Board Games — a fatal flaw in Lord Woolf’s review

Sharda Ugra, in ESPN cricinfo

On Wednesday, all was sunshine and roses. The announcement that the ICC’s executive board had decided to split the role of its president and create a new job of chairman was accompanied by the board patting itself on the back. The board’s push for an “ambassadorial” rotational presidency, with the burden of governance on the new chairman was, the ICC’s CEO, Haroon Lorgat, said, “consistent with the recommendations of the Woolf Report“.

The Woolf report pointed out frostily that its recommendations “collectively should remain a priority and should not be cherry picked”. At first sight, a couple of the cherries looked far too juicy to not be picked. The president and chairman issue apart, the board’s assistance programme to help “lower-performing Full Members and higher performing Associates / Affiliates” also turned out to be in line with the Woolf panel. Given that the Woolf report was finally presented at lunchtime on Tuesday to the board, ending up on the same page with two of 65 recommendations the next day was not a bad start.

The rest of the cherries, though, may – if picked – leave a sour taste across the ICC’s hierarchy, as most of them effectively ask the ICC’s executive board to voluntarily dismantle its very power structure. To “streamline” the board – from comprising directors from all ten Full Members, three Associate representatives, a president, vice-president and chief executive, down to a chairman, four directors representing the Full Members, two from the Associates and five independent directors, with the president and chief executive in attendance – is an idea that swings wildly between boldness and fancy.

The report backs its call for change with comments, sourced from respondents to its questionnaire, on the board’s functioning. In it, some board meetings were described as “poorly structured and chaired”, while in others issues were discussed with “inappropriate” or “dysfunctional” behaviour. (Other terms found were “inadequate quality of debate” and “inconsistent decision-making”.)

The ICC will now attempt to make a fourth change to how its president is appointed in the 16 years since its constitution was reworked in 1996. But the president’s has always been a ceremonial role. He sits in on the executive board meeting, along with vice-president and the chief executive, but they don’t have voting rights; those belong to the Full Member and Associate representatives. The president is largely only the game’s leading ambassador, inaugurating events, handing out trophies, shaking hands and making a few statements. His is a post of limited power, without veto. In order to get any resolution passed, every board member knows that he doesn’t need the president’s permission, approval or support. All he needs is seven of the nine other Full Members on his side. (That can be arranged well before the actual vote, in what the Woolf report has described as “side agreements”.) So the president is not really an overburdened, overworked soul.

But maybe he hasn’t mostly been playing golf either, because the game is growing, revenues are increasing, so maybe his duties had begun to pile up quickly. Which is why someone was needed to handle the nitty gritty and the messy business of board governance. Enter the new chairman, and the board’s “unanimous resolution”, recommending a split in the presidency role from 2014 in favour of the chairman to “lead the board”.

It is actually the only bit of clarity available on the new chairman’s role, other than the statement that the “best man” will be elected for the job. Regarding candidature and tenure, there was only vagueness. Would the chairman come from among the board’s current directors? Lorgat said, “There is every chance that will be the case, and there is every chance that it could be someone from outside.” How long would the chairman’s tenure be? President-elect Allan Isaac said, “May well be for a longer or shorter period of time.”

By those parameters, this could either be a good move or a bad one. It may work or it may not. It is either insightful governance or political opportunism. Lorgat said the ICC had been “discussing changes to the presidency or splitting the role so that [it] could get a chairman to lead the board”. The ICC board’s discussions in Dubai produced only skeletal conclusions.

Now, the Woolf report has also put forth the idea of a chairman, but that is where the similarity between its approach and that of the ICC board ended. The report found that the election of the vice-president and president was “one of the more emotive and immediate governance challenges facing the ICC”.

The Woolf report’s recommendation is detailed, even if impossible to follow all the way through. The chairman will lead the ICC board, have a vote and receive a good wage. But should he belong to a Member board, he will have to give up his national positions. As must all other ICC board directors. By that account, neither the chairman nor the directors on the executive board can hold any office in the home boards after they are recommended for the ICC job.

This is to ensure that the primary duties and loyalties of the chairman and directors lie with the ICC and its aims, not with their home board. The voting pattern is simple, one man, one vote, and takes away the Full Member nations’ “effective veto”. All these recommendations aim to turn the ICC board upside down, inside out – to counter the board’s compromised choices and inconsistent decisions.

The report lists the chairman’s position as the No. 2 priority in its transition plan, and recommend having the new system in place by 2015. It is now left to Alan Isaac, who will become ICC president this year, to take on the “transitional” role of chairman before an independent chairman is appointed.

Whatever it may or may not achieve in the future, the ICC’s independent governance review has presented before the world a completely dispassionate and accurate assessment of how the game is actually run. But it is now in the open, released into a cyber cloud, and will be the essential benchmark of the ICC’s future governance.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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