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
“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
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
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
“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 ...
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on Twitter: @RobHouwing