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In cricket as in life... By Najam Sethi

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In cricket as in life...
By Najam Sethi

 

When I accepted responsibility for setting the Pakistan Cricket Board right, friends variously described it as “a crown of thorns” and “a pit of snakes”. Certainly, there’s no dearth of critics, especially when the cricket team is not living up to unrealistically high expectations.

Many are well-meaning and genuinely concerned because cricket nationalism runs in their blood. But there are also some notable ‘commentators and experts’ who are malicious for a variety of reasons. The problem is exacerbated by a general lack of knowledge of the facts on the ground that makes it difficult for me to address certain core issues.

The problem started with a court judgement that tied my hands and barred me from hiring, firing or taking strategic decisions. So I can’t choose a chief selector, coach, manager, or selection committee unless someone resigns of his own accord or his existing contract expires. I can’t even hold the elections to the post of chairman because the electoral college devised by the court doesn’t exist on the ground or in the PCB constitution and has been challenged by the government before a larger bench as a breach of executive authority and privilege.

Regardless, however, there are three petitions pending against me for contempt of court for even trying to run the PCB on a day-to-day basis! It’s a case of damned by the court if I do and damned by the critics if I don't.

These days there’s a new outcry. Some people have alleged ‘conflict of interest’ on my part for allowing Geo TV, for whom I have done a political analysis show over the last three years, to successfully bid for media rights to the Pakistan-Sri Lanka series starting next month in the UAE. I strongly deny any such conflict of interest.

First, I work for the PCB in an ‘honorary’ capacity and am not paid a penny for my work; nor have I received any extra benefits from GEO since becoming PCB chairman. In other words, I have not personally stood to gain anything from my role as a TV anchor for GEO and as PCB chairman. So no conflict of interest is involved.

Second, the PCB constitution lays down that where any “potential” conflict of interest may arise, the concerned person in the PCB must declare it transparently and also stay at arm’s length in any such transaction. This is exactly what I did in the matter of bidding for media rights: I retained the same bid committee that previously oversaw such issues but strengthened it by the addition of a respected retired high court judge as well as a member of the BoG appointed by a previous chairman. Indeed, the lead-consultant of the bid committee is none other than Mr Ehsan Mani, a highly respected ex-ICC President and current trustee of the board of governors and head of the audit committee of Imran Khan’s Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital. How much more transparent and upfront can anyone be?

Third, the PCB had no choice but to grant the rights to Geo because it was the sole bidder for the Sri Lanka series. PTV and Ten Sports did not bid. Under the circumstances, it is remarkable that the bid committee was able to negotiate a higher price from Geo than the last time for a similar series. The sad thing is that, instead of lauding the PCB for a good job, I am being dragged over the coals.

Much the same logic applies to Misbahul Haq’s interview on Aapas ki Baat with Muneeb Farooq and me last week. There’s no conflict of interest for two main reasons. First, my purpose as PCB chairman was to enable Misbah to answer his critics in a friendly rather than hostile environment. It was to protect his integrity and strengthen him in his role as captain. It was done with his concurrence and he acquitted himself well because he had logic and facts to back up his assertions against hard questions. Surely, it should occur to critics that I would hardly put Misbah on the mat after publicly announcing my desire to see him lead Pakistan through to the World Cup in 2015.

Second, there was no gain for Geo or for me personally from the interview. Geo is by far the top-rated channel in the country and doesn’t need any props for popularity. Nor has Aapas Ki Baat ever suffered ratings from dispensing with guest(s) on the programme. I sincerely believe I acted in the public’s interest, in Misbah’s interest and in the PCB’s interest. Indeed, if a similar situation arose again I would not hesitate to act similarly to defend the cricket team.

Regardless of the facts and logic, however, some people will not be persuaded otherwise. Media negativity sells. Homework is tiresome. I am squeezed between media rivalries because of my association with Geo. Clearly, too, a section of the media doesn’t appreciate my decision to abolish the PCB’s annual Rs1 crore budget for media perks. But I don’t mind some criticism because I know that if I want to make an omelette I shall have to break an egg or two and risk controversy. This is inherent in any situation that cries out for reform or change. Vested interests and prejudices are bound to resist.

It is also true that many false and malicious stories and rumours about my role and acts originate from within the bowels of the PCB because I have said time and again that over 950 people work for the PCB when it doesn’t require more than half as many to do a good job and that if and when I have full powers I shall carry the axe to the freeloaders and sifarshis packed in the ranks by previous chairmen.

For the record, it may be noted that serious audit inquiries are also pending in the PCB against the misdeeds of some past chairmen and I don’t expect them to stop attacking me as long as the inquiries continue on my watch.

I have refrained from meeting ex-cricket captains and stars outside the PCB because they are constantly squabbling and undermining fellow cricketers and the national team, and I don’t want to be seen to be taking sides. Indeed, there are as many ‘expert opinions’ and prejudices and pet peeves and hates on every aspect of the game and selection criteria as there are cricket followers, players and lovers. Worse, Pakistani cricketers never retire. Those who once worked for PCB want to get back in and those who haven’t got a slice of the action so far want one now. I am at the receiving end because I refuse to succumb to their pressures and demands.

I am hoping that court matters can be resolved satisfactorily once and for all next month so that I can act with both freedom and responsibility. The PCB needs a modern constitution that makes for efficient management and democratic representation. It needs a new domestic cricket structure in tune with modern realities and best practices. It needs financial and organisational expertise.

I have helped draft some of these requirements for debate and discussion with experts in each field when the time is ripe. And I have no doubt that, given half a decent chance, we can together accomplish all this and much more relatively quickly, regardless of how many eggs we have to break to make some sorely needed omelettes.

The writer is chairman of the PCB’s Interim Management Committee and co-host of the Geo TV show, Aapas Ki Baat. He served as a consensus interim chief minister of Punjab from March to May 2013.

Email: [email protected]

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