Sport

SA cricket attempts to end era of balls-ups

Neil Manthorp

A step forward, a stumble backward -- that's the frustrating story of local cricket administration

Cricket South Africa's acting president Willie Basson is no doubt hoping that the restructuring of the board will bring a measure of stability to the body. (Gallo Images)

The first tentative steps may have been taken this week towards an outbreak of peace in Cricket South Africa's administrative ranks after three years of fractious infighting. For the first time in months directors are beginning to see the value in communicating, not just with each other but also with the outside world.

Part of the problem during the long, drawn-out process of reviewing the game's structure with the Nicholson inquiry was the lack of understanding of what existed in the first place, never mind where it should be heading.

In a nutshell: the members' forum, rather than the board of directors, is the ultimate authority in the game. It comprises the presidents of the 11 provinces. They have the power to hire and fire directors, who are appointed to run the game. Neat.

The problem, however, is that it was a classic "judge and jury" situation. Many who were charged with overseeing the directors were directors themselves. How could they be impartial?

Acting CSA president Willie Basson confirmed the problem this week: "It is a potential conflict but it is a managed conflict, as it would make no sense to have a board without any input from the people who run the sport and they can reflect the views of the affiliates they represent."

Reflecting provincial views has been at the heart of the problem – hence the demand from the players' union (the South African Cricketers' Association) to implement Judge Chris Nicholson's recommendation that the 50% of the new board be made up of independent directors.

The CSA board, to its credit, agreed to implement Nicholson's recommendation of five independents and five non-independents, with an independent chairperson. But the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) forced its hand, with chief executive Tubby Reddy insisting that "cricket should be run by cricket people".

Cricket people
With the threat of deregistration and, in effect, no sanctioned international competition, CSA agreed to add another two more "cricket people" to change the balance from a 5:5 split to 7:5. Reddy said he would have enforced a change if necessary.

With so much at stake, it takes courage to speak out publicly. North West CSA president Archie Pretorius offered the shortest but most pertinent answer when asked whether the 50-50 split would have benefited the game. "Yes," he said.

Peter Cyster, Boland's president, concurred: "The board fully supported a 5-5 split – and I must stress that our new board is far more independent than the boards of any other sporting code in the country," he said.

Cricket Australia recently moved to a streamlined board structure with independent directors. Their split is 6:3. New Zealand took the radical step of becoming 100% independent.

The current CSA board members were vilified for, apparently, covering up Gerald Majola's distribution of unratified bonuses to himself and other members of staff. An internal inquiry was established, headed by AK Khan. It looked like a cover-up.

"It was suggested by a board member at the time that we try to obtain the facts internally first, which is not uncommon in the corporate world, hence the Khan commission," said Pretorius. "Based on what was ­presented to the board after the commission concluded their work, decisions were taken. It was certainly not a cover-up." In other words, it was a balls-up rather than a cover-up.

So do the members' forum and members of the board feel unfairly maligned? "We have been unfairly treated," said Cyster. "There is a misperception that we didn't act correctly in terms of the information that was available to us. But we sought independent legal and financial opinion and we also gave both Sport and Recreation South Africa and Sascoc observer status at our meetings, and the decisions we took were endorsed."

Limited-overs series
"Yes, in a way [we feel maligned]," said Pretorius. "It's unfair to treat all board members the same, as I try to serve the game and to represent my province as well as I can."

The notion that board members are motivated by financial gain appears to carry no weight. CSA spokesperson Michael Owen-Smith said: "The only person who has received payment in the past has been the president, and Dr Basson has refused to accept it. Board members get a free trip overseas at economy-class rates [two per tour] to watch the Proteas play a Test match or a portion of a limited-overs series, so no individual is going to qualify to go very often.

"We obviously also pick up the expenses of sending the president and the chief executive to official [International Cricket Council] meetings. Discussions are under way on an appropriate emolument model for board members attending meetings."

Cyster, a practising dentist, said his cricketing duties cost him money: "I have always been out of pocket, both as a member of the board of CSA and as president of Boland. It costs me R1 800 to get a locum to fill in at my practice for one day."

Said Pretorius: "The worst is sitting in meetings where you get nothing for it and the independent person next to you actually receives R5 000 for being there. To submit one-day leave compared to the meeting fee – expenses only – at board meetings leaves me worse off."

One director replied to our queries on condition of anonymity. His answers contained factual errors. For every step forward, there is a stumble backward. The battle between professionalism and amateurism continues.

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