“In my life, I’ve never had as much pressure as I’ve [been under] this day under,” said the official. These were not the words of some wet-behind-the-ears administrator. These were the sentiments of a battle-hardened administrator, a guy who has been around and who has been in plenty of ugly, rancid International Cricket Council (ICC) meetings.
The day he was referring to was last Monday, the day before a two-day ICC board meeting in which rule by the “Big Three” boards from Australia, England and India was all but finalised.
“First they offered us the greed of tours, then other things,” he continued. “You name it, they said, and we’ll do it. Future tours, the [ICC] presidency, we’ll do it.”
The suits will tell you what Cricket Australia (CA), the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were doing was lobbying, for support that would see their plans voted through during the meeting. Do not believe them.
This was bullying. There were threats as well.
The Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) was told, for example, that the Asia Cup and World Twenty20 they are to host this year would be under threat, because if they did not agree, India would pull out.
Then some lies were spun. The four boards that opposed the moves – and ultimately managed to defer voting on the changes until Saturday – were individually told that everyone had come on board, that the big three had already obtained the support of eight, even nine other boards. Each of the opposers faced a three-pronged attack.
The BCCI would take them in for a meeting and immediately after they would be whisked away by one of the other two boards. The talk around some of these meetings was that officials from the opposing boards were basically ambushed.
Meanwhile, Cricket South Africa (CSA) who – if we adopt the jargon that cricket increasingly wants us to adopt – own the game’s most attractive product, in the shape of the world’s best Test side, were isolated entirely.
At times during the subsequent ICC press conference, it was difficult to avoid the impression that ICC management had been similarly forced into accepting this. Two subtly different versions of what might have happened were put forth.
In one Alan Isaac, the president, said the reason he prompted the big three to come together was because you had to “start somewhere”, and that he could have added other members to this working group.
That presents this as an organic coming together of some kind to reshape the future of a troubled sport. The chief executive, David Richardson, was more specific, identifying this as the resolution of the signing of a Members Participatory Agreements (the MPA that all members sign to for playing in ICC events).
All members held numerous negotiations, he said, until it was whittled down to some “sticking points [that] primarily related to Australia, England and India”.
Presumably, the BCCI’s threats to not participate in ICC events was one of the “sticking points”. To progress, they were asked to get together.
The only appropriate imagery this warrants is that of the cowboy riding the mad bull at a rodeo, striving to stay on but knowing that he is, ultimately, to fall off and in no control whatsoever in the face of the rampaging animal.
This was not control: this was trying desperately to stay on and appear in control, statements that sounded as much for public consumption as those releases by the opposing boards in the immediate aftermath of the ICC’s release claiming unanimity on the order of the new world.
Those anecdotes, the spirit and message of which remains unchanged right from the day the report was first presented to members, also put the lie to all talk of this having been a consultative process.
The proposals were an continuing discussion it was said. They would be chiselled and tweaked, having taken other points of view on board.
Well, from one version of the resolutions that was given to members, little has changed.
None of the really significant points the original draft report made have been altered in any reasonable way and not much more will.
Only if we were to take Idi Amin or Josef Stalin as gold standards for consultative rule, then yes, this has been pretty consultative.
Admittedly, this has been the way of cricket lobbying for years now. Bigger self-interests lean down heavily on other smaller self-interests until an overlap is found and a decision is made.
The intensity of what went down last week though might have been new. Once these proposals are accepted, this behaviour and arguably its intensity effectively becomes formalised.
All the bullying, the lies, the threats and the spin cannot erase one simple, central indictment of the big three’s plans though.
In what is an avowedly members-driven organisation, limping along on the tensions of conflicting self-interests, how does it become better if you give total control to the least number of members possible?
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