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JUDITH FEBRUARY: The gentleman’s game has been turned into one of dysfunction

OPINION

It’s not about cricket anymore. It’s about democracy, institution-building and capture. The gentleman’s game has been turned into one of boardroom bullying, corruption and dysfunction.

The ongoing shambles within Cricket South Africa (CSA) continues as the organisation lurches from one shameful day to the next.

If we can gain any clarity from the mess before us, it is that the administration of cricket has been captured by rent-seekers who have no interest in the game at all.

The capture has happened not only at administrative level, but also within every provincial cricket board and within the CSA board itself. Herein lies the rub. The overly powerful CEO Thabang Moroe has assiduously concentrated his power, thus building a useful empire to prop up his authoritarian tendencies. He has, of course, done so on the watch of a board, which seems unable or unwilling to hold him accountable.

The past few days have been chaotic, to say the least. Former Proteas captain Graeme Smith was compelled to put out a statement that he had not signed on the dotted line to take up the position of director of cricket despite weekend reports. This is deeply worrying given that the England tour is but weeks away.

Smith’s appointment would be a powerful statement that the administration of CSA is trying to deal decisively with the poor on-field performances of our national team. It would also signal serious commitment to getting its own house in order.

But one wonders whether Smith has the stomach to take on this poisoned chalice and whether CSA is able to offer him a competitive package given its financial woes. The independent-minded Smith will also doubtless not brook any interference in team selection, which may be another stumbling block to his possible appointment. Moroe was allegedly fond of 2am calls to former coach Ottis Gibson regarding team selection.

A director of cricket would not suffice because currently we also have no convener of selectors. So, who will select the team? Is anyone giving this any thought? CSA communications head, the hapless, unfit-for-purpose Thami Mthembu, told us he ‘would not engage’ on the issue. So, we have no right to know then.

As if all this was not disgraceful enough, the low point came as CSA revoked the accreditation of five journalists who had been critical of boardroom goings-on.

It is a sign of Moroe’s hubris that he thought his actions would pass unnoticed. Did CSA really think it could ban journalists in a democracy?

South Africans have lived through almost a decade of state capture under Jacob Zuma. Every day we understand the cost of such recklessness. We see it in our hollowed-out institutions, in our bankrupt state-owned enterprises and in the corrupt individuals now scurrying to protect themselves from future prosecutions. The kitty is bare and our economy is in decline. Capture has cost us all. Zuma was a past master at appointing his unqualified, corrupt cronies to positions within the state. Their job was to protect him while Zuma himself handsomely looted alongside them.

In the sorry CSA saga, we South Africans can thus see the strains of capture. We see it when the administration is emasculated, when co-option happens at provincial boards and lucrative retainers are paid, in the reports of first-class travel, troubling restructuring of the game, wastage on fancy hotels and the best wines. We see it in the litigation in which CSA is embroiled and in affiliate unions stacked with those blindly loyal to a CEO who daily seems like the emperor with no clothes.

We see capture in the silence of the independent board members. We hear their silence. Their names are known to us: Mohamed Iqbal Khan, Dawn Mokhobo, Professor Steve Cornelius and Marius Schoeman.

One of them, Shirley Zinn, resigned on Tuesday. She cited governance concerns and then the banning of journalists as the last straw. This might be too little too late as the governance challenges at CSA have been obvious for a while. Yet, we must take Zinn at her word when she says she tried to fix things from within. This pattern sounds very familiar to anyone even cursorily watching the South African political landscape over the past decade.

In this debacle there is only one casualty: cricket.

On Tuesday Moroe issued an apology of sorts to the five banned journalists. He called the revocation of accreditation a ‘mishap’. To be clear, there was no mishap here. The revocation was a concerted attempt by CSA to silence journalists who were critical of what was happening in the boardroom. CSA said as much two days ago. It was only when the sponsor, Standard Bank, intervened that CSA seemed compelled to change its position.

In addition, it came on the back of Advocate Norman Arendse’s excoriating open letter to CSA. In it he rightly points out that, “All of the above leads me to one very sad conclusion: the CSA board has simply abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities by failing to act with the due care, skill and diligence required of it by the Companies Act, and the CSA constitution. To the extent that the CSA members’ council are aware of the above-mentioned shortcomings and failures of governance, they too must share responsibility, and be held accountable.”

What is happening within CSA has now squarely become about far more than cricket - it is about democracy itself and how we must all speak up and arrest the complete decline of a national institution in which we all have a stake.

CSA is on the back foot and will doubtless try to spin its way out of the mess. The Minister of Sport too has written a letter requesting an explanation regarding the latest developments. So, the pressure is being felt, but it is not enough.

While board members - independent and non-independent - ought to do the right thing and resign, one senses that they all have too much to lose and the instinct to protect the status quo is obvious from the outside looking in.

CSA has scheduled a board meeting for Saturday. Could it be that between now and Saturday, board members find their spine?

We will not hold our breath that vested interests will be abandoned, but Standard Bank as the key sponsor is in a better position than most to make very clear demands in order for CSA administrators and board members to apply their minds.

It is now incumbent on the remaining independent board members to follow Zinn and resign. Mohamed Iqbal Khan, as COO of Brimstone and the acting chair of CSA’s audit committee, must surely understand what is at stake for cricket and its future? The question of conscience these remaining four board members have to ask themselves is whether they wish their reputations to be damaged any further by the association with the corrupt and inept. Their legacy will be that they stood by and watched.

Their combined resignation would have the effect of disabling the CSA board, as no sub-committees would then be in a position to function. Such drastic action may well be the catalyst needed to save the game of cricket in South Africa.

Standard Bank needs to think very carefully about its position and its strategy. Its clients are not only cricket lovers but also democrats who believe in freedom of the media and freedom of expression. They will vote with their feet - as they already are - if this disarray is not sorted out.

Apart from board resignations, as sponsor, Standard Bank would be well-placed to demand that a director of cricket and convener of selectors be appointed forthwith. Further, the immediate removal of the CEO Moroe is necessary, if he does not fall on his own sword. Dismantling Moroe’s network of enablers will not be easy, but his departure and the appointment of new independent directors would be a helpful start.

Those who love cricket are tired of the lament of the past days. The time has come to act and to act swiftly.

Then perhaps like the schoolboy cricketer who goes to battle in Newbolt’s Vitai Lampada, our teams can again simply, ‘Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy' which is available. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february