Corruption at the International Cricket Council shows misrule at the heart of the game

Sports administration may seem a dour subject - but for those who love the game, it's a necessary one.

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It has not been a great year for sports administration. In May, 14 Fifa officials were indicted by the FBI for wire fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Now a new film, Death of a Gentleman, claims to have uncovered “the biggest scandal in sport”: the misrule of the world’s second most popular game by the International Cricket Council.

Until 1993 Australia and England had a veto over all decisions by the ICC. It was a sport run like an exclusive Victorian colonial club. But over the past 20 years India’s influence has grown. The Board  of Control for Cricket in India claims to generate over 70 per cent of the ICC’s revenue and yet the BCCI has not moved to democratise the ICC, but tried to entrench its power. India is now the imperial master of cricket, with England and Australia toeing the line for personal gain.

Last year these three nations took over the ICC, gaining over half of the organisation’s revenue and permanent seats on its two main decision-making bodies: the chief executives’ and the financial and commercial affairs committees. A representative from one of the other seven Test nations persuaded to vote for the constitutional change by way of threats and intimidation asked whether the “Big Three” were “doing a [UN] Security Council veto on us”.

The reforms amount to “an abuse of entrusted power for private gain, giving them disproportionate, unaccountable and unchallengeable authority”, Transparency International, the NGO that monitors corporate and political corruption, has said. In 2014, even as he was becoming the most important administrator in world cricket, Narayanaswami Srinivasan was ordered to quit as BCCI president by the Supreme Court of India while it carried out an investigation into the Indian Premier League; he owned shares in the Chennai Super Kings, an IPL team. It later found his son-in-law guilty of betting illegally on the team but cleared Srinivasan.

The effects of the takeover were terrible for the other 104 cricketing nations that belong to the ICC. Cricket is unique among major sports for shrinking the size of its World Cup, reducing the tournament pool from 14 to ten teams from 2019 at the behest of England and India (which stand to make greater profits as a result). The two countries have colluded to prevent cricket’s inclusion in the Olympics, stopping emerging nations from obtaining extra government funding and exposure. The Chinese Cricket Association receives just $30,000 from the ICC to grow the game, but says it would get up to $20m from the government if cricket became an Olympic sport.

“Despite everything that has gone on under Sepp Blatter at least he has allowed the game to keep growing,” says Sam Collins, who co-produced Death of a Gentleman. “Cricket, the second-biggest sport in the world, is going the other way.

“This is a taboo subject as far as many are concerned,” Collins says. “Maybe some are compromised. Those journalists who don’t appreciate how serious this issue is and subject the administration to the scrutiny it needs are failing the game and the fans they are supposed to represent.” He has launched a campaign calling for the ICC to be governed independently, along lines proposed by the former lord chief justice of England and Wales Lord Woolf in a 2012 report on the ICC.

Sports administration may seem a dour subject, especially in a summer when England has regained the Ashes. But that is no excuse for those who love the game, or those who believe that an organisation which generates well over $300m in revenue every year should be run openly for all. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

This article first appeared in the 13 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Battle for Calais