Transcript: Couch Talk with Haroon Lorgat

Couch Talk 150 (Play)

Guest: Haroon Lorgat

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Thank you so much for being on the show, Mr. Lorgat. It is absolutely my pleasure having you on.

Firstly, I want to begin with where you played your first class cricket during the Apartheid era, and your last season was in 1991, which is when South Africa got re-integrated into international cricket. What was it, from your experience as a player from that era, to have influence on you as a selector and then an administrator within South Africa and then within ICC as well?

Haroon Lorgat (HL)– I think it helps in running the game if you have played the game at a fairly high level. I was fortunate to have played first class level which helps me to understand the makings of a player, you understand what makes players excel, what sort of coaching staff you need, what sort of playing surfaces…and so on. All of these experiences helps and gives you an informed perspective when you are on the administration side. That playing experience coupled with the fact that I grew up as a Chartered Accountant – I was trained as a Chartered Accountant – has helped me to administer the game.

SJ– In terms of the socio-political conditions of that time, and what South Africa has become as a nation, and also a cricketing nation, how has your experience played a role in it?

HL– I often felt that those of us who were regarded as disadvantaged, meaning black people, actually understood the game in South Africa in a wider sense because we had the benefit of knowing both our own experiences – meaning those who were disadvantaged – as well as those who were advantaged. So, we knew about the (Graeme) Pollocks and the (Barry) Richards and (Eddie) Barlows and about the rest of the privileged cricketers, whereas privileged white people may not have followed our sports. So, they were actually disadvantaged to the extent that they didn’t have any knowledge of black cricketers. If you ask what influence it had – I can say that we had knowledge of both sides of the divide. In other words we knew the full spectrum, and that placed me in a much better position to understand all the social, political and other issues that impact us in South Africa. The need to transform the game is therefore common sense to me.

SJ– In Port Elizabeth in the previous Test, Temba Bavuma made his debut as the first black batsman and it has been 24 years since Mr. Nelson Mandela was officially released from government custody. What is it that has led to the paucity of black Africans in South African cricket, in the sense that they are the majority subset of the entire population? Why is it that they are not taking to cricket as much and what is Cricket South Africa doing to get them playing the sport, and attending the sport itself?

HL– I think it is a natural goal to have the team representative of what the populace is. But it is not that easy, mainly because of the disadvantaged background for black players and the fact that once you select players into the team they are in it for a 10-15 year career. So, whether you take the likes of Graeme Smith or Jacques Kallis or even Makhaya Ntini for that matter, or Shaun Pollock, all of whom had come through a system and were selected into the team on merit, you couldn’t replace one of these players with a black African so easily. We need players to develop through the system and regrettably the black African players who were coming through the system were disadvantaged at an early age through their social circumstances. It was very difficult for them to have sustained their growth in the game and at the same time looked after their families – which remains a key challenge for our black African players. They have to go out and work while trying to become a professional cricketer. Between trying to educate yourself, play the game, and go to work, something has to give. And the sacrifice invariably was the sport. That made it very difficult for them to remain and progress to the highest levels of the game.

SJ– And what is Cricket South Africa’s plan to attract that 80% of the country to watch the game and play the game and hopefully play at the highest level?

HL– Having recognized the social and other challenges we have introduced a number of initiatives. Of particular significance is the education trusts that we have introduced. We now have two of our sponsors who have helped us to establish education trusts – the Sunfoil Education Trust and the Momentum Trust which provides the kind of cricket scholarships for aspiring black African players in particular so that they can educate themselves and have enough funding to also sustain themselves in the game of cricket. Hopefully in time we will see some of that paying dividends. Our assessments show clearly the dropout rate of black African players is much higher than the white players. That indicates that we have black players at lower levels but we are not able to retain them through the system so that they could ultimately end up in the Proteas team.

SJ– I want to talk about your time with the ICC. There was this idea of Test Championship in 2013 through to 2017, but that got scrapped as well. My point is – is it even a valid idea to have a Test Championship when not all cricketing nations have a chance to go against every other full member nation? Whereas, in a T20 World Cup or the ODI World Cup, you have the pathway for the Associate nations to eventually get to the World Cup. So, is that even a valid proposal?

HL– I believe yes. I don’t think it is an excuse not to have a championship if not all can be participating in it. The reality is that we have 10 Full Members playing Test cricket. So, why can’t there be a Test Championship for those playing Test cricket? And the rationale was the need to sustain Test cricket. We needed to create something that would not only retain but grow interest in Test cricket. We started with the rankings, you can’t argue that there is far more value to the Test rankings today than was in the years gone by. It means something to be no.1, it means something to be in the top-3 or 4. A part of the thinking was that the top-4 would qualify to play in the Test Championships.

