Interview: Ehsan Mani, former ICC President | Pakistan Today

Interview: Ehsan Mani, former ICC President

‘The game is far bigger than the three boards’ self-serving interests’

 

‘Lust for money and power is taking precedence over preserving and protecting the game’

 

 

Amongst administrators in global cricket, Ehsan Mani’s is a name to reckon with. A former president of the ICC, he was the first to speak out, his letter an expose of the Big Three’s hostile takeover bid of the world body. The clearheaded, well argued brief that he crafted against the Big Three earned him worldwide plaudits, with such luminaries in cricket administration as Malcolm Gray, Malcolm Speed and Ali Bacher, and former captains Clive Lloyd and Mike Atherton backing his stance. Cricket historian Gideon Haigh termed him “as the best ICC president ever”.

Here he expounds further on his stance on developments since, in the backdrop of January 28-29 meetings of the ICC in Dubai, with the verdict perhaps coming in February 8 moot.

Q: Do you think it is appropriate for the ICC to issue a press release that there was ‘unanimity’ in the Executive Board while there clearly was none?

A: We are getting very mixed signals; clearly there was no final agreement. From the reactions of the PCB, Cricket South Africa, SLC and BCB their take on the outcome of the meeting is different from the spin ICC is putting on it.

Q: You have already stated your position in your public stand through that letter to the ICC. Kindly restate your stance now for our readers after it is so obvious that the ‘Big Three’ shall have their way?

A: There have been some concessions made by the BCCI, ECB and CA but there are still issues that should be addressed:

1. It is now proposed a five-person Executive Committee will be set up. This committee will have permanent representatives from the BCCI, ECB and CA and two members from the other countries. This Committee’s powers are very wide-ranging and that power will be concentrated in the hands of BCCI, ECB and CA. This is no different to their original proposal. What is required is for two additional Committee members to be appointed who must be people of the highest integrity with a very good understanding of corporate governance and completely independent of the ICC or any member Board.

2. I am very concerned about the deals being done to win support for the revised proposal. Incentives are being offered to countries such as Bangladesh and the West Indies, such as additional bilateral tours, so they can make money out of these in return to their agreeing to the revised proposal.

Lord Woolf in his Report on the Governance of the ICC observed: “Undue influence: There are significant differences between the financial strength of Member Boards. Some of those interviewed believe that there are occasions when those with greater financial leverage are able to use their financial power to influence voting at the ICC Board, for example, through the offer of a future tour that would bring additional revenue to the host Member.”

“Side agreements: Concerns were expressed that the way a Director voted may have been influenced by factors beyond the specific issue in hand in order to obtain favourable treatment for another project.”

This is exactly what appears to be happening and brings into question the whole of the governance process of the ICC.

3. My third concern which needs to be addressed is the reduction in the money being allocated to the Associate and Affiliate Members of the ICC. Their entitlement to funding is being reduced by over $300million. This will have a serious impact on the ICC Global Development Programme. Instead of over $500m which should have been allocated to the Associate & Affiliate Members only $210m will be distributed to them plus the cost of their events. Of the $210m half will go to the top six Associate & Affiliate members leaving, $105m to be distributed among about 90 members over a period of eight years. This is peanuts.

What is worrying is that the money being taken from the Associate and Affiliate members will end up in the bank accounts of the BCCI, ECB and CA – the three countries that need the money the least. This will impede the growth of cricket around the world and cricket’s lack of investment in some of the world’s largest economies such as USA, China etc. will result in a huge lost opportunity for cricket in the future.

4. While a lot of lip service is paid to the sanctity of Test cricket, there is nothing tangible on how Test cricket will grow and prosper. Setting up a Test Fund in itself will not be enough. From all accounts the proposed Test Championship has been jettisoned as being not financially viable. It’s again money taking precedent over the game.

