Fall guy Speed soldiers on

Very few South Africans will have formed a pleasant opinion of Malcolm Speed in the last few weeks, let alone grown to admire or even like the man so allow me to assure you that he is a deeply sincere man and an indisputably decent one.

He is a career administrator and one so loyal to his employers that he will alow nothing to stand in the line of duty, and certainly not personal criticism.

Speed began his career in sports administration as a risky appointment to the head of the Australian Basketball League. For a sport that relies and glitz, glam and razzmatazz for its survival, the grey-suited, straight faced Speed was an odd choice.

But you don’t need to wear leather trousers and an earring to create a sexy product and Speed transformed the game before being snapped up by the Australian Cricket Board. He’d barely moved the pot plants into his Melbourne office before the ICC waved a fat cheque book at him and transferred him to London.

Speed is a lawyer by training and his systematic approach to the most complex problems always displays the years of law study. I asked him last week what the ICC’s position was on the “likely casualties, possible fatalities, that might result as a direct result of World Cup cricket matches being played in Harare.”

I knew it was a tough question because, personally, he is a sesitive human being. But professionally he represents 84 countries with, as he keeps saying, “a wide cross section of races, religions and cultural values.” His personal opinion was not only worthless, it could have been dangerous. So his careful answer began: “That’s an interesting question which needs to be broken down in to its component parts.”

Basically Speed’s job was to say that casualties amongst demonstrators were not the ICC’s business or problem, but he had to say so in the most delicate language possible. It’s a bit like telling your neighbour’s children that you just ran over their dog…but that you didn’t mean it.

Speed is walking one of the most delicate, political tight ropes that has ever been stretched across a sport. England and Australia’s colonial, demeaning and arrogant administration of the game for half a century infuriated the majority of the cricket playing world and now they wonder why they even need two founding members of the ICC. Why not just go it alone, especially when you are India and generate 75% of the revenue in the game?

Speed is trying to hold the fractured ship together. He is also trying to be a father, a husband, a spokesman, a peace maker – and he travels the equivalent of half way around the world every month.

Don’t let perceptions deceive. Malcolm Speed is a good man. Hard, sometimes even brutal and mostly uncompromising, Speed is neither uncaring nor unsympathetic. It’s just that he isn’t afraid to appear so when it’s needed. Who’d be an administrator?

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