Opinionista Judith February 26 August 2020

Cricket – just like so much else – is being ruined by mediocrity and boardroom politics

A culture of mediocrity permeates South African institutions and every aspect of public life. The crisis within Cricket South Africa needs to be seen within this context. At its most basic, the core reason for this state of decay is that we persist in appointing the wrong people for the job.

Judith February

Judith February is a lawyer and author of ‘Turning and Turning: Exploring the Complexities of South Africa’s Democracy’ (PanMacmillan)

The New Year’s test match at Newlands is a cricketing ritual. 

What can be better than the sound of the Newlands faithful chattering around the ground as leather meets willow or watching the shadows grow long towards the end of play on a warm summer’s day? 

This past summer we hosted the English, Barmy Army and all. Newlands with its picturesque mountain setting put on the best show of nature the game provides. Yet, a wander around the ground revealed the tell-tale signs of the neglect that has set in over a number of years. A lack of maintenance and care were clear to see. 

Behind the North stand, a broken drain is covered with worn-out planks, only greasy food is being sold at concession stalls, with koki-pen scrawled specials on bits of cardboard and the grand Oaks area is now accidentally renamed ‘Oak’s (sic). 

The little things tell us a great deal about how the bigger issues are being dealt with.  

Treasured and historic Newlands cricket is in real trouble, financial and otherwise. It is therefore a great pity that Nicolas Kock resigned as President of the Western Province Cricket Association recently. The WPCA needed someone with Kock’s integrity and commitment to the game in general and transformation and development in particular. Kock was also smart enough to ask the right questions about the R750-million property development currently underway at Newlands. 

But perhaps predictably Kock’s tenure was short-lived when he made it clear that he was not prepared to sign a lease agreement that would bind the WPCA to the development in ways which may well be prejudicial. The development creates real risk if a new board and management persist without doing a thorough audit of contracts signed and obligations that need to be met. 

In this time of disease and unease, Kock was right to be concerned. Yet, such was the pressure on Kock, that he did what many good men and women in his position eventually do or are forced to do – he resigned. More’s the pity. 

The WPCA now seeks two independent non-executive directors. Who will step up to the plate if a blank slate is not granted to a new board to independently interrogate everything that has gone before? 

The low point came in December 2019 when CSA revoked the accreditation of five journalists. What they all had in common was that they had been critical of CSA’s administration of the game.

Of course, what is happening at WPCA must be seen in the context of the broader decline within Cricket South Africa (CSA) and its administration. 

The low point came in December 2019 when CSA revoked the accreditation of five journalists. What they all had in common was that they had been critical of CSA’s administration of the game. That was viewed by many as a concerted attempt by CSA to silence journalists. It was only when the sponsor, Standard Bank, intervened that CSA seemed compelled to change its position. All of this happened on then CEO, Thabang Moroe’s watch. Moroe has since been suspended on full pay at a hefty sum of R356,000 per month pending a forensic investigation. There were also reports of first-class travel, troubling restructuring of the game, wastage on fancy hotels and the best wines. When affiliate unions are stacked with those blindly loyal to a CEO, this sort of impunity is enabled. 

Amid this chaos, Jacques Faul was appointed as Interim CEO. Hundreds of millions of rand were unaccounted for and one suspects Faul spent much time trying to deal with forensic audits and then appeasing sponsors who had threatened to withdraw last year. 

Faul, a capable and qualified cricket administrator and a person of integrity, departed his position this week, a month before his contract ended. Faul was clearly defeated by the palace politics within CSA. He had desperately tried to salvage cricket from the wreckage of a weak board and inept administration. 

As is usually the case, institutional decline causes all-round decline and so it has been with our cricketing fortunes on the field.

We can however only really make sense of the crisis within CSA if we look at it in the context of South African institutions in general. 

For much of this has to do with the culture of mediocrity which permeates virtually every aspect of public life. This then replicates itself in other institutions and sporting bodies are not exempt from this.  

The reasons for such institutional decline are complex and varied but if one were to boil it down to one salient reason it would be that we persist in appointing the wrong people for a given job. More often than not, individuals are selected to head institutions of value because of their proximity to political power and not because of their capabilities. At worst, these individuals care little for the institutions they head up but see it as a means to garner influence and financial gain. The institutions are thus destroyed in their wake and someone is left to salvage an irretrievable situation. It’s usually too late to do so at that point. At best, the weak and incapable leader flounders around, incapable of understanding the scope of the position and so neglect sets in. 

The under-qualified are usually very aware of how to play the parlour games required to hold a leadership position. 

