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Mthethwa caves in on Cricket SA reform deadline: Will he be ready to wield the big stick?

Minister of Sport, Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa. (Photo: Flickr / GCIS)
By Craig Ray
06 Apr 2021 2

Cricket SA’s Members’ Council will not have to meet the original 6 April deadline to accept governance reforms after being granted an extension by the sports minister.

Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa has shown great patience with Cricket South Africa (CSA), particularly the highest decision-making body, the Members’ Council, over the past six months. But will he now show backbone?

Mthethwa has extended a deadline he set, giving the Members’ Council until 8 April to report back to him about whether it will accept governance changes negotiated with an interim board.

The original deadline was 6 April, but CSA president Rihan Richards wrote to Mthethwa on 1 April asking for more time for the Members’ Council to decide whether it would accept amendments to its memorandum of incorporation (MOI).

The MOI has to be amended to allow an interim board, appointed by Mthethwa last September, to fulfil its mandate. Central to that mandate were five “non-negotiables”, which the Members’ Council had rejected.

The non-negotiables are:

  • A majority of independent directors on the restructured board of CSA;
  • The separation of roles between the Members’ Council president and the board chairperson;
  • The president to chair the Members’ Council and an independent director to chair the board;
  • The board nominations committee should comprise a majority of independent directors to appoint future independent directors; and
  • The powers and duties of the Members’ Council and the board must be clarified to avoid having “two centres of power”.

In late March, eight of the 14-member council voted against a resolution to change the organisation’s management structure and allow for amendments to the MOI.

The Members’ Council’s reluctance to accept governance changes intended to assist in turning CSA around from an organisation losing money, influence and standing in the world game, to a profitable and respected player in world cricket, has set it on a collision course with the sports ministry.

The Members’ Council claims its concerns were not addressed, which has been disputed by interim board chairperson Stavros Nicolaou. At a short meeting on 30 March, Mthethwa gave the council a further week to reconsider. That week has now been extended to nine days after Richards’s request.

Richards wrote: “Subsequent to the joint meeting between the Members’ Council and the interim board of 30 March 2021, and the deadline to revert within a week, we request your indulgence, taking cognisance of the following:

  • The process of engagements at an affiliate level needed to reach the desired outcome; and
  • The period we are in, being sacred to both our Christian and Jewish counterparts.

“As a result, we request that the deadline be extended with an additional 48 hours and that we reconvene on Thursday, 8 April 2021 with the response.

“In the interim I have engaged with the chairman of the interim board, Dr Nicolaou, and have agreed to engage with Professor Michael Katz in the effort to address the various concerns and provide clarification on other matters which will assist this process.”

On the same day, Mthethwa replied that he would accept the extension if the interim board agreed, which it did.

Diplomacy versus action

Mthethwa’s diplomacy is laudable, but if the Members’ Council still decides to reject what was a direct instruction from the sports ministry, it will force the politician to make a decision.

Mthethwa appointed the interim board last September to guide CSA onto a new path, using Judge Chris Nicholson’s 2013 report as a roadmap to make these changes.

Unfortunately, the nature of these governance changes means that the Members’ Council, which has overseen CSA plunging from one crisis to another, has to cede some power.

There is no doubt that Mthethwa wants CSA to do “the right thing” without him having to wield the big stick, as it were.

But this impasse has become a situation of brinkmanship. No doubt Mthethwa’s decision to grant more and more time to the Members’ Council to reach decisions that should be to the benefit of the sport, rather than to a small faction within the organisation, has emboldened the council.

They might backtrack and accept amendments to the MOI, which are intended to bolster CSA and ultimately cricket in this country, or they might hold firm. If it’s the latter course, will Mthethwa follow through with his powers of withdrawing recognition of CSA as cricket’s authority in South Africa?

Temba Bavuma (C) of South Africa about to strike the ball during the 2nd Betway ODI (CWCSL) match between South Africa and Pakistan at Imperial Wanderers Stadium on April 04, 2021 in Johannesburg. (Photo by Gordon Arons/Gallo Images)

If Mthethwa is forced to intervene in CSA affairs, he will do it under the National Sport and Recreation Act.

The act does not specifically allow the government to take full control of a sporting body, but it gives the minister the ultimate power not to recognise that body and to cut its funding.

That essentially means, in this case, the Proteas would cease to be South Africa’s national cricket team and in theory the current Pakistan tour to this country could be called off immediately.

In terms of the act, the minister may not “interfere in matters relating to the selection of teams, administration of sport, and appointment of, and termination of the service of, the executive members of the sport or recreation body”.

But he is empowered to “notify the national federation in writing that it will not be recognised by Sport and Recreation South Africa”.

There are signs that Mthethwa is doing everything he can to avoid the only option available to him if the Members’ Council rejects these amendments. 

If the minister doesn’t show the required backbone in the event of a Members’ Council rejection of his mandate, the interim board’s term and the thousands of hours of work will have been wasted. DM

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  • I have always believed that the Sports Minister’s job was to create an enabling enviroment for each of the sporting associations in South Africa ,not to become as directly involved in the running of cricket as he has become. Another ANC rule by decree rather that democratic governance.

    • I think you miss the point. The minister has reluctantly got involved because of the intransigence of the member’s council.