Battle of the 'strong' men

If ever they find themselves struggling with a decision, sports administrators need to ask themselves just one simple question: is it in the best interests of the game?

Just as the players need periodic reminders of the innocent days of youth when competition and love of the game were all that mattered, the men and women who oversee that competition should be reminded of their original motivation for becoming involved.

Bernie Ecclestone may have created Formula One as a platform to become a tyrannical millionaire, but the vast majority of administrators are, at least initially, prompted by a desire to contribute to and improve a sport they love and feel passionate about.

To that end the men and women who run cricket at the Gauteng Cricket Board (GCB) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) have disgraced themselves and everybody in the country with a love for the game during the past two weeks. Worse still, they have embarrassed themselves, and the rest of us, in the eyes of the world. Instead of being motivated by the interests of the game, they have been driven by personal ambition and pride.
At what point did they ever remind themselves of why they started in the job?

Long-term sponsorships, endorsements and other service contracts have been placed in serious jeopardy and, further down the food chain, CSA will endanger the livelihoods of thousands of innocent people and their families by removing international cricket from the Wanderers Stadium.

But, wound up in their disgusting power struggle, both sides have completely lost sight of what they are supposed to be doing and why they are supposed to be there. Both, it seems, believe they are being “strong”. And neither understands that strong leadership should result in conflict resolution and compromise, not war.

For those cricket lovers who (understandably) don’t know what’s going on and why the Wanderers will no longer host England in any of three formats this summer, here’s a brief synopsis.

Gauteng made an unnecessarily aggressive and provocative approach to CSA and its chief executive, Gerald Majola, concerning the terms and conditions for hosting the Indian Premier League (IPL). They had a host of disillusioned, formerly loyal suite-holders who had been bundled out of their corporate boxes in favour of IPL guests and were threatening not to renew leases extending back more than 15 years.

They were also out of pocket to the tune of about R750 000 and believed their rights to their own stadium had been sold without consultation. They had good reason to complain. They are constitutionally entitled to ask questions and request an investigation by the CSA audit committee, which they did. But they could, and should, have done it far more respectfully.

But CSA, despite being guardians of the moral high ground, reacted like petulant children. Not only did they refuse to answer questions, they also demanded that those questions be “unconditionally” withdrawn. Among many problems with that approach is that Majola and CSA’s dealings with the IPL will now have to be made public. And those dealings were not perfect. They could never have been, given the time constraints.

Majola did a decent job and, although several members of the cricket community were left with disjointed and sometimes bloody noses, there is no doubt that the country as a whole benefited. Which makes it even harder to understand why Majola didn’t simply admit that his hasty negotiations with the IPL had not been “perfect” and then rely on the prevailing goodwill and sympathy of the majority of CSA affiliates to quieten Gauteng’s “insubordination”.

Instead of treating the GCB with the constitutional respect it is entitled to, notwithstanding its wretched aloofness, CSA has behaved with a petulance to rival the worst school playground. The Wanderers is the country’s only cricket stadium worthy of reckoning among the best in the game. Now, so say CSA, it will not host England this summer.

If that action could be condoned by madmen, then even the insane could never endorse the spiteful, vindictive and destructive move by CSA to “shuffle” the fixtures for September’s ICC Champions Trophy to ensure that the Proteas will play all three of their qualifying games at SuperSport Park instead of at the Wanderers. The final has also been moved by the obsequious ICC—at CSA’s request—to SuperSport Park.

It is obnoxious, puerile and sickening. Where to from here?

Appoint a team of mediators, sit down in a room together and sort it out. International cricket belongs at the Wanderers and CSA should be proud to have it there. Sadly, Gauteng’s leaders can be smug to the point of nausea but competent leaders, never mind great ones, rise above that. Just answer the questions, or “accusations” as they see them, and move on.

CSA and its employees are there to work for the betterment of cricket. As things stand, Majola and the recently elected president, Mtutuzeli Nyoka, are heading towards a legacy of wanton destruction fuelled by a simmering but misdirected anger.

Ironically, Majola’s last battle, last year, was against then-president Norman Arendse, whose autocratic bullying and use of “friends” (such as the non-executive members’ forum) to railroad his way through correct constitutional procedure was too much for Majola to stand. He now appears to be doing much the same himself.

Only Majola can ensure a resolution of some kind. Full reconciliation will take months, if not years, but a temporary truce is desperately and urgently required. A real leader is required—not a “strong” one.

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