Global cricket's ex-legal head warns the proposed coup by the "big three" will undermine governance
Governance of international cricket is likely to be "severely weakened" if some of the key proposals set out in the recent "position paper" are approved, according to David Becker, the former legal head and company secretary of the International Cricket Council.
Becker, who resigned from the ICC about 18 months ago, said this week that the attempt by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and Cricket Australia (CA) to assume control of the game was "extremely concerning from a governance point of view".
"This is exactly what I warned against three months ago when I spoke out about the threat to the governance of the game," Becker said. "The fact that three members are expressly reserving for themselves the power to nominate the chair of the ICC and, furthermore, endeavouring to control every resolution and proposal which is put to the ICC board is unfair and undemocratic," Becker said.
Becker and Haroon Lorgat, who succeeded Malcolm Speed as ICC chief executive in 2008, set about improving governance of the game's ruling body by proposing an independent governance review. The result was the report by former United Kingdom chief justice Lord Woolf who, tellingly, warned in the very first paragraph: "Cricket is a great game. It deserves to have governance, including management and ethics, worthy of the sport. This is not the position at the present time."
Woolf went on to propose 65 recommendations, including the introduction of independent directors and a more democratic system of voting in world cricket.
"This [the new proposals by India, England and Australia] would be a move in the opposite direction and is therefore extremely worrying," Becker said. "To propose further that the ‘big three' are immune from relegation from the proposed top tier of Test cricket is contrary to internationally accepted sporting principles."
Another proposal in the position paper suggests the establishment of a Test fund to protect and support the highest form of the game in those countries where Test cricket is struggling to survive as a commercial enterprise. South Africa is the only full member country omitted from the list of beneficiaries.
"While the concept of a Test fund is a good idea in principle, to exclude South Africa as a potential beneficiary is inequitable," Becker said. This is almost certainly a result of the personal animosity felt by BCCI president Narayanaswami Srinivasan towards Lorgat, who is now Cricket South Africa's chief executive.
The proposal also recommends a revamped model for the distribution among member nations of the wealth generated by ICC events. Instead of an equal distribution, the proposal drawn up by the BCCI, the ECB and CA favours a model in which they, the richest nations, will receive the greater percentage of funds whereas the smaller and poorer countries will receive less. It suggests that the seven nations outside the ruling triumvirate will be able to generate income from bilateral tours. The inevitable result of this model is that the rich will simply get richer and the poor will get poorer.
A further threat to the game is the proposed dissolution of the current approved Future Tours Programme schedule for bilateral tours. Putting aside the immediate concern of having to unwind a host of contracts entered into by members on the back of the existing eight-year schedule approved in 2011, the new proposals also envisage that India would be free to decide which other countries it plays against, and how often.
"I understand the need to modify a congested calendar. However, if India simply chose not to play against certain countries, then they would have no obvious means of survival," Becker said. "Cricket fans can make up their own mind about what would happen to the game if a country like India, at its discretion, sporadically visited or hosted other countries without a coherent and balanced structure."
Becker has advised a host of sports governing bodies on legal and regulatory issues in his international career, including the International Rugby Board, the International Equestrian Federation, the International Sailing Federation and the British Triathlon.
His clients have included some of the world's leading sportsmen, including four-time Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie, golfer Rory Mcllroy, football players Lucas Radebe and Steven Pienaar, and former Springbok captain Francois Pienaar.
Given the tangle of governance issues that have dogged cricket in recent times, it is unsurprising that Becker chose to leave the ICC after five years on the senior executive team. As sharp as his working mind is, it is comfortably matched by his acutely defined sense of right and wrong. In 2001 he was a co-founder of the Starfish Foundation, which today supports tens of thousands of Aids orphans in Southern Africa, and is also a founding trustee of the Beyond Sport Foundation, a global charity aimed at recognising and rewarding projects that use sport as a tool for social change.
"I love cricket and I love the meaning it gives to people around the world," he said. "The governance of the game is in a very precarious position. I am not the only one to recognise that. Lord Woolf did too.
"Without good governance, you won't get good decision-making and the game will flounder. Having served the game for five years, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out and try and preserve the integrity of the governance structures inherent within the game," Becker said.