Monday, December 9, 2019
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Asif Iqbal: Big three is cricket’s ‘qabza group’

The next time someone tells you that democracy is rooted in the Indian or western value system, give him a kick up the backside. Nothing, and I repeat absolutely nothing, could be more diabolically undemocratic than the new proposals made by the so-called “Big Three”, seizing all the executive and financial powers in the ICC and, all the niceties notwithstanding, in effect keeping it to themselves for all time to come.

Given their recent performances on the cricket field, you would never have guessed it, but India, England and Australia have chosen themselves as the big three. England has just had a tour of Australia, the results of which would embarrass Papua New Guinea if they were at the receiving end; and India, the biggest of the big three, is currently in the process of receiving a pasting of magnificent proportions at the hands of New Zealand, not one of the powerhouses in any form of the game.

We are told that one of the purposes of the new proposal is to bring in a system based on greater meritocracy, but that is not even remotely the case if the results of this winter’s cricket as described above are anything to go by.

Contrary to anything we have been taught about the game, it appears that the term “big” in cricket refers not at all to ability displayed on the field, but to financial muscle. Thus India is the biggest as it contributes over 70 per cent of the ICC’s revenues. Never mind if it gets roundly thrashed by New Zealand.

The original proposal, we are told, had said that these three countries would run cricketing affairs for all time to come, be responsible for everything from the formation of the Future Tours Programme to sharing of revenue, and anyone who cannot guess who was to get the major share of the revenues from the game must have had a brain bypass.

There would be a two-tier system but the places of India, England and Australia at the top of the tree would never by challenged no matter what, while numbers nine and ten could be relegated to the second division. Likewise, the all-important Executive Committee and the Financial and Commercial Affairs Committee would also remain in the hands of the big three.

It is beyond me how anyone could come up with a proposal as diabolical and so patently undemocratic as that.

Yes, we have countries exercising veto power in the UN, but that is not something the rest of the world, other than those exercising the veto power, is happy about, for such a distribution of power is widely seen as something totally out of keeping with the values of the 21st century. In any case, the elite group in the UN is not based on financial clout — if it was, Japan and Germany would have veto power, not the UK and France.

Indeed, if money is supposed to be the factor on which political empowerment is to be based, those in the highest tax bracket would have double the number of votes compared to those who pay tax at the basic rate and those who do not pay any tax would stand disenfranchised. In terms of political morality, the ICC’s proposals are as absurd as that.

No vote was taken at the ICC meeting at the end of January because, with four countries dissenting (South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh), the proposal would have been thrown out. Instead the vote was postponed to allow for the horse trading to begin and it began will gusto.

Bangladesh, with the Asia Cup and T20 World Cup coming up and its own shaky performances on the cricket field, was in the most vulnerable position of all and therefore reports that it may have caved in should not surprise anyone. South Africa and Sri Lanka may well be on the way too and prudence would suggest that there is absolutely no point in Pakistan standing alone, for there is everything to be lost and nothing to be gained.

They say that some allowances have been made by the big three. The two-tier system has been given up, which must have been a huge relief to Bangladesh and played no small part in changing their mind. The Indian board has reportedly promised lucrative tours to South Africa and to forget their spat with Haroon Lorgat if the South Africans sign up, and that could be good enough. It then would not matter what Sri Lanka and Pakistan did, although it would perhaps be wrong to suggest that the boards of these countries are in any way less vulnerable to financial pressure than anyone else.

We are also told that concessions have been made on the issue of the chairmanship of the ICC and the chairmanship of the all-important Executive Committee and the Financial and Commercial Affairs Committee. These two committees would be expanded to include four or five members instead of just the big three — that is the big three plus one or two more. Pakistan is trying to make it three or four more, though that is unlikely to happen.

However, for two years from June 2014, the ICC head will be a representative of the BCCI, while Cricket Australia will have its rep chair the Executive Committee and the ECB will have its nominee at the head of the Financial and Commercial Affairs committee. Thereafter, we are told, anybody from within the board can be elected to chair the board and anybody from within the Executive Committee and the F&CA Committee can be elected to chair those committees. But who is there to guarantee that, come election time, votes will not be won with financial promises just as they have been now? Which in effect means that the big three get to rule the roost forever and a day.

The irony of it all is that it was Jagmohan Dalmiya and the BCCI that fought with such great vehemence to end the colonial system of the “Imperial” Cricket Conference that used to give England and Australia the right of veto over all other cricket-playing nations. This time around, it is not imperial history or race that restores the same system, but money.

Gain from that what comfort you can for there is nothing else that can give even a grain of comfort from this sordid move. The world cried out and ranted and railed against three Pakistani cricketers for taking money to bowl two inconsequential no balls in a Test match — this introduces an immoral, undemocratic and patently outdated value system in the administration of the sport for all time to come.

It is the most unashamedly forcible takeover that one can see, one that in brazenness and sheer disregard of all moral values is on a par with the action of “qabza groups”, land grabbers who take over any piece of land that suits their fancy for no better reason than that they have the physical clout to do so. I am ashamed that it had to be my sport that wrote this page of infamy.

— The author is a former Pakistan captain and was the chief co-ordinator of the Cricketers’ Benevolent Fund Series (CBFS) in Sharjah.