Michael Atherton, courtesy of The Times and The Weekend Australian 17-18 december 2011
GIVEN the scandals that have enveloped the game since the veil was lifted on the activities of several players during the 1990s, it is only natural that when the word “corruption” is uttered, attention falls on the cricketers themselves. Transparency International, an organisation committed to challenging corruption worldwide, made an important contribution to clearing up some of those misconceptions this week.
Cricket is not the kind of playing field that TI normally steps on to, but it was encouraged to do so partly by the wide-ranging nature of the consultation over the ICC’s governance review that closed last week. TI released a number of recommendations for the ICC to consider before the publication of the review, the most important of which was to remind people that on-field corruption is just a small part – albeit the most damaging part – of the temptations that envelop the game as a whole.
The submission to the ICC was made by 12 cricket-playing countries within TI. Some are particularly ill-served by corruption, according to TI’s corruption index. Out of 182 countries worldwide, TI ranksZimbabwe, for example, 154th,PakistanandGuyanaequal 134th,Bangladesh120th,India95th andJamaicaandSri Lankaequal 85th.New Zealand, by the way, is the least corrupt country in the world.
Accepting that the corruption of players is an obvious starting point, TI broadens the scope by focusing on “bribery”, “conflicts of interest”, “cronyism and nepotism” and “opaque decision-making” within the ICC. Moving away from on-field corruption, TI specifically raises the particular challenges associated with the sale of television rights, venue and hosting rights, sponsorship, the remuneration and bonuses paid to officials, and ticket sales and distribution that, in many countries, are shrouded in secrecy.
The argument is that these are likely to have become even more of a problem in the past decade, given the huge increase in the value of rights and the entrenchment of private tournaments outside the remit of the ICC. TI remains surprised that “to date the ICC’s anti-corruption efforts have been focused on preventing players from being corrupted and only secondarily on creating greater accountability within the ICC”.
Given events of the past few weeks – and we are not talking about Pakistani cricketers here – this recalibration of the scope and understanding of corruption is well timed. InEnglandwe may worry about the effects of a decade-long debt binge with pay frozen for the foreseeable future, pensions dwindling, work stretching deep into old age, but at least the pay cheques for those in work are honoured. Unlike those of Sri Lankan cricketers. Since the end of the World Cup in April,Sri Lanka’s players have not been paid a single rupee for their efforts.
Not one. At times inEnglandlast summer – particularly when they threw away a nailed-on draw inCardiffand imploded spectacularly – they appeared to play like amateurs, which is effectively what they were. Playing instead for the love of the game and of country, except that reading between the lines of Kumar Sangakkara’s Cowdrey Lecture, there was not a lot of that going on, either.
Somehow, despite hosting the World Cup and lavishing millions on spanking new facilities, Sri Lanka Cricket found itself unable to meet its responsibilities to its players. This week the sports minister graciously announced that 65 per cent of their dues would be paid soon, with the rest coming in January. Things got so desperate that the Sri Lankan players asked the Federation of International Cricketers to intervene andSouth Africa’s players spoke out in support of their fellow professionals. If the South African players looked closer to home, they might not think they were served too well by their own administrators, either. CricketSouth Africahas been in a state of paralysis because of a KPMG report into financial irregularities following on from the staging of the Indian Premier League inSouth Africain 2009.
After that tournament, Gerald Majola, the chief executive, was accused of paying himself and others juicy bonuses outside the normal channels of corporate governance.
Initially, the president who demanded the audit was removed, and then reinstated, and the audit’s conclusions were initially kept secret and then made public. This week, key officials expressed their bewilderment that, first, there was a confidentiality agreement with the IPL and then that Majola may have awarded himself and one colleague two thirds of the bonus, while dividing the rest between 20 other staffers. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is a general crisis of administration within the game, of which corporate governance as highlighted by TI is just one part. As well as problems in South Africa and Sri Lanka, Pakistan underwent wholesale change last month, West Indies is still embattled with its own star players and Zimbabwe Cricket maintains at its core two men, Peter Chingoka and Ozias Bvute, who were at the heart of the degradation of cricket in that country before the present upturn.
The Sri Lanka’s Sports Minister, Mahindananda Aluthgamage, has assured the players that their pay cheques would be forthcoming. This is the same politician who last month dissolved the interim board, the ninth interim board appointed since the government politicised the governance of Sri Lanka Cricket. No wonder players are looking increasingly beyond national boundaries, where the temptations of corruption are even more widespread.