Q: In that backdrop is there anything more that can be done to resist and thwart this colonisation of world cricket? What is your comment on the three greatest democracies in the Commonwealth doing this to the greatest legacy of the Raj – the game of cricket?

A: I am very disappointed at the roles of the England & Wales Cricket Board and the Cricket Australia. They have completely ignored the corporate governance standards which prevail in the United Kingdom and Australia under pressure from the BCCI. Good corporate governance demands transparency in decision-making, no conflict of interest by the directors, probity, high ethical standards, acting in the best interest of the stakeholders, a proper balance between executive and independent directors etc. None of this is applied to the governance of the ICC.

As far as the BCCI is concerned, its governance standards leave a lot to be desired. Time and again the BCCI uses the carrot of bilateral tours to gain support for its position at the ICC. There have been issues concerning corruption in IPL. The son-in-law of the chairman of BCCI has been implicated in this, and a report of the Inquiry Commission is still outstanding.

If the BCCI, ECB and CA get their way ICC will become irrelevant; all decision on key matters that affect the game will be decided by these three boards. We have already seen that they have no hesitation in looking after their self-interests at the expense of the game as a whole.

It is important that the PCB, Cricket South Africa and Sri Lanka remain firm for a more equitable deal. The other stakeholders of the game must continue to ask for the implementation of the Woolf Report recommendations. The game is far bigger than the three boards’ self-serving interests.

Q: You have been president of the ICC and are one of its most respected global leaders (Cricket historian Gideon Haigh has commented that you have been the best ICC president ever). What are your feelings at this hostile takeover of the ICC by a cabal, which so effectively bars people of your calibre from outside the ‘Big Three’ to put their enormous skill-set to cricket’s service?

A: I am deeply saddened that the lust for money and power is taking precedence over preserving and protecting the game, which gives so much pleasure to hundreds of millions of people around the world. I got far more from cricket than I could ever give it.

Q: Bangladesh having secured its Test status, and apparently willing to sign on the dotted line, what is the likelihood of the ‘Big Three’ keeping their word now that they have shown their true colours?

A: The Bangladesh Cricket Board is being extremely shortsighted and blinkered in its approach. It was been offered, what I suspect, are short term incentives to win its support. I have no doubt that Bangladesh will be sidelined again. Cricket in Bangladesh will suffer in the longer term. The cricket-passionate people of Bangladesh deserve better.

Q: Are you satisfied at the manner the PCB has formulated its stance?

A: I have no details on how the PCB has formulated its stance or what are the key sticking issues for it. I have had no communication or contact with the PCB or its current chairman since this matter became public.

The PCB should be calling a meeting of its key stakeholders which should include people such as Imran Khan, Shaharyar Khan, Gen. Tauqir Zia, Khalid Mahmood, Zulfiqar Bokhari, Arif Abbasi, Majid Khan, Aamer Sohail, Chishty Mujahid, senior journalists and others to form a national consensus on its approach to this unprecedented challenge that Pakistan cricket faces today.

Q: It is being argued in Pakistan Cricket Board internally, one has learn on good authority, that the gains of a restored bilateral rubber with India would by far outweigh any financial loss that may accrue from the ‘Big Three’ takeover. Do you think its correct rationale?

A: There are matters of principle which far outweigh any financial gains that the PCB might make by playing against India. What the PCB should consider is how will the running of the ICC be better in the hands of the three boards whose priority is to look after their own interests? Also, what guarantees will PCB have that over time these three will not change the ground rules and go back on any commitments or promises made?

Q: How dependable are India’s commitments of a regular bi-annual series with Pakistan? Is the bank guarantee on offer worth anything because in the IPL auction for the 2014 season, Pakistani players have again been given a short shrift?

A: The PCB by now must have learned the hard lesson, that the BCCI has no hesitation on going back on its commitments to it. I would not trust any promises made by the current BCCI setup. It will not be worth the paper it is written on. If the BCCI is serious for a start it should support the IOC model for the ICC which allows no government interference in the affairs of its members.



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