Cricket

CSA after Lorgat: Cons outweigh pros?

2017-11-02 12:47
Haroon Lorgat (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Shortly after Haroon Lorgat’s dramatic, pretty sudden demise or stepdown (take your pick) as chief executive officer of Cricket South Africa recently, I received correspondence from someone on the commercial side of cricket domestically I know well, and who had dealings often enough with Lorgat.

The gist of it was that he was curiously seeking guidance on, and was trying to make sense of, the issues that led to experienced, widely-travelled administrator Lorgat’s premature departure after some four years in the professional hot seat at CSA.

He was also, quite clearly, ruing what had transpired.

“Did this purely have to do with the planning and arrangement of the (now controversially “postponed”) T20 Global League? I would just love to know the real reason behind Haroon resigning.

“Just for myself, I found him to be an impeccable businessman and one of those who believed in good, positive administration and was against corruption,” added the events/marketing specialist.

If those observations are even roughly on the mark, they stand in stark contrast, of course, to the circumstances which led to the ousting of CSA predecessor Gerald Majola, whose generous, dozen-year tenure ended under a significant cloud after revelations of a multimillion-rand unauthorised bonus scandal in 2012.

Remember it was very much on Majola’s watch, too, and long before Lorgat assumed CSA office, that the ubiquitous Gupta family - now so centrally entwined in South African politics at the highest possible levels, although they seemingly have bigger fish to fry than in sport nowadays - gained a (temporary) key foothold in domestic cricket through Sahara naming rights to major Test stadiums like Newlands and St George’s Park.

Lorgat, who very usefully took charge after a four-year spell as CEO of the International Cricket Council, largely oversaw or at least contributed fulsomely toward a tight, extremely productive CSA ship financially despite mounting economic and cricketing challenges - a situation publicly confirmed by president Chris Nenzani at the annual meeting in early September.

“We have a very strong balance sheet and favourable cash position. Our income balance is ... R655-million,” he was quoted as saying.

I have long sensed, through journalistic career dealings with both, certain strong parallels between Lorgat and Ali Bacher - the latter in charge of South African cricket at the time both before and immediately after unity - in their personalities and professional hallmarks, even if they come from very different backgrounds and probably also many points of view.

Both are resourceful, highly driven and persuasive individuals with almost indisputably prolific work ethics ... get-things-done people, and probably tough negotiators, too.

With those attributes, arguably, may come headstrong and single-minded tendencies, possibly manifesting themselves every now and then in autocratic or at least impulsive actions that run the risk of rubbing people up the wrong way.

Bacher and Lorgat were, most of the time, accessible people from a media point of view, the former perhaps more willing to speak assertively on the record, whereas the latter chose his words more carefully, but was also not averse to taking certain scribes into confidence over issues either recent, immediate or upcoming.  

I was certainly grateful in Lorgat’s tenure to be part of his loop when it came to occasional briefings or catch-ups with individual scribes, seldom getting an impression I was being sold any notable red herrings or that he was seeking unnatural favour.

He did have notable fallouts with certain journalists during his time as CSA boss, it must be said, and perhaps he could have been less hard-ball in trying to heal the sometimes embarrassingly enduring tensions.

But a certain combativeness in character may also have stood him in good stead: Lorgat railed especially noisily against the controversial, unashamed campaign a few years ago for cricket’s commercial “big three” nations - India, England and Australia - to seize a monopolistic grip on global power.

That crude power bloc was actively dismantled earlier this year, to the discernible relief of Lorgat.

“Haroon felt that was a critical reversal for world cricket,” said a loyalist. “He would have found it hard to imagine what that big three would have been up to now had their grip remained.”

The source pointed out that in terms of ICC tournaments determined for the period between 2016 and 2023 - deals coming at a time when the trio ruled the roost - only those countries got hosting rights.

“Look at England: both of the last two Champions Trophies, Women’s World Cup, next World Cup in 2019 - imagine how much they have benefited from that. They were able to ride roughshod for a while.”

Transformation-related flashpoints have long, and inevitably, stalked both CSA and sport more broadly in South Africa; there was certainly no special exception during Lorgat’s tenure as CEO.

He was at the fulcrum of the ill-timed “numbers” commotion for example, on the very eve of the World Cup 2015 semi-final against New Zealand - a game eventually lost by a whisker - as a questionably fit at the time Vernon Philander was fielded at the much-publicised expense of Kyle Abbott, enraging a particular lobby, if you like.

Yet the pro-Lorgat camp will insist that he harboured personal reservations about the decreeing of specific figures for racial makeup of the national side, preferring a “from bottom upward” model, where representivity would come naturally if franchise cricket, for example, grew to becoming 80 percent black.

“Haroon was gobsmacked when certain figures nearby in the admin hierarchy (Lorgat had a bloody feud with chief finance officer Naasei Appiah, a matter that has been strongly linked to his exit - Sport24) accused him of retarding transformation,” said a source close to him.

“He started to take umbrage; he is someone who grew up in the heart of the anti-apartheid struggle and was at the coalface.”

Sometimes a temperate, generally middle ground, in a sea of volatile passions, isn’t the worst place to be. It might be submitted that Lorgat occupied it on certain key issues.

Parties loyal to him suggest there may have been some kind of factional “orchestration” of his dispute with Appiah.

“A group of people may have said to themselves ‘this is how we are going to shift him out’,” said one, adding that a lobby seeking to more strongly “Africanise” CSA might have been less resistant, to put it diplomatically, to any wilful squeezing-out of Lorgat than others.

