CSA Board Brings Up A Ton – How Have They Fared?

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CSA Board Brings Up A Ton – How Have They Fared?Has the new board delivered on its promise?

Cricket in South Africa was saved from itself on June 22 this year, when a majority independent board took control of CSA for the first time. That ended almost 30 years of corrupting cronyism enabled by powerful administrators being left to police themselves. Hopes were raised that the new suits would at least try to do right by a game that had become chronically dysfunctional under the flawed former governance model.

A release to celebrate the moment said: “The board agreed to focus their first 100 days in office on bringing stability to the organisation and embarking on an engagement programme to gain input from stakeholders as it seeks to align everyone towards a shared vision for the future.” Thursday is the 100th of those days. Has the board delivered on their promise?

“The answer is complex,” was how Andrew Breetzke, the chief executive of the South African Cricketers' Association (SACA) – thus the voice of the players – began his reply. Too complex for other major stakeholders to tackle, it seems.

Government helped broker cricket's brighter dawn by pressuring the previous board – an ill-equipped clutch of, mostly, small-minded people with big ideas centered on themselves – to resign. And by allowing CSA to ignore the objections of its reform efforts that came from the even more rapacious fat cats in the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, which has authority over federations. What did sports minister Nathi Mthethwa think of the board's first 100 days? Comment was requested, more than once, from his office. No response was received.

What of the fans? Ask two cricketminded South Africans for their views and you will likely get three divergent opinions. Instead, Cricbuzz asked the Gwijo Squad, the all-singing, all-dancing supporters' group who have brought traditional Xhosa and struggle songs to the country's cricket grounds and rugby stadiums in rousing fashion since Siya Kolisi – South Africa's only black rugby captain – led the Springboks for the first time in June 2018.

The Squad's chair, Chulumanco Macingwane, said he had consulted within the organisation, “and it was agreed that it's probably not our place to be opining in any way about the administration of any sports federation. Though individuals may have their own views on the CSA board's performance, we can't present those as representatives of the collective.” Fair enough. Fans are interested in the game itself, not in the dreary doings of administrators. So back to the players.

“The board has succeeded in bringing about some stability in the game, I give them that,” Breetzke said. “The board committees are all now functional; they hadn't been for 12 months [previously], which was very worrying.

“For the first time in three years I can say that the board have done good work in getting the organisation moving forward and doing the right work, asking the right questions, and trying to find the right solutions.

“They have engaged with us fully on these issues, and it's wonderful to sit in a meeting and give your input and have debates and discussions. There's a positive vibe that is very important, and I have to give the board credit that that has happened.”

Considering SACA had a septic relationship with the old order – they had to drag CSA to court for the players to be paid some of what they were owed from the 2018 Mzansi Super League, for instance – Breetzke's words rang with the promise of progress.

But there is a ghost in the freshly oiled machine. It haunts cricket with truth as well as untruth and has produced, along with invaluable insights into the experiences of those hurt and wronged by cricket's troubled past, evidence that the game's capture by nefarious figures has not been undone. The ghost has a name: the Social Justice and Nation-Building (SJN) project.

A source with close knowledge of the SJN said: “There could have been a different process that could have been very useful for our game – around transformation and why it isn't working. But how much of the testimony was actually part of carrying on the game's internal faction fight and people taking positions, and how much was about dealing with real issues of hardcore racism and transformation that we need to deal with in cricket? I'd say less than 50%.” The fact the source didn't feel comfortable putting their name to such constructive criticism is an alarm to all who hope the SJN directs cricket onto a more honest footing with all who are part of it.

The hearings, which started on July 5, have dominated cricket's headlines, drowning out the success of the national men's team in Ireland and Sri Lanka, and the women's side in the Caribbean. Who's to say that shouldn't happen? Eradicating racism has to be more important than winning matches. But it has to be done with integrity, and not in accordance with a spiteful agenda that undermines those who come to the SJN with legitimate grievances. The convicted fixers who have tried to hijack the hearings with their self-serving conspiracy theories are cases in point.

The board inherited the SJN from their predecessors, and would be forgiven for feeling ambushed by what has transpired. That chairperson Lawson Naidoo said, on July 5, that CSA would not comment while the hearings were ongoing in order to “protect the independence, autonomy and integrity of this process” has not stopped recklessly premature demands for the board to take decisive action against some of those implicated. Many of these calls seem to have been triggered by pre-existing prejudice, which will detract from reasons to take them seriously.

Some have already switched off. “There's so much noise around so many issues at the SJN that a lot of people are distancing themselves from the game,” a source said. “It's not that they're no longer supporters, but they're not engaging with cricket.”

The SJN hearings are set to resume on October 18, this time with testimony from those accused of wrongdoing. Five days later South Africa will play their first game in the men's T20 WC. Against Australia, no less. This doesn't get easier, and it shouldn't: there's too much at stake to look away now.

A hundred days from Thursday is January 8 next year. By then, we'll know who won the T20 WC and, Covid-19 permitting, we'll be able to ponder what happened in South Africa's home Test series against India. But we won't have rid cricket of racism, nor of cynical bandwagon jumpers. Sadly, that will take many more days.

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