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In an exclusive interview with DreamCricket.com, California businessman Ram Varadarajan announces his plan to run for president of USACA. The second half of the interview is below. Part one was published on Wednesday.
DreamCricket: Let us talk about the brief and stuttering engagement with the international community.
RV: Having international exposure is critically important for advancing US cricket. That is one reason why our relationship with the ICC needs to be rock solid.
There are two types of international exposure – one where we get professional teams to play in the US – once again, The Pearls Cup is an example of this. Under the LLC agreement, such activity will be organized and managed by the Cricket Holdings America LLC.
The Pearls Cup was a watershed event. It validated that USA could be a destination for cricket and that we could conduct such an event. The event, ground and the financial results from the event clearly need to be improved – however, it provided a critical learning.
The second is where our cricket players play with teams from other nations. The bilateral matches against Jamaica, Canada are all very good for our players. We cannot improve as a team by just playing ICC tournaments.
I also applaud the resumption of the K.A. Auty Cup for another reason. It is a long overdue celebration of a truly historic series. I think USA vs. Canada tradition, with some good marketing, can recapture some of the past glory.
DreamCricket: Do we need a CEO? What are your thoughts on Don Lockerbie's departure?
RV: Absolutely, the role of the CEO is critical for any organization and USACA is no exception. If elected, one of my top priorities will be to fill that post with a competent, committed and respected individual.
I worked well with Mr. Lockerbie. Very soon after his appointment, I met with him and offered my assistance. We discussed various options and strategies – including ways of raising funds for USACA. I am not privy to the exact circumstances leading to his departure.
DreamCricket: What makes you want to contest again? How different is this election from the last one in 2008?
RV: I ran last time because I did not see any other candidate stepping in to lead or bringing change to US cricket. There was a leadership vacuum. There were plenty of folks critical of the then president’s performance – but nobody was willing to make the effort to challenge the status quo. So I stepped in to serve US cricket. I think it was a watershed event.
The campaign that I ran was exemplary. I was a virtual unknown and I invested time to meet league presidents and the cricket community, understanding issues and putting together a slate of candidates from across the country and more importantly I spelt out a platform – that platform is still visible at www.newinning.com.
This time, the situation is more acute and the stakes are higher. However, this time the electorate is more informed. The change that is required is more than just running tournaments and complaining. It is more fundamental. It is about restoring cricket to its glorious track in the US. It is about having the leadership, vision and the executive skills to manage a set of diverse interests. I am confident that I can deliver on all those grounds.
DreamCricket: Last time around, you lost by three votes. In fact, one vote in your favor was knocked out due to a technical disqualification. Much has been written about a handful of bogus leagues in 2008, especially in Central East region. Do you agree that things would have turned out differently if bogus leagues were not allowed to vote? What needs to change with respect to the voting process?
RV: The way I see it, I lost by three votes in spite of my message being spot on. There were structural reasons for the loss. First, as you pointed out, there were several fake leagues and they were obviously not voting for me. Second, some legitimate leagues were disqualified from voting on technicalities – if they were allowed to vote, they would have likely supported me. Third, I am a skeptic when it comes to proxy voting. This is pure evil.
What most readers don’t realize is that in the USACA elections proxy voting is allowed. That means a league president can sign over his ballot to another influential official, say a regional director. There is inherently a fear of reprisal. The regional director may retaliate against a league within the region if the league does not vote for the candidate supported by the regional director. This practice must stop. All voting must be by secret ballot. USACA must set aside funds for the league presidents to travel and vote in person. Or they must authenticate the vote through other means. Technology has evolved to facilitate that.
Of late, there is a drive to review the legitimacy of the leagues. I welcome this compliance drive. Had it been in place three years ago, I am confident that I would be the incumbent President.
DreamCricket: What is the way forward in the current situation? People want an election but it is an open secret that there are bogus leagues.
