CRICKET SOUTH AFRICA
Proteas coach Mark Boucher charged with gross misconduct midway through ODI series
Mark Boucher faces ‘gross misconduct’ charges relating to incidents that happened more than two decades ago.
If India can’t beat the Proteas, then Cricket South Africa (CSA) might. The sport’s governing body, on the eve of the second One-Day International (ODI) between South Africa and India, publicly announced “gross misconduct” charges against Proteas coach Mark Boucher.
The announcement, sent by a bungled press release, which was initially headlined “Smith and Boucher suspended,” before being withdrawn, was as badly timed as Virat Kohli’s shot that saw him dismissed in Paarl in the first ODI.
India leave the country on Monday. Waiting until then to make a public announcement about charges against Boucher would have made no material difference to the situation. But that sensible course of action seemed beyond CSA.
The timing of the announcement of charges against Boucher was so breathtakingly poor that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a deliberate ploy to destabilise the team.
But this is CSA, perhaps the most feckless sporting organisation in existence over the past two years. It has made a sport of boardroom incompetence, as the lust for power by blazered officials has been exposed, one scandal after another.
The fact that Boucher has been charged is not surprising, even though his right to defend himself is likely to cause far more problems for CSA than good. Boucher will fight the charges with all he has, because quite simply he has no option. The charge sheet liberally brands him as a racist and the only way to partly erase that smear is to face the accusations and accusers head-on.
Regardless of the eventual outcome though, there are two irrefutable truths that will emerge in the coming weeks and months: Boucher will never fully remove the stain of being charged with racism even if he wins his case, and second, that regardless of the outcome, his job as Proteas coach has become untenable.
If found guilty he will be instantly dismissed, but if he wins his case, it’s unlikely he would stay on. He would walk away with a big payout for the remainder of his contract. It still has two years to run.
The knives have been out at CSA board level against Boucher for some time, though. Winning the recent India series only superheated the urgency of many members of the board and CSA Member’s Council to get rid of him. The more successful his team, the more difficult it becomes to remove him. It could possibly explain the timing of publicising the charges against him.
“The Board remains mindful of its duty to treat allegations of racism or discrimination with the utmost seriousness and in a manner that ensures fairness and due process in terms of South Africa’s Constitution and labour legislation,” CSA board chairman Lawson Naidoo said.
“It is now up to the inquiry to determine to which extent the allegations are true and justify the need for further disciplinary steps. CSA emphasises that any implicated party will be given a fair opportunity to be heard so that finality can be achieved.”
The charges relate to Boucher’s part played in a team song that racially abused former teammate Paul Adams more than 20 years ago. Details of this incident emerged at last year’s Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) hearings and form one leg of the charges against him.
Boucher never denied them and apologised for his role in that ugly incident. But his apology was criticised in the final SJN report, which itself has been criticised as a flimsy document riddled with errors.
The other, multilayered charges that CSA has brought against the Proteas coach, who recently oversaw a 2-1 Test series win over the No 1-ranked India, relate to his relationship with former assistant coach Enoch Nkwe. They also relate to his alleged poor handling of the “Black Lives Matter” movement.
In the seven-page charge sheet sent to Boucher on 17 January, a day before the first ODI against India, he is repeatedly labelled as a “racist”.
“When dealing with the Black Lives Matter issue and the question of “taking the knee”, you allegedly dealt with the white players’ concerns and requested that the team manager [who is black] deal with the black players’ concerns,” the charge sheet contends.
“This allegedly created or exacerbated the division and alienated players and the team. You allegedly did not formalise any documented “roles and responsibilities” or meaningful KPIs [key performance indicators] for the assistant coach, Mr Nkwe.
“You allegedly did not provide any specific or sufficiently specific and defined role for Mr Nkwe and no “personal development plans” were documented or implemented for Mr Nkwe; and you allegedly treated Mr Nkwe in a manner unbecoming of a leader in your position.”
All these alleged transgressions will be tested under cross-examination. It’s worth noting that Boucher succeeded Nkwe as Proteas coach. Nkwe held the position of interim coach before Boucher was formally appointed by CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith, which could be an underlying source of resentment.
The hearing is likely to be explosive because Boucher will call witnesses from within the team, mostly players, to testify to his management style and the team culture. This is likely to draw Test captain Dean Elgar and ODI captain Temba Bavuma into the firing line.
The Proteas’ recent performances, where they have shown grit, application and skill, indicate a team that is cohesive and willing to fight for one another. There is no other conclusion to be drawn from their excellent displays.
Normally, that implies a strong team culture, which is driven by the leadership, of which Boucher is a lynchpin. It’s quite possible, of course, that the team is thriving in spite of the coach, but it’s improbable.
In response to the charges, Boucher only offered: “I look forward to dealing with and defending these allegations which have been made and will do so at the hearing in due course. For now, I am solely focused on my duties as head coach of the Proteas.”
(CSA) has appointed advocate Terry Motau (SC) as chairperson of the disciplinary hearing into allegations of misconduct against Boucher. The parties will meet on 26 January 2022 to determine a timetable for the proceedings.
The legal basis for the charges against Boucher stem from the final SJN report by advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, which was made public last December.
The 235-page final report was submitted to the CSA board by the Ombudsman on 10 December. It was deeply critical of CSA and senior employees in that it claimed they engaged in prejudicial behaviour.
It determined that CSA, as well as current CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith and Boucher, and former star batter AB de Villiers, engaged in prejudicial conduct.
But in an 18-page letter sent to CSA on behalf of several of the respondents, the impartiality, independence and due process of the SJN — which cost CSA R7.5-million over six months — was called into question.
“The conclusion that the findings made in the report are ‘tentative’ is concerning. Some of these ‘findings’ are very far-reaching and significant,” the letter stated.
“Respectfully, how can a finding of racism, for example, be ‘tentative’? Either it is a finding, or it is not a finding. If it is tentative [and if further work is required, as suggested by the Ombudsman in paragraphs 439 and 442 of his report in order to reach ‘appropriate conclusions’], this report ought not to be accepted in its current form.”
In a separate statement, Smith’s lawyer and former head of legal for the International Cricket Council, David Becker, questioned the dual role that lawyers Sandile July and Sandile Tom played. They were both legal advisers to the Ombud and signatories to the complainants’ Heads of Arguments.
“Questions have been rightfully asked about the dual role that the lawyers for the Ombudsman played, as it turned out that not only did they advise the Ombud, but at the same time drafted and submitted Heads of Argument on behalf of the complainants,” Becker said.
“The apparent conflict is even more glaring when one considers that more than 250 paragraphs of the complainant’s Heads of Argument have been simply cut and pasted word for word, directly into the Ombudsman’s report. This arguably undermines the independence of the Ombudsman and brings into question the integrity of the report and the process.” DM