On Matters That Matter

The man who removes a mountain begins by carrying away small stones

John Howard Loses Support

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“That bloke’s making me look ordinary! He’s ruining my career!” said Phil Tufnell, the bad boy of English cricket in the 1990s, while stripping all his insecurity about Shane Warne.

India too finds itself in a situation where all that ails the cricketing universe is painted as its doing. The Australian, which presents itself as the heart of the nation, has had a ball in covering John Howard’s failed bid for ICC president-elect. Have a look at these supercilious comments from Malcolm Conn, the long-serving cricket writer for the Australian.

“It is more than anti-colonial resentment that has led the Afro-Asia bloc of the ICC to snub John Howard’s nomination as president. The former prime minister was rejected by the International Cricket Council for two far more pragmatic reasons: money and power.

There was a collective fear that he would ask awkward questions about one and do his best to dilute the other. India is cricket’s king-maker. It generates up to 80 per cent of the game’s wealth. But with enormous power comes responsibility.

By voting with an anti-colonial bloc instead of upholding the process it helped put in place, India has, once again, abused its power, just as it has by demanding the sacking of umpires and threatening to abandon tours if things did not go its way. In the end, cricket will suffer.

The ICC is a multi-billion-dollar organisation with a board run in the same way that poor park cricket associations have operated for 100 years. Howard lost the last federal election because he was considered from the past, not the future. At the ICC, he would have brought enlightenment—a frightening thought for men used to operating in dark corners.”

Now how did Malcolm Conn know that there was a collective fear that Howard would clean the ICC and member countries, especially India, had vested interest in not allowing that to happen? I guess it is not a good question to ask as Howard and those who are championing his cause are somehow the “unblemished upholders of fairness”.

So it is India’s fault, incredibly, that it generates 80 per cent of cricket’s wealth. Indian sports journalists are pretty happy to put the BCCI in a tight spot and there wouldn’t be much of a problem if Conn was doing so; but most of the stories in the Australian lack merit and are merely opinions masquerading as news.

“I might have more than 5,000 Test runs, but he makes 40 million bucks a movie,” Kiwi batsman Martin Crowe once said about his cousin and Hollywood actor Russell Crowe. You see money talks; whether it’s in New Zealand or in any other country. And to blame India for generating 80 per cent of cricket’s revenue is an exercise that reeks of envy.

Writer Gideon Haigh has more than a passing interest in the BCCI and the IPL. And I am not just talking about his last three pieces, though they are the ones that have brought him ‘fame’, but about the immense hard work that he has put in for more than a year in deconstructing the BCCI and the IPL. On March 26, 2009 Haigh wrote a piece about the IPL being hosted in South Africa.

“The fact is that the IPL would be occurring in Antarctica if there were direct flights, and it suited World Sport Group. And in that sense the Indianness of the tournament is more pronounced because it is imposed: the point is not to bring an attraction to another country but to create a satellite India on that country’s soil. And there is an old-fashioned word for such a form of exploitation: imperialism,” Haigh wrote.

I fail to see the similarities; in what way was India’s agenda forced on South Africa and who exactly was being exploited and how. South Africa readily accepted the offer of hosting the IPL on their land and the IPL came home after the two-month period unlike the East India Company that set the example of what exploitation means.

For many fans of Test cricket in India—there are scores who care a hoot about Twenty20 and useless ODIs—Haigh has been the go to writer. In a piece headlined ‘The Indianisation of cricket’, Haigh concluded with these words: “Power begetting responsibility, the sustainability of that model is another matter. The BCCI should understand that it is one thing to have earned the right to wield unipolar power, another to demonstrate deserving it.” Most cricket writers in India would agree with it. No one ever said that the BCCI or the IPL are beyond reproach.

It also does not mean that John Howard is beyond reproach. Haigh’s three-part defence of Howard’s candidature concludes with his piece titled ‘Cricket’s fig leaf of democracy’: “People in a room having a vote is not democracy. It depends on who they are, how they got there, and how faithfully they follow the rules of their organisation. Not even lots of people voting freely does a democracy make. Lots of people voted freely in South Africa in the days of apartheid; many more did not. Lots of people voted in Zimbabwe in 2008; guns spoke louder.”

Zimbabwe and its despotic regime are rightly condemned by the writer but he fails to mention that John Howard had no qualms about travelling to Harare in order to ease tensions and garner support. Also he fails to take note that Howard was resistant to the one genuine political cause in cricket’s history; the sporting ban on South Africa during the apartheid years.

Indian writer Mukul Kesavan got it bang on target in his piece titled ‘What was cricket Australia thinking?: “For Indians committed to cricket, specially Test cricket, the rottenness of cricket administration in general, and India’s cricket administration in particular, isn’t news. What is news is the spectacle of someone like Haigh, a liberal critic, quick-stepping around Howard’s record on race and then coming up with absolution.”

Howard has not lost any respect—he had little in the first place. On the other hand Haigh, despite his harsh criticism of the way the game is run in-and-by India, had a lot of following among people disappointed by the increasing deviation of the game towards the shorter format. It is sad that he lost some of his goodwill trying to defend a divisive politician.

Melbourne-based author Christian Ryan put Howard’s past in perspective in his Cricinfo column and he shows how the one word that describes the policies of Howard best is divisive.

“Still, in the hour of junk cricket’s ascendancy, it is tempting to suppose that Howard, who likes his cricket best when its plots and subplots reveal themselves slowly, in soft sunshine, over five days, could do the game some good.

But would he? Would he really? In answering that question, it would be sloppy thinking not to consider his history as prime minister of Australia.”

It is not India or the BCCI that has decided Howard’s fate. It is Howard’s own putrid history that has led to his undoing here.

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