RV: We need a strict, fair and expeditious way to root out the egregious violators. People are skeptical of the current compliance process for a variety of reasons and some of the critics view it as a political tool to silence opponents. The skepticism also stems from timing - it is an election year. I can understand why people are frustrated. But as I have said, we must give this compliance process a chance.
If your question is should we have not initiated a compliance examination sooner, absolutely, I would say yes. USACA should have encouraged a compliance mindset all along, and the membership process should have been well thought through from the beginning.
But once again, we have no option but to look at the future and the changes we want to bring in. If elected, one of the top priorities of my administration will be to make sure that membership is handled in an even handed, transparent, consultative and fair manner.
DreamCricket: USACA published a revised election timeline after the board meeting this past weekend. Do you think the election will be held according to this new schedule?
RV: I am certain it will. The electorate wants an election this year. Remember, the league presidents are the boss – the constitution is the law - not the president or board.
DreamCricket: Of late, there has been a lot of unpleasantness. Elections voided; massive distrust on the board; the Secretary has been suspended. Central East’s regional representative is awaiting recognition despite being voted to this role by a majority of the Central East’s leagues. Atlantic Region’s fate hangs in balance. How will you deal with such a thing if it happens under your watch?
RV: Leadership is about bringing people together towards a common mission. Factions arise when there is no transparency or communication about goals and the process to achieve them. It is simple, but has to be practiced diligently. I will run an administration where the objectives are that it be transparent, accepting of criticism, and predictable.
DreamCricket: But what do you think of the leadership and their methods such as suspension and locking out opponents. How do you feel about that?
RV: Clearly organizational cohesiveness has eluded USACA, so the methods of old have not worked. The beliefs that have worked for me are being transparent, inclusive, fair, and process driven. It worked for me for 30 years of my professional life, and an even longer personal life. I don’t see those beliefs failing me when I am the President of USACA.
DreamCricket: On the field, in the last three years, starting off at Division 5, USA went to 2011 Division 3 but was relegated to 2012 Division 4. In the U-19 WCQ held in Ireland, USA finished seventh among the associates failing to qualify. What is your assessment?
RV: This is clearly a cause for worry. I have spoken personally to US coaches. The good news is that I have been assured that we have the requisite raw skill set in the US. What is not present is the supporting infrastructure to amplify it, polish it and turn it into a winning machine.
Image (right) - Ram Varadarajan
Let me explain – USACA has done nothing to improve playing conditions – there is no increase in turf wickets, the number of qualified coaches and umpires have not increased in any meaningful way. Even when assistance from the ICC is available – these are being frittered away in mismanagement. We have to increase the pool of qualified players and have a well understood selection process so that players understand that skills and performance will be rewarded. Umpiring too should be consistent and standards are urgently needed.
I also believe that we need to redouble our efforts to attract a greater cross section of US society to cricket. I have been encouraging this by supporting Jamie Harrison’s efforts at USYCA - with schools across the country – for which I have been bestowed the “Patron of Youth Cricket” honor. Similarly, we need to redouble our efforts to attract girls to cricket and continue to nurture our nascent efforts with women players.
We also need to encourage and equip US teams to play the 20/20 format without taking away from other formats. This format will become an important avenue for professional cricket in the US and our players need every opportunity to make a mark and be noticed in this format.
DreamCricket: What needs to be done for the players? How will you change things at the age-group level and senior level?
RV: USA has shown that once it focuses on a sport, it can improve its rankings on merit. The best place to start this is at age-group level where disparity among talent is not so huge that it cannot be bridged through channeling resources. I will make such resources available both at national and league levels. By delineating executive management from cricket professionals – there will be a clear separation of duties. The cricket experts and the players themselves will guide us on the coaching, facilities, stipends, match practice and other needs of players. I will, along with the rest of the executive management, generate the funding to fulfill these needs.
In my view, there is nothing to prevent the US U-19 team from placing in the top four by 2020. That means we need to start in 2012 at the U11 level. Once we aim for that, the success in the adult tournaments will follow naturally.
