support of the revised proposals, with the threat of a two-tier Test system having been removed and the promise of a historic first tour to India in 2016 having been made. The West Indies reckon they can make a lot of money, and if Sri Lanka and Pakistan were as convinced they were getting a lucrative enough cut, they’d have signed up too. As it stands, their abstentions in the vote on the proposals should be read as an indicator of their ‘wait-and-see’ approach. New Zealand have argued, with some cause, that the reforms aren’t necessarily a bad thing.

The Zimbabweans have uttered barely a whisper either way, but their allegiance to India has long been clear. It was probably in their interests to tow the line of least resistance right now anyway, having been on the verge of securing a vital US$3million loan from the ICC going into the latest round of meetings. That money has since been secured, though not delivered soon enough to stop yet another postponement to their domestic season, with Zimbabwe’s cricketers insisting that they will not play until they are paid what is owed to them.

The ratification of the Big Three’s proposals is the biggest thing to happen to cricket since Kerry Packer’s so-called ‘floodlit revolution’ in the late 1970s. Indeed, the decisions reached during Saturday’s ICC Board meetings in Singapore need to be seen in their true historical context. The Position Paper did not spring from a vacuum; it is the logical conclusion to the commodification and commercialisation of the game which Packer first formalized, and which has increased exponentially since the advent of Twenty20 cricket, global television audiences and wall-to-wall advertising. The choice was presented to South Africa: sign up and confirm your allegiance, or risk annihilation. They have chosen.

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