Curiosity catches the cheats

2012-10-27 00:00

THE Gerald Majola scandal is crawling to its inevitable denouement but there is one aspect of it that commands the attention of the new body that is about to take charge of South African cricket. This is the lack of curiosity displayed by most of the men who sat on the CSA board during Majola’s 10 years as the organisation’s chief executive.

It was clear as early as the spring of 2003, just after the Cricket World Cup had been put to bed, that all was not well with the understanding that Majola should have had of the responsibilities of his job. An incident occurred which should have set alarm bells ringing in the minds of every member of CSA’s board as well as its executive committee.

Ian Smith, who is now CEO of Tennis South Africa, had just returned to the offices of CSA following his secondment to the 2003 World Cup campaign as its financial director. Majola and the CSA board had promised Smith that he would return to his position as FD of CSA when the World Cup was over. Yet, when he arrived at the offices in Kent Park, he found that his previous post had been filled by a Mr Diteko Modise.

Almost immediately Smith expressed his concern to John Blair, the treasurer, both about his own position and the fact that an internal IT contract had just been awarded to a company of which Majola was the chairperson and Modise a shareholder. Blair was unmoved.

Smith was told to attend a forthcoming meeting of the finance committee at which his position would be made clearer. Before this meeting Smith was given a set of accounts, prepared by Modise, which, on perusal, made no sense at all to him.

When Smith questioned the accuracy of the accounts, Majola flew into a rage. He accused Smith of racism and subsequently fired him without reference to either the board’s president or its treasurer.

Smith was ordered to clear his desk and leave the premises.

Not a single board member queried the actions of Majola or raised his voice in Smith’s defence. That Smith was subsequently shown to have been entirely justified when Modise was found guilty of embezzling something like R10 million from CSA also did nothing to alert any board member that Majola might be either out of control or out of his depth, or both.

It is this keen alertness, as well as independence of thought, for which the new brand of CSA’s directors will be paid and which was missing in the politically fraught, but financially casual eras of the late, unlamented Percy Sonn and his successors.

Left unchecked to pursue his own vision of how CSA should be managed, Majola soared into a rarefied atmosphere where his word was law and his actions beyond reproach.

The advent of the IPL and its organising adventurer, Lalit Modi, gave Majola an opportunity to power his ambitions into orbit without reference to CSA’s control centre.

Even when his hubris inspired him to take on the Gauteng Cricket Board after they questioned his relationship with the IPL, the board of CSA backed, rather than questioned Majola. Had it not been for the dogged persistence and curiosity of men like Paul Harris and Keith Lister, who were no longer in cricket administration, Majola would still be flying out of reach. As it is, like a latter day Icarus, he crashed to earth and lost one of the best jobs in the country.

The sordid story of Lance Armstrong is a similar but more sinister tale. He too was protected by a lack of curiosity from the men of the International Cycling Union, except that body may also have been guilty of both connivance and cowardice.

Enough rumours circled Armstrong throughout his career for the men of UCI to have taken a special interest in the extraordinary feats of the American, but they chose to ignore all the steadily growing bits of evidence that pointed to his dope taking. The sequence of events attached to Armstrong’s donation of $125 000 (R1 million) to UCI was never investigated.

Armstrong got away with threatening and bullying anyone who dared challenge him. David Walsh of the London Sunday Times wrote about Armstrong’s doping as long ago as 2001, in a book called LA Confidential. Armstrong sued the Sunday Times and received an out of court settlement of £1 million.

Clearly, Walsh now feels vindicated. “I was never sure of anything more in my life than that this guy and his team were doping and that was from the very first Tour in 1999.

“It’s just wrong that guys who were riding the race clean and never appeared in the top 20 were screwed by a corrupt system and, in my view, a system that couldn’t have remained corrupt without the complicity of the people who run the sport.”

It took the U.S. federal justice system to root out Armstrong. When many of his co-conspirators were hauled before a grand jury, the game was up. Faced with telling the truth or long jail sentences for perjury, they all opted for the truth and the Lance goose was cooked.

Now cycling is faced with an irretrievable mess. For seven years, the Tour de France has been wiped from the records. It should probably be longer than that because the doping was endemic both before and after Armstrong. What will happen to all the prize money? It can hardly be left in soiled hands, but may not be easily recovered. Who will take responsibility for restructuring cycling’s controlling body?

All it required to have averted this mess was just one curious and determined UCI official who refused to accept the received truth that Armstrong’s string of Tour victories were the result of a superior training regimen, coupled with the man’s unique physiology.

That disbeliever just needed to have spent a couple of hours with David Walsh and read his book.

The truth was that close.

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