Being on the board of the CHA LLC, I also see another advantage that we can bring to bear – we can provide a professional career path for US cricket players.
DreamCricket: There were some positive steps like bringing in Dipak Patel to coach the U-19 squad for the 2010 U-19 World Cup in New Zealand, Robin Singh was brought in to coach the U-19 team in Ireland, etc. Of course, a lot of money was borrowed or drawn down from CHA to accomplish some of these things.
RV: Both of these gentlemen are fine individuals and I have great respect for them. Every team out there has good coaches. The world of cricket is very competitive and there is no substitute for hard work and a goal-oriented approach.
We cannot have a haphazard process of selection and then throw the team together at the last minute. It is unfair on the players and the coaches. It is a miracle that we did as well as we did in some of the tournaments. Yes, with a little luck we would have qualified for the U-19 World Cup. But we need to give luck an opportunity to swing our way by assiduous preparation.
DreamCricket: You know Nabeel Ahmed, Kenvyn Williams, and Maq Qureshi have already announced their candidacy. Looks like there are others too waiting to declare their candidacy, what do you think is important for the voters as they figure out who to vote for?
RV: I am glad that there are contestants – that shows that the electorate cares. I am counting on the fact that the electorate is better informed. We are living in times where the world is rising up and demanding good governance and leadership. The time is now for the old ways to fall and new leadership and governance to take root. My resume and track record clearly set me apart from the other candidates – I will take my message to the league presidents – they know what is important and I am sure they will make a wise choice.
DreamCricket: What is your financial vision?
RV: Putting USACA on a firm financial footing will be one of my highest priorities as president. A financially stable USACA can then support a number of programs. I firmly believe that empowerment at the local level is essential for USACA. It is consistent with my philosophy to decentralize to the leagues and regions wherever possible.
USACA has two fundamental duties. First, it has to provide the framework, structure and governance for growing the sport, and fund the regions and leagues to execute at the local level. Second, it has to provide a forum for teams to play competitive cricket within the US and outside – with other nations and clubs.
I will put in place the following financial model to support this in an efficient way. USACA must set up funds for national tournaments and the duties that it has direct responsibility for. USACA must set the goal posts, provide the framework; appoint national level custodians for coaching, umpiring and the like; and spell out the standards that it expects leagues and regions to maintain. Then, USACA should get out of the way. USACA should become a medium for channeling funds to the regions and leagues to achieve the objectives. For example, USACA can specify that leagues start youth programs and women’s programs; meet the set standards for umpiring, coaching, facilities and the like – and provide funds to achieve these. Refresh grants would depend on the progress that the leagues make.
We have to get to a state where USACA is making meaningful contributions to the regions and leagues so that they can advance. My administration will accomplish all these - we will raise funds, set goals, incentives, and reward the right behavior.
DreamCricket: What is your organizational vision?
RV: Once elected, the USACA organization should understand that its job is to serve the cricket leagues in the US and not be the master. I will ensure that there is separation of administrative function from cricket management function. This is the delineation that I spoke about earlier. Among other appointments, there will be a national coach to orchestrate a national blueprint and support local activity. The president is the chief administrator not the chief selector. None of this is news for people who have been involved in professional, winning organizations. My goal would be to bring the same tried and tested models of success to cricket in the US.
As mentioned earlier, I will appoint a CEO at the earliest possible. Also, every officer on the board will have a portfolio and the ability and responsibility to execute competently and ethically. The task on hand is very large and requires more specialized skills than the board will possess. This is where volunteers can come in. We are blessed to be in a country where there is phenomenal skill and a spirit of volunteerism. I will broaden the management team by bringing on a 20 person national team of volunteer-leaders for special tasks like event organization, PR, NCAA relations, local government liaison, sponsorship generation, high school outreach, etc. We can also amplify our youth and women's cricket development with specialized help.