In a country where demographic figures only suggest that a more conscious move toward black African administrators calling the CSA shots is entirely virtuous in principle, that process is likely to only gather steam: the organisation has Nenzani as president, vice-president Thabang Moroe as vice-president and now acting CEO, and Appiah still in charge of finance.

Moroe stopped only marginally short of directly branding Lorgat as being economical on transparency and communication when he addressed publicly the decision to postpone the Global League, the assembly of which Lorgat had sunk his teeth into with customary vigour.

“The board took its trust and placed it in the hands of a few individuals, and not all the information needed for it to be comfortable enough to continue with the League at this stage was forthcoming ... the board wasn’t fully appraised.”

Wherever the real truth lies, it can hardly be disputed that the CSA has been left with a formidable, sharp-edged number of pieces to pick up, as a tournament many already feel should have been launched two or three years back (international-flavoured T20 leagues only proliferate worldwide, each new one only making it increasingly likely that ones which follow will only struggle for a desired foothold) gets pushed back once again.

Some good sources maintain that we should erase all notions that the Global League has been postponed, as officially described, instead insisting that it has more accurately “collapsed” and will require an entire, delicate structural revisit.

Yet my understanding from the Lorgat-loyal lobby is that he steadfastly believes he could have made the League happen this year. “We were on track, we would have delivered,” said one.

They dispute, too, the CSA spin in the wake of the League’s crash (they are planning an internal inquiry, a process unlikely by very definition to kindly-disposed toward Lorgat?) that the risk was real of annual losses of up to R100-m for the first handful of tournament years.

“The fact that they have postponed it ... of course they would start throwing cautionary figures around; there have to be scapegoats, justification on those grounds,” said a protesting voice.

Lorgat, I understand, believed he might have been able to secure a break-even situation after year one, if he had secured what he deemed the “fitting TV deal”.

That has been a massive flashpoint in the entire League fiasco: Lorgat undoubtedly ruffled the feathers of established main broadcast partner SuperSport with his stubborn probing of other avenues and unwillingness to rope them in for an early deal.

But was it unrealistic of him to seek to bypass the SuperSport domestic juggernaut?

“SuperSport are smart, and maybe they are also able sometimes to even be bullies,” a knowledgeable source told me, “but they are the only sub-Saharan broadcaster who could realistically take this League.

“It is not as though the SABC, with all their issues, can be considered a proper competitor - they’re not the BBC.”

Lorgat, arguably, was simply too ambitious in pitching for a whopping deal for such a hitherto untried product.

A hot potato in the wake of the League’s non-start has been the issue of compensation for participants, both local and foreign.

My understanding is that a mood of significant anger prevails among players, and that it has re-opened the threat of some of South Africa’s premier cricketers - not just long in the tooth ones, either - forsaking both the Proteas-level and domestic systems and switching loyalty to abroad, including rival T20 jamborees.

The dollar-based Global League, after all, had become a key focal point in the financial retention strategy for SA’s poster figures in the game.

When I spoke to Lorgat himself recently, he was reluctant, considering present sensitivities and CSA employment wrap-up matters, to open up about the vexing issues surrounding his departure.

But he was prepared to emphasise his “disappointment ... this is not what I envisaged, nor what I would have wanted”.

He added: “I felt I developed the expertise and experience over time, with my own professional background (including as a chartered accountant, since 1985) to make a difference, and I believe I did that.

“I’d rather people remember me for what we did well, than just harp on things that didn’t work out.”

He did have some on-record thoughts on the Global League, and his role in it.

“Look, you needed balls, you needed to walk the tightrope (for its creation). People had been used to doing things in a particular way; there was going to be change, disruption (with independent, mostly foreign ownership of the teams).

“Was that too much to absorb for some people to absorb? I don’t know.

“Getting jobs done, working long hours ... those sorts of things didn’t frighten me. Friends, my wife, tell me I am a workaholic, but I’ve always enjoyed it.

“I was quite happy to have a business meeting at 11pm if it seemed necessary, in our interests. I don’t drink ... that helps!”

Lorgat the cricketer (he played 76 first-class for Eastern Province and Transvaal under the auspices of the former, non-racial SA Cricket Board) has been enjoying certain aspects of his rare “unemployment”, too.

“I’ve enjoyed finally being a more regular spectator, for a change. In my CEO times (both ICC and CSA) you can be at a match but barely see a ball, you know.”

He is more of a cricketing traditionalist - or read: Test-lover - than some may realise, for all his awareness of the power and possibilities of the T20 environment.

“That Bloem Test (against Bangladesh) ... I was finally watching properly. I hadn’t seen that amount of cricket in ages. It was nice - I saw young (Aiden) Markram really announce his credentials for us.”

Maybe you have to be slap-bang in the corridors of CSA’s administration, and not just as a passer-by or mere observer, to be able to make the best and most accurate judgement of the Lorgat years and the true circumstances - plus the merits or demerits thereof - that led to his walkaway or kick in the butt (again, take your choice).

So on those grounds, I find it hard not to desist to a large extent from making a clear-cut proclamation either way, too.

But I’m also going to put this suggestion out fluttering on a kite in the breeze: is it just possible that Lorgat was not dissimilar in the current climate to some sort of ousted Pravin Gordhan or Mcebisi Jonas figure, a diligent administrator - yes, feel free to add in “warts and all” - damagingly sacrificed on an altar of restless counter-agendas?

A vacuum may well have been left behind in the area of seasoned, world-wise leadership in the CSA passages.

With stiff challenges facing the organisation both in the immediate and longer term, the next few months and years ought to tell us more about the health or otherwise of life there after Lorgat ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

  

Read more on:    csa  |  proteas  |  haroon lorgat  |  cricket
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