x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Asian sport's inept rulers

The administrative misadventures in Pakistan and Sri Lankan cricket find their mirror image in Indian hockey.

When the Australian Broadcasting Corporation showed In a Fix earlier this week, it featured footage of Tauqir Zia, the former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

When I interviewed him 10 years ago, in Dhaka during an Asia Cup tournament, the army man had spoken articulately about how his administration would be the new wave that modernised the country's cricket, making it professional and accountable. By the time he resigned more than three years later, the team's fortunes had plummeted, and the losing finalists of 1999 had not even managed to make the Super Six at the World Cup.

In the Four Corners programme, he talks of attempts to influence the make-up of the side. "Remember that I was in uniform, I was a serving Army officer, and there's a gentleman who rings me up," he said. "So he said, 'So and so player should be included in the team, because he fixes matches and we get money. You know, that's our livelihood.'

"So I said 'Ah, I can give you appointment and a job in Pakistan Cricket Board. Why do you have to earn money, you know, in a wrong manner?' So he says, 'What you pay me is far less than what I earn over there, therefore I would suggest that you include that man in the team.' I said, 'Look, you are threatening a man who is in uniform. So you think that I'm going to be cowed down with all your threats? You go to hell, and that man is not going to be put in the team.' And he was never included on the side."

What makes it so disturbing to watch is the fact that the incident took place just a couple of years after Malik Mohammad Qayyum's inquiry into match-fixing had made a raft of recommendations to curb the menace. Few were ever implemented, and men suspected of wrong-doing were never kept away from the side.

But if Tauqir's tenure was hardly the new broom required, what followed has been shambolic.

The eloquent and honourable Shaharyar Khan apart, his successors have done little more than drag the game into a swamp of ill-repute. Nasim Ashraf emptied the board's coffers and Ijaz Butt has made Pakistan cricket a laughing stock.

"He'd been on the board, on a committee I'd attended and I just thought, here's a senile old duffer," says Geoff Lawson, the former Pakistan, coach, on the show. "What is this guy? I had to restrain myself from laughing when he spoke."

The administrative misadventures in Pakistan cricket find their mirror image in Indian hockey, which hit rock-bottom after the failure to qualify for the Beijing Olympics.

Ric Charlesworth, who has enjoyed unparalleled success with Australia, both as player and coach, was an adviser at the time of the qualifying debacle, but the game's administrators in their infinite wisdom decided not to utilise his services when the games were being played.

Charlesworth's earlier attempts to coach the Indians were thwarted mainly by the xenophobic clique that has run the game into the ground over the past three decades.

"India has huge numbers, huge resources, and gifted players," he said. "But they don't have the organisation, the discipline, the tactics - things that are important for the team to be successful. They have been unwilling to embrace anybody from outside, or take on other ideas. The game is always evolving and even if India has gifted players, that isn't enough."

When they did appoint a foreign coach in the new millennium, it wasn't Charlesworth, but Gerhard Rach - a "bounder" in the Australian's words - who had been convicted of fraud, forgery and tax evasion in his native Germany.

Things have improved slightly in recent times, and Jose Brasa, who helped the team reach the Commonwealth Games final, must be doing something right given how much he is loathed by the old guard.

Corruption and intrigue have never been far from the surface in Sri Lanka's cricket either. There has been quite a buzz on the island recently about the Mercedes presented to a board official for smoothing the path to a lucrative World Cup floodlighting contract.

Sri Lanka Cricket has had interim committees in charge since 2005, and each has had to endure a swathe of corruption charges.

Back in 2006, a disgruntled official gave me access to the television rights deal that had been signed, which essentially bartered away Sri Lankan cricket's autonomy for a few dollars more. It clearly stipulated that the full amount would be paid only if they played a certain number of days against India.

With almost every appointment political - Butt is related to the defence minister, Indian hockey's KPS Gill was a Punjab Police chief and Sri Lankan cricket is an extension of parliamentary rivalries - what hope is there for the future?

A glimmer was offered by a High Court ruling in the southern Indian state of Kerala this week. Board officials were akin to public servants, it said, rubbishing the notion that it was a private organisation.

More such landmark judgements are required if sport's most important stakeholders, the fans, are to wrest back some control from those who see it only as opportunity to be exploited, legally or otherwise.