Sri Lanka tour will go ahead as Cricket SA board purges ‘obstructionist’ influences
Cricket South Africa is confident that Sri Lanka’s tour to South Africa will go ahead in the wake of the England team’s reservations about its handling of Covid-19.
Cricket South Africa’s acting board chairperson, Judge Zak Yacoob, believes Sri Lanka’s tour of South Africa will go ahead after issues over Covid-19 protocols derailed the recent England tour.
The board of Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) was ready to call off the two-Test tour based on media reports about England’s reservations over CSA’s ability to deliver a bio-secure environment.
But subsequent talks and the backing of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have changed the SLC’s stance and indications are the tour will go ahead.
International cricket’s structure dictates that the home union earns the broadcast fees for bilateral series, which is why the SLC has been concerned.
Sri Lanka host England in January 2021, which is a huge money spinner for the SLC. It cannot afford to have a situation where several of its players are locked down in South Africa because of positive Covid-19 tests. Because of the tight turnaround between tours, it could put Sri Lanka’s home series against England in jeopardy in that scenario.
“I am 95% certain the tour would go ahead,” Yacoob said. “If I had any trouble at all, I would have said to Sri Lanka they must not come.”
The trouble stems from the England team’s refusal to play in two one-day internationals (ODIs) against the Proteas after two members of their touring party tested positive for Covid-19.
Those tests were shown to be false positives and later confirmed as negative. The ECB urged its players to honour its obligations, but citing mental angst, the England players defied their own board.
Not only did their decision cost CSA about R30-million in broadcast fees, it also caused reputational damage that almost derailed Sri Lanka’s tour and has still left a question mark over Australia’s visit to South Africa early in 2021.
The ever-forthright Yacoob, while maintaining a veneer of cordiality towards England, made it quite clear that he was unimpressed by their antics, which have put South African cricket under massive pressure.
“The only criticism [of the Covid-19 protocols] I can make is that we were too lax with the English and their desire to do things that, in our strict view, they shouldn’t be doing,” Yacoob said, clearly in reference to England’s numerous outings to golf courses outside of the bio-safe environment.
“Unfortunately, we were stronger in preventing our players from doing things and we allowed the visitors a little more laxity. We favoured the visitors just a little, not enough to compromise the thing. The problem with that was that it did give rise to some feelings of unfairness as far as our players were concerned. The board regretted that a great deal.”
A report out of Australia this week suggested that the Aussies’ tour to South Africa might be hosted in Perth, with CSA earning all the broadcast fees as if it were at home.
“About Australia, I have no information. But my understanding of cricket politics is that the three most powerful nations in cricket – Australia and England are two of them – want to do things their way and want to ensure the less-powerful nations play ball with them,” Yacoob said pointedly.
“It depends on what Australia thinks is in its political interests, depending on what has happened with England. I don’t know what Australia will do. The powerful people, and Australia is a powerhouse in cricket, are usually laws unto themselves.”
CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith said: “We are only having our first operational planning meeting with Cricket Australia next week. There has been no engagement up to this point.”
More boardroom drama
Meanwhile, Yacoob confirmed that the interim CSA board had sidelined two of its members. Omphile Ramela and Xolani Vonya will no longer serve as directors after six members of the board voted to have them removed. Only one director abstained.
Ramela was seen as an obstructionist while Vonya is still under a cloud of impropriety for his role in mismanagement and alleged misappropriation of funds at the Easterns Cricket Union (ECU).
“I was shocked,” Yacoob, said in reference to Ramela’s conduct at board meetings. “He was very obstructive. We spent two hours discussing whether he would accept majority rule.
“We have brought proceedings for the removal of a director – Mr Ramela – in terms of the Companies Act because he has been generally obstructive in board matters and trying to defend the indefensible.
“He refuses to accept the majority decision if he does not feel it’s right and feels he needs to continue to fight. He does not have the discipline to accept a majority decision and is virtually impossible to deal with.”
Vonya was a controversial board appointment, who was nominated by the CSA Members Council after Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa stepped in to oust the previous board and appoint Yacoob to clean up cricket.
“We have also recused Mr Vonya from the board because very serious allegations of dishonesty have been made against him by Easterns,” Yacoob said.
“They claim they had everything ready for an inquiry against him on 24 October, but instead of facing it he resigned and then on 25 October he was nominated by the Members Council to this board. They knew, or ought to have known, he left Easterns under dire circumstances.”
Yacoob also intimated that despite an initial mandate to hold their positions for three months, the interim board has met obstruction from the Members Council in its task of restoring cricket to a state of strong governance.
The board has already suspended CSA company secretary Welsh Gwaza after it uncovered issues of “misconduct”. The board is using the recently completed Funduzi Forensic report into the state of CSA as a roadmap.
CSA acting president Rihan Richards claimed that the interim board and the Members Council had solved their differences and there was now a clearly “defined space” for the board to do its work. Yacoob was less optimistic.
“I’m not sure at all that the solution discussed with the Members Council will be workable and I’m not sure this will all be over quickly,” he said.
“Let’s see how much obstruction there is, but myself and the majority of the board do not share Mr Richards’s optimism. The Members Council has the power to take a resolution to throw us all out tomorrow, but some of them want the process to be completed, others want to stop them but fear the public exposure. So they are caught between a rock and a hard place.
“It is a very toxic environment and we are aware that some of the Members Council have taken up the cudgels for Mr Gwaza.
“Anyone who is earning several millions per year is not going to go away quietly, they will fight any way they can. And other members of the organisation may have to be suspended because many aspects of the operations are not working.
“The object of the obstructionists is to make sure they are still there in three-months’ time to fudge the issue. I suspect this is a specific design to hold up the board, to make sure we can do very little in the next three months.
“But we have to get rid of problem staff in the organisation and attend to fraud and corruption. Those people causing trouble must go. Our job is to run CSA properly, to bring a level of short-term stability. Those who cause disruptions and problems for that have to go.” DM
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