Cricket has fallen on hard times

2008-04-29 00:00

Evidently Malcolm Speed has had enough of the shenanigans masquerading as leadership taking place at the newly reconstructed International Cricket Council (ICC).

Clearly he cannot for a minute longer tolerate the smiling but secretly snarling activities of South African Ray Mali and his acolytes in high office in Dubai. Cricket has fallen on hard times. The dollars may be piling up but the game has become devoid of any motivation except power and money. Despite the glib remarks of the smooth-talking rabble in office, objections to their conduct are not based on race, colour or culture. Rather it is that amoral leaders have clawed their way up the greasy pole, from which lofty perch they are causing untold damage.

Speed has had a rough time. It must have been bad enough to have to put up with South African Percy Sonn, an embittered man whose razor-sharp brain was so affected that he did not detect anything wrong with the 2002 election in Zimbabwe (which took place under his supervision). Even President Thabo Mbeki no longer presents that case. Speed, an Australian, must have hoped for an easier passage after Sonn’s passing. But the situation continued to deteriorate as callow opportunists thrived.

Inevitably Speed found himself called upon to defend the indefensible. As a dutiful ICC chief executive, Speed had often been called upon to support policies he privately opposed. But he reached his breaking point. A man can only stomach so much. And so he departed, and not with the usual cosy remarks but with his position made abundantly clear. He is not a man for grandstanding and detests empty vapid gestures and liberal smugness. His resignation spoke of fury not indulgence.

Obviously the ICC’s conduct towards events in Zimbabwe has been the final straw. Not many international issues are simple. But Zimbabwe fits into that category. It is a struggle between good and evil, liberation and despotism, honesty and crookedness, future and past, power and people, greed and generosity. Zimbabwe reels under one of the nastiest bits of work Africa has known, a spiteful little man surrounded by clever, odious thugs.

It is trite to say and convenient to pretend that the Zimbabwean cricket body does not reflect the regime. Zanu-PF is Zimbabwe Cricket Union’s (ZCU) protector. The Minister of Sport is a spectacularly poisonous little man. But Zimbabwe’s supporters on the ICC do not care about that, or the violence or hunger or corruption. Zimbabwe’s vote has been tied up and nothing else matters.

In any case there is a broader principle at stake. Tyranny is the test of any institution. That has never changed. Over the decades cricket’s response has been weak. But the game did eventually boycott apartheid, celebrate the first black captain of the West Indies and rejoice in the independence of nations.

Certainly it was slow to stand up to be counted. But better to be slow to stand than to remain seated. Alas, the nations that produced the great liberators of the last century, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, have forgotten themselves. They have sided with oppression.

By instinct Speed is a conservative. That he has been driven to withdraw his services ahead of time and to make plain his reason speaks volumes about his outrage and frustration. Not for a moment longer could he sustained the impression that all was well in the ranks of the ICC. Simply, he was not prepared to be associated with appalling decisions taken by cynical men.

Of course that begs the question. How much longer can others put up with this nonsense? Are money and power the only things they take into account? Cricket has lots of fine people, including recent leaders from Pakistan and the West Indies. The time has come for them to confront the dark forces among them. Otherwise the disintegration of the game will continue. Right has been rolled.

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