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Cricket news - CSA chief Thabang Moroe suspended

Moroe has been in the middle of a complete mess in the running of the cricket board

Moroe has been in the middle of a complete mess in the running of the cricket board

Push came to shove for Cricket South Africa (CSA) on Friday (December 6) when the national men's team's title sponsor announced the imminent end of their involvement with the organisation. The decision has everything to do with the toxicity of being aligned to a game in deepening crisis, and that is likely to hamper cricket's ability to secure new backing.

But there is a glimmer of light at the end of cricket's darkening tunnel: controversial chief executive Thabang Moroe has been suspended. A letter from CSA to staff on Friday, which has been seen by Cricbuzz, said Moroe had been "put ... on precautionary suspension with pay, effective 06 December 2019, on allegations of misconduct, pending further investigations".

The decision came in the wake of "reports received by the social and ethics committee and the audit and risk committee of the board related to possible failure of controls in the organisation". While Moroe wasn't around, "a forensic audit of critical aspects of the business and the conduct of management related to such aspects shall be conducted by an independent forensic team". CSA president Chris Nenzani will meet with former International Cricket Council chief executive Dave Richardson with a view to appointing an acting CSA chief executive to serve during Moroe's absence. The names of Haroon Lorgat, CSA's chief executive until he fell foul of the current regime in September 2017, and Jacques Faul, who acted as chief executive during CSA's previous major scandal - over undeclared bonuses - in 2012 and 2013, are swirling. It is understood neither has been approached. Another mentioned in dispatches, Cricket Boland chief executive James Fortuin, shut the door on that theory: "I haven't been approached and I'm not interested." Might Richardson himself be the prime candidate?

The Moroe bombshell followed Standard Bank announcing that their relationship with the game, which started in 1998 and currently is worth USD 27.3-million over four years, will end when the existing contract expires on April 30 next year. "Standard Bank is committed to upholding the highest levels of leadership, integrity and governance," a release from the bank quoted Thulani Sibeko, their group chief marketing and communications officer, as saying. "In light of recent developments at CSA, which are a culmination of long-standing problems which have damaged Standard Bank's reputation, it has decided not to renew its partnership with CSA." The release stopped just short of lecturing CSA on their responsibility towards the game and its stakeholders: "Cricket is a national asset valued by millions of South Africans, many of them our clients, and is an integral part of the bank's heritage."

Months of unease over governance issues at CSA came to a head-on Sunday, when five senior journalists' accreditation was revoked. It was reinstated the same day, but the damaging episode prompted Standard Bank to demand a meeting with CSA on Monday. "In recognition of the widespread interest in and support for cricket, we value the right of South Africans and the broader cricket community to know about developments within CSA, especially those that relate to governance and conduct," Sibeko was quoted as saying in a release on Sunday.

Until their meeting with the bank, CSA had tried to claim the moral high ground, claiming the journalists had been reporting untruthfully and had refused to meet with them. CSA changed tack dramatically on Tuesday, with Moroe calling four of the five reporters - the fifth was unreachable - to personally apologise. A public apology followed. But that wasn't enough to stop the wheels from coming off, with three independent board members resigning this week and, on Thursday, eight provinces demanding Moroe and the entire board resign, that an interim structure be set up to run the game, and a forensic investigation conducted into cricket's ills.

The South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) echoed that call, and went further, in a damning release on Friday. "Extremely poor leadership, both at operational level and at board level, is what has got cricket into this disastrous position," Tony Irish, SACA's chief executive, was quoted as saying. "It is abundantly clear that there is no confidence, from any quarter amongst cricket stakeholders, in the CSA board. No-one on the board can say that he, or she, was unaware of what has been unfolding over at least the last year. It has all been happening, in many respects even publicly, under the board's very nose, and in some instances with board support."

SACA have estimated that CSA could lose USD 68.3 million by the end of the 2022 rights cycle, and have launched legal action over a CSA domestic restructure plan that might put 70 professional players out of work. "We have consistently flagged CSA's financial position as being an area of real concern," Irish was quoted as saying. "Everyone in cricket, including the players, is dependent on the ongoing health and financial sustainability of CSA. Accurate forecasts over a financial cycle are critical as one has to understand how big the financial problem actually is in order to find a solution to it. We have also just seen the resignation from the board of CSA of the chairman of its finance committee and its audit and risk committee [Mohamed Iqbal Khan] citing amongst other things financial irregularities relating to credit card use. [On Wednesday] more CSA employees were suspended, including the former acting chief financial officer [Ziyanda Nkuta]."

But the prospect of strike or protest action, while "not ruled out", was unlikely. "SACA re-iterates however that industrial action by the players should be viewed only as a very last resort," Irish was quoted as saying. "We also wish to reassure cricket fans, and other cricket stakeholders, that SACA will not embark on industrial action with the players during the upcoming England [Test] series [which starts in Centurion on December 26]. We are very aware of the importance of this series to the Proteas and to England, to the many fans from both countries and to the media and commercial partners."

As things stand South Africa do not have a permanently appointed coach nor selectors to pick the squad. "We know that the players will give 110% for South Africa on the field but it is critical that a proper professional structure is in place around the team," Irish was quoted as saying. "The way in which CSA has dealt with this to date, and the fact that nothing is in place, is totally unacceptable. It is ludicrous to expect players to be selected by unknown selectors."

Moroe's fate will be considered a positive development by cricket-minded South Africans, not least because it could clear the way for Graeme Smith to agree to become CSA's first director of cricket - a position Smith is thought to have rejected because of Moroe. But the bigger news is the withdrawal of a major sponsor from an industry that cannot afford to lose what support it has. With the number of suspensions now up to seven and more resignations likely, the coming weeks and months are likely to loom like storm clouds, laden with the thunder and lightning of bad news and with little in the way of silver linings. That won't help CSA attract sponsors, except at a bargain price. Cricket in South Africa is a long way from out of the woods.

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