Blocking the way

There is an understandable sense of righteous indignation amongst and the administrators and followers of cricket in the “first world” about the imminent rejection of a former Australian prime minister, John Howard, as deputy president of the ICC, and then subsequently president.

The very vast majority of “cricket people” in those countries have little, if any, experience of what happens on the ground in the countries which have voted against Howard’s appointment and they do not care to take a first-hand interest.

Howard was nominated by Australia and New Zealand — after a prolonged struggle which led, eventually, to New Zealand backing down in the their support for Sir John Anderson — and that it was presumed to be that.  Nomination made and accepted.  For that is how the ICC have, by and large, always worked.

The fact that South Africa and Zimbabwe have stood up to Howard’s nomination has been received poorly by the ICC hierarchy and the Australasians whose turn it was to nominate the future president.  They appear more willing to challenge the cheek and impetuosity of their insubordinate colleagues than listen to their reasons for being unhappy with Howard’s appointment.

Throughout his underrated tenure as ICC chief executive, Australian Malcolm Speed spoke long and often about the importance of the ICC’s status as an “apolitical” organisation which focused only on sport and not on the politics of the country in which it functioned.  Speed’s countryman, Howard, was at the same time mixing sport and politics in a willing and volatile mixture while prime minister of Australia.

Given the histories of South Africa and Zimbabwe, it is understandable that they should be reluctant to accept an outspoken, insensitive and bullish politician as their new cricketing leader.  He may well be a “cricket tragic” and have a passion for the game, but it is entirely reasonable for cricket tragics in the rest of the world to feel extremely dubious about the ability of a one eyed politician to become every man’s cricket leader in the space of a couple of years.

What Howard did and said about certain cricket nations, often behind closed political doors and so far unrepeated in public, has had a longer lasting effects than he has obviously realised.  Whilst he may have the passion, desire and ability to change hats from politician to sports administrator with what he perceives as ease, he clearly lacks the ability to convince lifelong cricket people that that is possible.

Perhaps Howard should call Speed.  As one fellow Aussie to another, he may gain an understanding as to why a political terrier — and one who gave short shrift to sports independence — will find it hard to be welcomed into the sports family.

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