JUDITH FEBRUARY: Keep calm and restore our confidence in cricket
As if rolling electricity blackouts are not enough, the past week has seen us witness the near unravelling of Cricket South Africa (CSA). It had all the makings of palace intrigue, with independent board members resigning citing governance failures, a key sponsor withdrawing and the drama eventually reaching a climax with the suspension of CEO Thabang Moroe.
On Saturday afternoon we watched as CSA board president Chris Nenzani calmly told us that all was under control. In the circumstances, it seemed a little like a non sequitur.
Nenzani has skilfully managed to escape unscathed from the entire debacle. Throughout the press conference he made sure to distance himself and the board from reports of serious governance failures, lack of funding, wasteful expenditure, and even ‘capture’ within CSA.
Nenzani and his fellow board members clearly closed rank at the pivotal moment. Nenzani himself has seemingly done enough to shore up support amongst the members’ council and retain his position, as have the other board members.
They presented Moroe’s actions as a near ‘act of God’ for which they could claim no responsibility, let alone knowledge of the alleged misdeeds.
As he spoke at the press conference on Saturday, Nenzani seemed unable or unwilling to take responsibility for the governance failures, which happened on his board’s watch. If Moroe had become overly powerful, then it is the board that must take responsibility for that. It was revealing that he made short shrift of the Central Gauteng Lions Cricket Board’s call for the entire CSA Board to step down.
If this Board really wanted to save cricket, they would have understood their role in the current crisis and fallen on their swords.
But this is South Africa and the incapable, the responsible or the corrupt rarely fall on their swords. Accountability is mostly fudged and we muddle along. This constant leitmotif in public life is one of the key reasons why we appear paralysed when trying to deal with our immense challenges. The same people who create the shambles, simply remain to make attempts to clean it up. Ordinarily, this would be paradoxical, but this is how South Africa operates.
Given Moroe’s disastrous tenure, one does wonder who believed his appointment was a good idea in the first place? After all, there is precious little in his very thin CV that indicates that he would have the necessary administrative skill to take on this demanding job - which also requires a degree of nous - all at the age of 35. He was clearly out of his depth. Lessons should be learnt from this appointment process if CSA is to move forward.
Nenzani went on to apologise for the debacle last weekend, which saw five journalists’ accreditation withdrawn. These journalists had one thing in common: they had written critically about the goings-on at CSA. One wonders how CSA and Moroe thought they would escape unscathed from that banning episode? This is a democracy, after all.
In a rather more positive vein, we heard that Jacques Fau l now takes over as interim CEO and Graeme Smith has finally signed on as interim acting director of cricket. The appointment of Faul is to be welcomed. The capable administrator with a brilliant track record will, however, have his work cut out for him one suspects. But we must remain calm, as Nenzani implored.
Nenzani and this board would do well not to lapse into further complacency. Standard Bank’s sponsorship runs until end April 2020. Between now and then urgent steps to clean up the administration of the game need to be taken. This includes the appointment of the ‘independent prosecutor’ Nenzani spoke of to investigate allegations against Moroe and other internal governance failures. Both the cricket-loving public and potential sponsors will watch that process carefully.
Standard Bank was clear that the association with Cricket SA was damaging its own brand. What an indictment that is on Moroe and this current board. The brand must be recovered, but how does one do that without a successful team, a capable coach and money to develop the game? Nenzani seemed far too relaxed about finding new sponsorship as if it is akin to plucking apples off a tree.
Appointing new independent board members will also be an important marker of how this board continues to do its business. First and foremost, the board needs those who understand and love cricket and those who are bold enough to speak up in good time when they are confronted with ethical questions.
Occupying the seat and being silent is not good enough. Independent thinkers are required to fix things and also break what appears to be the chair’s hold on the board. The three independent directors who resigned - Iqbal Khan, Shirley Zinn and Dawn Makhobo - resigned in time but their legacy is of leaving only as the glare of the public eye became too much.
The final important step is about restoring confidence in the game in the minds of the disillusioned cricket fan that has had to watch as corruption and incompetence strangle the game. Appointing a capable director of cricket will go some way to restore confidence amongst fans and within the Proteas team itself. The players must feel somewhat disillusioned as they face England in a matter of weeks. One can only feel empathy for them at this stage.
Sport is a national good and South Africa has produced world-class cricketers over decades. That legacy must be preserved and nurtured for future generations.
The board should ponder that and they should learn the lessons rugby has offered.
South Africans are tired of watching things fall apart and are tired of sports administrators who would sacrifice a much-loved sport on the altar of narrow self-interest.
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