I will increase professionalism in cricket operations by appointing a paid national coach and converting most of the cricketing positions to be paid ones. We have for far too long counted on volunteers to go above and beyond. Volunteerism is of course very welcome; however, it cannot be a substitute for professional attention. We need a scalable option that will bring in the skill levels that we need to improve the quality of our game. So in my administration, all officials – coaches, managers, and umpires – will be compensated for their time and effort.
DreamCricket: Where do you see USACA in three years under your leadership?
RV: I see USACA as a harmonious, well-functioning organization. It will have an excellent relationship with the ICC – be a model. It will function predictably. It will be decentralized – we need to push the benefits and much of the decision making down to the leagues. The leagues are the building blocks of cricket in the US. I expect the number of leagues to have increased. USACA will have plenty of funds to carry out its normal cricketing activities – the majority of funds reaching the regions and leagues. USACA will also be working in close cooperation with the Cricket Holdings America LLC thereby giving a path for our cricket players to play professionally. I expect we would have improved cricketing conditions -- built turf wickets, have a fully functioning coaching and umpiring infrastructure and so on. I would also predict that all our cricketing teams will fare better – men, women and youth.
DreamCricket: Maq Qureshi has been spending a lot of his own money in promoting cricket - thereby filling a vast gap at the grassroots level. He has also run a successful tournament in Florida. Nabeel’s generosity over the years has also been written about on DreamCricket.com and elsewhere. You too have been donating through your organization but with longer-term goals. And all of you are running in an election. You are putting leagues in a tough situation, especially since the leagues have benefited from the generosity of all of you.
RV: Any one working to expand the cricket action is doing the game a service. It is all very welcome. There are many others who are also writing large checks but are not getting nor seeking recognition. But this election is about vision, leadership, integrity and governance. It is not about “cricket philanthropy” it is about “cricket leadership”.
DreamCricket: Your claim to fame is your network, integrity, executive management, and corporate track record. But in this economy, do you think you can raise the kind of money and build the kind of support that USACA needs?
RV: Absolutely yes. There is always business going on in every economy. A good idea and a good team will always be successful. It is all about the value that we bring. There is plenty of money available for cricket – spent by American sponsors on foreign soil. We need to sell the value of being associated with an upcoming US sport – I know how to sell concepts and value. I have raised over $100 million doing exactly that – in some instances on the basis of an idea on a PowerPoint slide. Even in the worst economic climate there is a dearth of good ideas and always a shortage of capable, committed and proven talent.
Not to forget, another source of funding for USACA is through Cricket Holdings America LLC. I will ensure that we do our part to enable success of the LLC. That will guarantee us a significant stream of revenue every year. I already serve on the LLC board – so it will be easier to work to common benefit.
DreamCricket: Nabeel Ahmed has been talking of changing the way USACA is run. How do you feel about his decision to resign and his candidacy for the election?
RV: I respect Nabeel as a gentleman and a sincere patron of cricket. But here is someone who has played two innings as VP and USACA has not improved much. If you have a seat at the table, you must do your very best to change the ways of the organization.
Escaping is not leadership – the ability to stand up and steer the organization to a righteous path is what is wanted today. I welcome Nabeel as a well wisher and patron of cricket – but not at the helm of this organization.
DreamCricket: Aren’t you late to the election? I mean, others have announced months ago and the leagues may have committed themselves to them.
RV: I saw no advantage in making a press announcement when the election itself was not announced. My own campaign is ongoing and it is progressing very well. I have already begun conversations with the league presidents. I am glad to report that they are very engaged – tough but fair. Most importantly, I am very pleased and energized with the response and support that I am getting.
I will run a professional campaign, just like I did last time around. My election website is www.USAcricketVision.com and I encourage everyone to visit. My contact information is posted there as well.
DreamCricket: Thanks for your time.
RV: You are very welcome. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to the US cricket community.