A way forward for cricket

2012-02-18 00:00

THERE are two rumours floating around South African cricket. If either or both make landfall it would confirm that the governance of the game is ripe for structural change.

The first is that the current board of Cricket South Africa (CSA) is of a mind to reject any recommendations or findings made by Judge Christopher Nicholson.

The implication of this would be a direct challenge to the political influence of the minister of sport on whose authority it was that the Nicholson inquiry was instituted.

The Gerald Majola faction within the board would be saying to minister Fikile Mbalula that “our clout is bigger than yours”.

A challenge to the minister to do his damndest would represent an unforeseen outcome to the Nicholson inquiry. The minister would be obliged to call the bluff of the CSA board. The only credible manner in which he could do this would be to fire the entire board and try to replace it with an interim administration of his own bidding.

This would throw the administration of cricket in this country into turmoil unless the quality of the men appointed by him was above reproach.

The chances of finding half a dozen good men acceptable to all the communities represented in South African cricket are not great, but it may just be that the time for appeasement is over.

The real issue is to find a way forward that is not tainted by the provincialism and political manouevering that have dominated debate at board level for years.

Giving each province a vote on the general council of CSA may have been regarded as a victory for democracy, but it has been a recipe for self-interest on a grand scale.

The smaller provinces hold the balance of power and have been guilty from time to time of joining their more powerful cousins in putting their own interests before the good of the national game.

It was only financial necessity that forced the minor provinces to agree to the franchise system that introduced the concept of the strong playing the strong in a league of six teams. There was simply not enough money to finance a competition of 10 teams playing each other. The quality of the cricket played was not the issue when it should have been the only issue.

Now that CSA is rolling in money, albeit temporarily, the second rumour floating out there is that the lesser provinces are hungry for a place at the highest table.

The danger for cricket is not that they have no case, but that their case merits serious consideration.

It has been apparent for several years that there is not enough room in the franchise system for all the quality players who want to become professional cricketers, particularly with the unofficial quota system that is still very much in place.

The result of this situation, as many were able to predict, is that there is a steady flow of good young cricketers who are looking to other countries for the chance to play professional cricket.

It is to create more local opportunities that a move has begun to increase the number of teams playing at the franchise level.

The difficulty is to determine what the right number of teams is and the vexed question of who those teams should be. The simple and wrong answer is to give all 10 provinces a place at the table.

This would result in a dilution of the strength-versus-strength principle at a time when it has been seen to work for for the good of the national team.

One more franchise team would probably do the trick for a time. The most obvious choice would be that of Border. It remains the most fertile nursery of black cricketers and it has an infrastructure that is capable of running a decent team.

It also has the advantage of being at the coast, which seems to be the preferred location for those who want to earn a living from sport.

East London has a lively council that has the ambition to increase the amount of top-class sport played in the city. In any case the marriage with EP that spawned the Warriors is now ripe for divorce.

Sadly it is almost impossible to see the current CSA board arriving at the obvious solution.

The political consequences of offending the neglected provinces would soon be felt at board level.

It would be more comfortable to admit the whole lot, despite the financial burden and reduction in the quality of cricket played.

Thus the minster may face both a challenge and an opportunity.

If he does, and there is no guarantee that he will, it will require from him a purpose and a political astuteness that have thus far eluded most politicians in SA for longer than many of us can remember.

The prize is a cricket administration that is focused on the game itself and not diverted by the myriad of issues that arise as soon as the sport is used as an instrument of social and economic change. The principal objectives of CSA should be to remove barriers to participation. If this can be achieved across the racial spectrum there must be every chance that within time all the provinces will find a seat at the highest playing table.

As soon as artificial restraints are placed on the selection of those who want to participate in any aspect of an activity, the process of waste begins. This was the ghastly lesson of apartheid and we must take care to ensure that that lesson has been learnt.

None of us know how the Nicholson inquiry will play out.

My own feeling is that not much will come out of it and that CSA will be allowed to muddle along with the same structures and personnel, in which case a 10-team first-class competition becomes a real possibility even in the short term.

I hope that I am wrong on both counts.

• Ray White is the former president of the United Cricket Board.

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