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By Suresh Menon
The ICC, initially the Imperial Cricket Council, then the International Cricket Council, is about to undergo another change. How fortuitous that it can remain the ICC as it becomes the Indian Cricket Council (in all but name). The governing body will have come full circle from an oligarchy in the days when England and Australia had the veto power to a democracy (well, sort of) after the veto was abolished to an oligarchy again, this time with three countries – the veto powers of the past and India who have enormous financial clout, an inward-looking national body and the power to ruin any cricket board which does not toe its line.
All this if the proposals put forward by the ICC's Financial and Commercial Affairs are ratified at its Executive Board meeting in Dubai next week. Then the hijacking will be complete.
South Africa, the No. 1 Test-playing country has raised a protest, saying the plan is unconstitutional, but that is a comment on the procedure rather than on the issues. Bangladesh would have liked to protest, but as the President of its board said, “We can't do anything on our own. I can protest but if the other nine countries are on one side, there's not much I can do.” New Zealand are happy with the plan, Pakistan are not.
"The critical thing is to identify the things most important to us. That means ensuring the stability of our playing programme and revenue generation," Martin Snedden, President, NZC has said.
And that is the theme: All that matters is what is good for us. What is good for India is control and power; what is good for England and Australia is keeping the tune-calling Piper happy. Had South Africa been part of the cabal, it is unlikely they would have protested. Welcome to the cynical world of sports administration. If there is a clash between what is good for the game and what is good for the cabal, guess who wins.
For some years now, the BCCI has been feeling uncomfortable about the fact that it generates something like 70 percent of the finances in world cricket but has not been properly rewarded for this. In other words, it has been putting in more than it has been taking out – and the time had come to redress that balance.
Its former friends have been left by the wayside in recent years as the so-called ‘Asian bloc’ of votes has become unnecessary. Thus, Bangladesh have never toured this country, nor have Pakistan played a full series for six years.
The Indian cricket team has not won a Test match abroad in 10 attempts – but that does not matter to the BCCI which discovered what American sport had many years ago: a world championship can be a domestic event. The IPL is a favourite of players and fans; and if the pressure of away defeats gets too much, it is enough to invite a lower-rung team and beat them at home. Current favourites are the West Indies and New Zealand, but there’s no guarantee they will remain favourites forever. As in politics, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies.
The reward for pushing the plan through for the remaining seven countries is that their financial interests will be looked after to some degree. The Future Tours Programme will be officially finished. And it will mean that the proposed two-tier system of promotion and relegation will be rendered meaningless because none of the Big Three can be relegated.
There is something abhorrent about making such match-fixing official policy. It goes against the ethos of sport. Thus if the Big Three finish sixth, seventh and eighth (not so far-fetched, this is sport after all), then the teams to be relegated will be the ones to finish third, fourth and fifth.
What if the seven-with-no-voice decide to break away and form a league of their own? Brave, but impractical. Even if it means that the Big Three fill in the blank by playing one another more regularly than even television viewers can take. Right now, world cricket cannot survive without India. And that is why the ICC is willing to abdicate its responsibility and hand over the reins to three cricket boards. It is one thing to say that these boards have been running the game anyway, so this is merely making that official. But it is another to formalise this.
If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then ironically, that is where the hope for the game lies. Too much power in too few hands is a recipe for revolution. Perhaps the cabal might even collapse under the weight of its own arithmetic. There are many ways of sharing the pie, but only one which will satisfy all parties.