John Howard's Maiden Over
A little departure from my usual political attacks but this great article by Gideon Haigh (currently in the 20/02/2010 edition of THE SPECTATOR AUSTRALIA) inspired the cartoon below and really is food for thought. Finally another challenge for John Howard to bowl over. After the long cleanup that he successfully achieved following the disastrous years of the Hawke-Keating Governments, he should certainly have no problem with his maiden over on this playing field -- Zeg
Cricket gravely needs better governance
Does John Howard really want selection as head of the dubious International Cricket Council? asks Gideon Haigh
Shortly after leaving the White House, Calvin Coolidge had to complete an application form for the National Press Club. Under the heading ‘occupation’, he scribbled: ‘Retired’. Faced with the heading ‘remarks’, he paused, reflected, and finally wrote: ‘Glad of it.’
Not every politician is so sanguine. Limelight deprivation syndrome is common. Which is not to say that the emergence of John Howard as a candidate for president of the International Cricket Council is so motivated. An alert observer might have detected a continuation of the parallels between Howard and his political inspiration Sir Robert Menzies, one of whose retirement roles was also in cricket administration, as president of the Kent County Cricket Club - a position he assumed while Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, and which probably engaged him rather more.
But the assertion is open, and indeed was hastily made. ‘For many years the W. G. Grace of Australian politics, a man never willing to declare, Howard is perfectly suited to life after politics as a cricket administrator,’ said one of Howard’s former political antagonists, Mark Latham, in a newspaper column as sparkling and insightful as this concluding line. For what Latham is suited, meanwhile, is a question not only unanswered, but of negligible interest. He is the Jason Krejza of Australian politics: a brief glorious flourish, a protracted subsidence into oblivion.
Which is a pity. Cricket’s governance deserves better - which is Cricket Australia ’s objective in promoting Howard. Since the ICC was overhauled thirteen years ago and the office of president created, it has been filled by a collection of characters as dubious as the police line-up in The Usual Suspects. The in-coming president, whom Howard would succeed, is a senior Indian politician with a chequered past. Previously, the president was an abusive drunk from South Africa who luckily died half-way through his term. A leading candidate for the top job until recently was a Sri Lankan bookmaker and political king-maker once prosecuted for issuing a forged passport to a crime boss who was then conveniently shot.
The ICC’s reputation for management of the game, meanwhile, is not so much in the toilet as right around the bend. Self-marginalised by relocation to Dubai for tax reasons in August 2005, it specialises in ineffectual announcements and muddled compromises – which rather suits the boards of control constituting it, jealous of their sovereignty as they are.
Howard has to get there first too. The system – like almost everything to do with the ICC – is convoluted. Best man for the job? Too easy. The ICC presidency is filled every two years by a new representative from the ten Test-playing nations, which are for this purpose divided into five regions, one of which Australia shares with New Zealand; nominees serve first as vice-president, then as president.
When New Zealand Cricket wrote to Cricket Australia last September about their candidate, it assumed that no objection would be taken to a New Zealander, Australia having taken precedence at the countries’ last turn. NZC was further fortified in its view by its promotion of Sir John Anderson, a career banker who now chairs the board of TVNZ - as respected a name as exists in the game’s traditional governance circles.
Anderson ’s cricket credentials are almost as extensive as his commercial qualifications. A quality first-grade all-rounder in Wellington , he had his first experience of administration there when he bailed his Karori Cricket Club out of a deep financial hole in the mid-1970s. He later oversaw reforms of the Wellington Cricket Association, presided over the liquidation of New Zealand ’s old board of control and its replacement with a full-fledged board of directors fifteen years ago, then engineered a new constitution for the ICC when the old one had led to a deadlock over leadership between India and Australia in 1996. Of a superior curriculum vitae for the job at issue, it is hard to conceive.
Cricket Australia’s argument is to agree that Anderson’s credentials suit the job perfectly – but the job as it is now, rather than as it needs to be. As across every contemporary cricket issue falls the shadow of the Board of Control for Cricket in India , both the ICC’s biggest member, and its greatest rival. The BCCI accounts for about three-quarters of global cricket revenues, but its supranational Twenty20 competititions, the Indian Premier League and Champions League, are outside the ICC’s jurisdiction, being ostensibly ‘domestic’ tournaments. In doing so, India ’s board exerts de facto control over what looms as cricket’s most lucrative future format.
The BCCI is a sporting administration, but it is also, increasingly, a political organization. More than two-thirds of its constituent state associations are led by local chief ministers or their proxies. The BCCI’s Sharad Pawar, who will become president of the ICC in July, is a classic example of a politician harnessing cricket for his power broking ends. After splitting from the Congress Party ten years ago in protest at the ascendancy of Sonia Gandhi, the ‘King of Maharastra’ strengthened the support base of his new minority party by ousting former Indian captain Ajit Wadekar as chairman of the Mumbai Cricket Association in 2001, then levering out businessman Jagmohan Dalmiya as boss of the BCCI. It’s paid off: despite a scandal-strewn past, he remains agriculture minister in Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.
Because little happens at the ICC without the BCCI’s explicit say-so, international cricket has become a hostage to a range of Indian political and commercial fortunes. In this context, CA, whose board includes former Howard minister Ian McLachlan and former Labor premier John Bannon, regard Howard’s political acumen and experience as invaluable. A selection committee has been constituted: former NZC chief executive Chris Doig, current NZC chairman Alan Isaac and CA directors Geoff Tamblyn and Wally Edwards, with the respective chief executives Justin Vaughan and James Sutherland present as non-voting observers.
Several layers of risk remain. CA’s stance smacks in New Zealand, as one former administrator puts it, of ‘typical Australian bullying’. There is also considerable distrust of the selection committee’s chairman, Rod Eddington. Infrastructure Australia ’s ubiquitous chief is remembered across the Tasman as erstwhile chairman of Ansett, whose subsequent collapse prostrated Air New Zealand . The committee’s representatives did not budge after interviews of Anderson and Howard in New Zealand on 28 January, and if no resolution is reached can leave the ICC to split the candidates, but if this would hardly be a dignified solution.
In the meantime, unwanted attention on Howard’s candidacy also has the potential to affect CA’s relations with Canberra. It’s a fair question whether the right time to be cosying up to a successful conservative prime minister is while also negotiating with a surly Labor communications minister for removal of one’s sport from the anti-siphoning list. Yet it’s Howard who seems to be courting the gravest risk. Even if his name did go forward, he would not assume his mantle until July 2012, by which time, on present trends, presidency of ICC will be less influential than presidency of the Kent County Cricket Club. Life as a retired politician might then look, as it did to Coolidge, pretty damn attractive.