To fulfil the role of CEO of Cricket SA one has to have sufficient commercial nous to deal with contracts related to players, sponsors, television and other rights. The position requires someone with the appropriate gravitas to liaise with the players’ association. In addition, the CEO should also be able to represent South Africa on cricketing matters both at home and abroad. 

Our country is awash with examples of poor appointments and the subsequent damage they cause. CSA is no different. Faul would have been able to salvage matters if a capable board provided him with the space and direction to fix what is broken.  

There is talk of power having shifted to the chair of the transformation sub-committee of the board, Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw. Kula-Ameyaw joined the board in May. It’s worth mentioning that she had been involved in a controversy arising out of her directorship on the Estate Agency Affairs Board. It is alleged that Kula-Ameyaw travelled to Ghana, with a colleague, to attend a transformation workshop. That trip cost R90,000 and was taken despite the EAAB moratorium of expenditure of that kind and was approved by former CEO, Nikita Sigaba.  

In a recent interview, Kula-Ameyaw said: “I wouldn’t say that I’m new in sport… My dad played rugby, my children love cricket and my mum started her own football club.” 

If it is so that Kula-Ameyaw and company secretary Welsh Gwaza form a new axis of power within CSA it would be an extraordinary ascent for someone to be brought onto a board in May and be at the heart of influence a few months later. 

If one were to read the political tea leaves, it may be reasonable for the cricket-loving public to hold this theory; Faul was sidelined in order to ensure less scrutiny and more control by a new (pre-ordained?) CEO and certain board members, thus ensuring that vested interests prevail? 

As interim CEO, Kugandrie Govender may be useful in this context. She has none of the expertise Faul brought to the table, which included extensive experience as an accomplished cricket administrator and as an Acting CEO of CSA in 2012. Govender with her background in marketing management now takes on the complex task of running the game in South Africa.  

To fulfil the role of CEO of Cricket SA one has to have sufficient commercial nous to deal with contracts related to players, sponsors, television and other rights. The position requires someone with the appropriate gravitas to liaise with the players’ association. In addition, the CEO should also be able to represent South Africa on cricketing matters both at home and abroad. 

That there is no place for someone as obviously seasoned and skilled as Faul in the CSA operations is an indictment on the men and women on the CSA Board. It also indicates a full-throttled commitment to a culture of mediocrity above excellence. 

This past week Jacques Kallis was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. He deserves that accolade as one of the world’s greatest players. Yet, one could not help but feel a hint of nostalgia at the news. Kallis certainly played at a time when our cricket was competitive against the very best in the world. It was also a reminder that not so long ago we were the number one test nation in the world. 

Cricket SA is due to hold its AGM on 5 September. Six nominations for non-independent directors have been received. One nominee is the President of Border cricket, Simphiwe Ndzundzu who is facing an investigation for assault after allegedly breaking into the home of Sinethemba Mjekula, another Border official. 

Ordinarily, this would beggar belief, but in South Africa we are almost inured to these sorts of allegations. That Ndzundzu feels comfortable putting his name forward despite these allegations speaks volumes for the culture of impunity which has taken root in public life and within our institutions.  

Other open questions remain for the AGM; for how long will Govender act as CEO? What plans are being made to ensure that this position is advertised widely and that the best person for the job is appointed? Of course, while Moroe is suspended on full pay, no permanent CEO can be appointed. So for how long will the full report into the Moroe matter be kept from public scrutiny? 

Can the whispers be accurate that Welsh Gwaza may well become the new CEO of Cricket SA? And will Beresford Williams be appointed as president to preside over the game we love? The other three contenders are Donovan May, Tebogo Siko and Ben Dladla.  

South Africa is awash with skilled and independent-minded individuals who want to see cricket thrive. The slide to mediocrity should therefore not have been inevitable. 

Those who love cricket for all its depth and eccentricities are tired of the administrative disarray which is having a real impact on the game itself. The wrong people are in positions of power and it is up to individual unions to speak up and put their own vested interests aside for the greater good. Sadly the chances of that happening are slim. The sponsors (those that are left) however have some clout and it would help if they exercised it to ensure good governance, revival of the Proteas brand and importantly, growth of the game.  

This past week Jacques Kallis was inducted into the ICC Hall of Fame. He deserves that accolade as one of the world’s greatest players. Yet, one could not help but feel a hint of nostalgia at the news. Kallis certainly played at a time when our cricket was competitive against the very best in the world. It was also a reminder that not so long ago we were the number one test nation in the world. 

But like so many things in our country, the game is being ruined by boardroom politics and having the wrong individuals in key positions. 

They will be slugging it out over the carcass of this beloved game if things continue as they do. The question is whether they care at all. DM

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