An arrogant letter from Cricket South Africa was the final insult that riled Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa into issuing the organisation with an ultimatum for the board to stand down.
First published in Daily Maverick 168
Early on Wednesday a media release from the Sports Ministry landed with the force of a Kagiso Rabada bouncer in inboxes everywhere. Minister Nathi Mthethwa officially gave notice of his intention for the government to take over the running of Cricket South Africa (CSA).
Following the release of the Fundudzi forensic report into governance failures at CSA, and in the face of the organisation’s stonewalling and breathtaking arrogance, Mthethwa pulled rank. CSA’s board has until 27 October to stand down, or Mthethwa will use his powers to emasculate the body.
Mthethwa’s intentions have also been relayed to the International Cricket Council (ICC). CSA is in danger of violating the ICC code of conduct, which states clearly that government intervention is a breach that could result in suspension.
“Having evaluated the discussions as well as the subsequent reporting on this matter, I have now reached a point where I see no value in any further engagement with CSA,” Mthethwa said in the statement.
The only real surprise was that it had taken so long. It came more than a month after the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc) issued a resolution to establish a task team to investigate CSA.
Sascoc wanted this team, understood to be led by former Proteas player and ICC CEO Dave Richardson, to investigate governance failures. While it did, the CSA executive was told to stand aside. CSA refused to go along with either request.
In a desperate game of corporate “chicken”, CSA told the minister to mind his own business. “The members of the CSA board have now had an opportunity to consider your request that they ‘step down’,” said a letter from CSA to the minister, signed by acting president Beresford Williams.
“Each one of them is of the view that he/she will not ‘step down’ unless duly removed from office in accordance with the applicable provisions of CSA’s memorandum of incorporation. They are of the view (and have been advised) that you do not have power, in terms of the National Sport and Recreation Act 110 of 1998, to require members of the CSA board to ‘step down’.
“Furthermore, we are of the view that such a requirement probably constitutes government interference in CSA’s governance, regulation and/or administration, as contemplated in the memorandum of association of the ICC and, as such, interferes with CSA’s contractual obligations to the ICC and jeopardises CSA’s continued membership of the ICC.”
It was yet another badly miscalculated step by CSA. The sports minister has a swath of powers at his disposal, which he pointed out in a letter of his own.
He said that, in addition to the 1998 act cited by CSA, which the cricketing body seemed “to selectively quote from to show that I do not have the power to intervene, you are kindly reminded that as a sovereign country in which I am the minister responsible for sport, arts and culture, there is a raft of laws at my disposal, that empower me to deal effectively with recalcitrant behaviour within my portfolio.”
The act does not specifically allow the government to take full control of a sporting body, but it gives the minister the power to refuse to recognise that body and cut its funding.
That essentially means, in this case, the Proteas would cease to be South Africa’s national team. If that happened, England’s pending tour would be off, costing CSA a further R75-million, which it can’t afford to lose.
Steps outlined in the act require Sascoc to “intervene”; only if it fails to resolve the issue “in a reasonable time” will the minister step in. That has clearly happened.
In terms of the act, the minister may not “interfere in matters relating to the selection of teams, administration of sport, and appointment of, and termination of the service of, the executive members of the sport or recreation body”.
But he is empowered to “notify the national federation in writing that it will not be recognised by Sport and Recreation South Africa”.
The ICC has noted issues at CSA, but has taken a “watch and wait” approach.
“At this stage, no complaint has been received from CSA regarding government intervention and members are encouraged to resolve matters directly with their governments. We will continue to monitor the situation,” an ICC statement said.
CSA to adopt Nicholson recommendations
Events this week were not confined to the minister’s ultimatum; CSA delegates also faced another battering in Parliament, where the portfolio committee on sports, arts and culture peppered them with questions about the Fundudzi report.
At least there was recognition that a structural and governance overhaul was needed to make an effective restructuring possible.
At the meeting in Parliament on Tuesday, where most committee members were exposed as under-prepared — the Fundudzi report was submitted to MPs on 9 October — CSA’s delegation said it would use the Nicholson report recommendations as the basis for a proposed restructure.
The Nicholson report was the end result of a 2011/12 investigation into CSA, which recommended that the majority of the board consist of independent directors to avoid conflicts of interest. This was never implemented.
Currently, seven members of the 14-strong board are also on the members council — the highest decision-making authority in South African cricket. The conflict of interest is self-evident, as those seven are also provincial presidents with different mandates to serve.
Implementing the Nicholson recommendations was one of Mthethwa’s demands in his letter to CSA.
“How do we overhaul the governance? It starts with a complete overhaul of the memorandum of incorporation to remove items that are in conflict and implement the Nicholson report,” said board member Marius Schoeman, who is chair of the audit and risk committee.
“The Fundudzi report has brought far more benefits, in that we can learn from it and ensure that issues that we have had, do not happen again.”
Moroe being scapegoated?
CSA’s delegation also publicly admitted that former CEO Thabang Moroe, who was sacked in August after eight months on suspension, was not qualified for the job, as is stated in the Fundudzi report. “That was an astonishing finding,” Schoeman told the committee. “The report also indicates that the advertisement [for the post] was also different from the job description.”
Many members of the portfolio committee, however, believe Moroe is being unfairly targeted and made the scapegoat for CSA’s collective leadership, operational and financial failings.
CSA desperately needs England tour
The weeks and months of boardroom issues have diverted attention from the pressing problem of income and the actual playing of cricket.
Under current Covid-19 legislation, certain high-risk countries are banned from entering South Africa. England is one, which could be a catastrophic blow for CSA’s balance sheet because England are due to tour at the end of the year for three one-day internationals and three T20s.
Dheven Dharmalingam, one of CSA’s independent board members and chair of the financial committee, told MPs that England’s presence was vital to keep CSA afloat in the short term.
“If we don’t start playing cricket, we don’t earn content revenue [from broadcast rights] and we don’t earn our share of the profit from the ICC, [and] this organisation will be in trouble,” Dharmalingam said.
If he hadn’t noticed, it’s already in trouble. It’s only the depth that varies. DM/DM168