SJ– Fair enough.

Towards the end of your tenure you commissioned the review by Lord Wolff into governance structures. Looking back on it, now in 2015 – a lot of water has gone under the bridge, what would be your take on the initiative on your part? Do you think it has had any influence in how cricket is being governed, especially at the highest level?

HL– It is something which I have little or no influence on, now. I left at the time when the report was concluded and it was for that board – the new board – to have considered it and implemented it. I can say that a lot of the principles are being implemented in South African cricket, and the success is there for all to see. I still believe in those principles, I believe in the role of independent directors on the board, and you can ask anybody in South African cricket and they will tell you the value that it has brought to cricket in this country.

SJ– But, its original goal was to clean-up, so to speak, the ICC governance structure. Your impressions on whether, well none of it was accepted. Are you disappointed?

HL– As I said, there was no influence that I had once I left the ICC and there is nothing more that I can do about it. I left it to a new board that followed me – a Chief Executive and a President that were newly installed.  Those who were in the office at that stage, it was for them to decide which way they wanted to shape the ICC.

SJ– Coming to the ICC of the current day, you have N. Srinivasan as the chairman of the ICC. While there have been severe conflicts of interest, so much so that the Indian Supreme Court told him to step aside from his post as BCCI President. But yet, he became the chairman of the ICC in July. What sort of example does it set for cricket’s governance everywhere – not just within that board, but everywhere around the world?

HL– Again, it is an area that I have absolutely no influence any longer.

SJ– I just wanted to know your opinion on it.

HL– I would rather reserve my opinion because it is a Supreme Court matter. It is a matter that should be dealt with at the ICC level. There are codes of ethics, there are all sorts of structures there that would deal with it. There is a Board of Directors that will deal with it. I am not serving on that Board of Directors.

SJ– Fair enough. Let’s say no names. If certain XYZ were to run the highest cricket governing structure while having issues in his/her backyard, how can we be convinced that the ethical structures will be stuck to?

HL– I think it is not an ideal situation. It is a thing which is regrettably being dealt with in the Supreme Court now, and we should let the process take its course. The allegations may well be false.

SJ– In an interview you had said that “Money is important, but it is not the only thing”. I think it was with cricinfo’s Nagraj Gollapudi. However, what we saw play out in 2013 and 2014, was that money is apparently the only thing. For example, when the position paper on the ICC revamp was leaked. Initially, 7 Full Member nations signed up for it – South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan were opposed to it, and there was a strongly worded statement from Cricket South Africa where the words of the great Nelson Mandela were invoked. It was said that it was unconstitutional, undemocratic. However, Mr. Chris Nenzani had a chat with Mr. N. Srinivasan alongside the corridors of the ICC meeting and everything was suddenly smoothened out. How can you go from that where it is unconstitutional and undemocratic and suddenly over an hour, things were changed?

HL– There were several changes to the initial proposals. If you study the proposal that was initially floated to what was subsequently accepted, it was very different. When several of the initial proposals were removed or changed to the satisfaction of Mr. Nenzani, that is when South Africa entered the debate.

SJ– Okay.

In terms of one of those changes was the ExCo committee members being increased from three to five. But still, three permanent members and they have the veto– it is not a democratic system in any sense of the word. How could Cricket South Africa sign up to it?

HL– I think you need to appreciate that there was a lot of debate and discussion. There was a sense at a particular point that the initial proposals were completely not acceptable. Where it got to, Mr. Nenzani said that is not a perfect situation. But we are prepared to engage now and see what we can do going forward.

SJ– Is it a case of each to his own, as in Mr. Nenzani and you where your main responsibility is to cricket in South Africa and you needed to do whatever that you had to do to ensure that the cricket in South Africa and the South African players’ future is guaranteed?

HL– It is part of the considerations – it is not the only consideration – because the initial proposal was something we were not prepared to accept. But, when it got to a certain point after being amended, it was not perfect but it was something that we were prepared to go with. I think those questions are more relevant to the powers that are in command today because effectively they are the three countries who have a strong role to play in the leadership of world cricket.

SJ– As someone in-charge of Cricket South Africa, and as someone who has played and administered cricket for ICC and South Africa, are you happy with the situation that we are in?

