Lord Woolf recommendations: Panacea or pipe dream? - Part 1 of 4

ICC Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat speaks at a press conference after the Executive Board meeting at the ICC headquarters in Dubai on February 1, 2012, United Arab Emirates © Getty Images

At the initiative of International Cricket Council (ICC) Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat, Lord Woolf along with consulting major Pricewaterhouse Coopers, has conducted an independent review of the affairs of the ICC.  Do the far reaching and radical recommendations of the report hold the key to a more robust ICC? Or will they remain the stuff of dreams and, well, beautifully written reports? Madan Mohan takes an in depth look. 



What IS the Lord Woolf report?


In the Agneepath 2012-dominated landscape of recent cricket news, a few stories have sneaked in about a report called the Lord Woolf report. This former British judge was appointed by the International Cricket Council (ICC), with the purported blessings of Chief Executive Haroon Lorgat, to conduct an independent review of the ICC’s functioning with consulting major Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PWC).  Their 68-page report, based on said review, contains a thorough critique of the affairs of the ICC and a slew of rather radical recommendations for the future.


Need and objective of the review


It would be an understatement to say the ICC’s functioning has come under fire from several quarters, more so over the last few years. There is a perception that the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) exerts undue influence over the ICC and its decisions. Corruption and especially the repugnant issue of match-fixing and spot-fixing continue to cast its shadow over international cricket. Cricket also does not seem to have spread sufficiently far and wide across the planet to be a truly global game. Whether the game or its followers indeed perceive such a need is a pertinent question for one observed with dismay, sections of fans advocating a 10-team 2015 World Cup with automatic qualification for the Test nations.


Against this backdrop, Lord Woolf and PWC interviewed 60 respondents, ranging from representatives of Member Boards to former cricketers to journalists and collated their opinions and their expectations of the ICC’s role. The report goes on to propose recommendations with regard to the operation, membership, ethics and funding of the ICC.  Subsequent parts of this series will look at those recommendations and their import.


ICC: Elite club or cricket body?


But first, the terms of reference of the report need a closer look. The report examines the current role of the ICC and also what it ought to be. It suggests that currently, the Full Members (Test playing nations) use the ICC as a sort of club of Members and the actions of the ICC seem to reflect this. In support of this argument, the report points to the manner in which the Future Tours Programme (FTP) is structured, the back-and-forth that ensued with regard to the qualification process for World Cup 2015 and the lack of sufficient tournaments for Associate Members (or, non-Test playing nations like Kenya). 


The report proposes that the ICC ought to act as the custodian of the interests of cricket and not just those of the existing Full Members. It states that the ICC must acknowledge its position as the body in charge of the global game and its Members too must accept said position. It also observes rather scathingly, “It is unacceptable for Members to be half hearted in their support of the ICC; they must realise that the good of global cricket must come first. If this is ignored, the pressure for change that will be created will either make change inevitable, or destroy the support for the game on which its success depends.”


The future: Associates vs Test nations?


These words must have been music to the ears of those charged with running cricket in the Associate nations. Already, some Associate nations like Kenya and Canada have received the report warmly and applauded some of its key recommendations. It should surprise no one that the BCCI has already dismissed the report from its presence with the swagger of a Viv Richards.


Is cricket about to be set on a collision course?


Last year, I had asked the question of what really would the BCCI want to do with the presence of Associate Members, other members even, when it had found a domestic cash cow to fill its coffers – It’s difficult to see BCCI holding hands with other members for long.  


Since then, the economic environment has changed quite dramatically for the BCCI, which may compel it to adopt a more tempered approach. But people don’t change their ways so quickly, much less governing bodies! Expect the inconsequential FTP to continue for some more time, at the very least.


Do we truly want cricket to be a global game? 


A larger question is whether stakeholders in cricket, be they administrators, players, journalists or fans, truly wish for cricket’s spread to be much greater than it is today.  On the contrary, one suspects such a spreading of wings is looked upon as a corruption of its purity, undesirable and a necessary evil at best.  


The Woolf Report recommends Members to put the interests of the global game ahead of their short term parochial interests. But it stands to reason that a game in which two long- standing members browbeat the others for years and years and made the rules as if the Lord Almighty had benedicted them the divine right to do so, perhaps accepts parochialism to a large degree. Are cricket fans truly enthused about the possibility of a China or Brazil one-day appearing in the whites, or at least the pyjamas? Does it arouse as much excitement as watching the progress of Ivory Coast or Cameroon in football? The answer to that is, at best, ambivalent and not quite a resounding yes. 


Globalisation of cricket: A token idea or an imperative?   


The Woolf Report states that its respondents urged the imperative to push cricket to new frontiers. But whether cricket is prepared to brush aside the caution, conservatism and scepticism that has long thwarted efforts to spread its reach far and wide remains to be seen. As the report concedes, the evidence of the last 30 years is not very encouraging.


Thus, as noble as the intentions of the Woolf report are in defining an enlightened role for the ICC, one wonders whether this is not in fact the first stumbling block in embracing its recommendations. If cricket is indeed wholeheartedly convinced of the global imperative, hurdles to adopting the nitty-gritties would collapse. 


But cricket is perhaps in the same boat as the group of nations that indefinitely put off the Kyoto Protocol and bring the world a day closer to environmental disaster: Eyes and minds firmly on the short term horizon with ostrich-like disregard to the looming long term catastrophe.


(Madan Mohan is a 26-year-old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)