HL– Are you talking in terms of world cricket? I can’t say I am happy. I don’t believe that the revenue split is fair on all the countries. But we have to accept what we now have in place.

SJ– Is there scope for it to change that kind of revenue situation?

HL– I would personally hope so, that in time to come there will be reviews and changes to the current scorecard and revenue shares. In my view, there should be support for the weaker countries. We should grow the game across the world, but, we have what we have in place with the model now. We have to live with what we have got and cut our cloth accordingly. I do foresee, more than Cricket South Africa, other weaker countries struggling in the future, if not already. Because there is unequal sharing and it is not going to the countries that need it most. We are doing the best we can with that context in mind, and so far, we [CSA] are in great shape as far as cutting our cloth to fit our size according to the revenue that we generate.

SJ– You are trained Chartered Accountant. When you have a financial model where the rich get richer, and there is no sufficient support for the weaker ones that absolutely, despearately need it, that is not a sustenable model. So, do you think there is going to be a crossroad for cricket not too far in the future?

HL– I think that’s a matter for the ICC to consider. They are the custodians of the global game. There are people in those leadership roles who must look at it and see whether the game can sustain and grow itself.

SJ– As someone who was the Chief Executive of the ICC and now the Chief Executive of a Member board, your thoughts on whether cricket going to be at crossroads sooner than later?

HL– I wouldn’t want to predict. I am not a fortune teller. I’ll leave that to be dealt responsibly by those who lead the global game.

SJ– You were subject of an ICC inquiry arising out of statements that David Becker, former head of legal at the ICC, made about the functioning of the ICC board, FTP etc. Of course, you were cleared of all wrongdoings. What did you learn from that process and what is your side of the story?

HL– I am not sure I can answer what I learnt from the process except that it was a necessary process. I was accused of some wrongdoing, so I had voluntarily subjected myself to that investigation because I thought it was necessary. Of course, at the end of the day, I knew what the truth was, and it came out through the inquiry.

SJ– The inquiry report itself is not in the public domain. So, could you state some of the facts of that inquiry that cleared you?

HL– That I was not guilty of the allegations made against me which was that I was party to a statement that David Becker had issued. So the inquiry was quite clear that I had nothing to do with it.

SJ– So, there was nothing you got out of it, in terms of your approach to the various parties involved in that?

HL– Well, I was accused of something, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was accused of something I didn’t do and the inquiry was needed to establish the truth.

SJ– On to the incoming tour of India to South Africa, there were a lot of issues around it. During that, you had voluntarily stepped aside as Chief Executive of CSA…

HL– yes, in so far as any dealings would involve the ICC and the BCCI.

SJ– Correct. The negotiations between the boards went on. In that sense, the BCCI did not have issues with CSA but it seemed like they had issues with you. Did you see that way too?

HL– I clearly don’t understand what the issues are. I think that is more relevant to be ascertained from the BCCI.

SJ– So you or the other negotiating parties of CSA were not made clear as to what issues the BCCI had with you?

HL– Nobody could tell me. Not even my president is aware of what the issue is, or what my wrongdoing is. So, we are all in the dark as far as that is concerned.

SJ– And [BCCI] has made no attempt to clear up that stuff after that, because the tour went on?

HL– The tour went on, and there have been attempts to get together. But I can’t tell you what the issue is that upsets them about myself.

SJ– You had made a press statement that you will work on bettering the relations with the BCCI. How do you intend to go about it, and what is the relationship like, now?

HL– Well, we must wait. Time can heal things. I have even offered to apologise if I am told what I’d done wrong. If it’s wrong, I must apologise, that’d be the right thing to do. But until I am told, there is nothing I can do.

SJ– Alright. You are back with CSA and you are free to deal with all the boards. What are your goals for South Africa and how long do you plan on serving as an administrator with CSA?

HL– My goals would, I believe, be the same as any other Chief Executive of any Full Member nation’s board: To have the best team in the world, to be able to produce a sustainable system that is economically viable, to have a strong domestic set up, to have great commercial partners, and we are fortunate that we are succeeding in all these areas at the moment. In South Africa we also have the added issue of dealing with transformational matters. I think we have done well in that sense. We haven’t reached a point where we are satisfied with what we have achieved to date but it would be fair to say that we have made good progress in that regard [transformation]. To sustain a cricket system that can produce the best cricket players in the world is what I’d hope I can deliver.

SJ– On that note, thank you so much, Mr. Lorgat.


SJ– Thanks for your time.

HL– Thank you!


Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman