Sat, Dec 06, 2008 - Page 18 News List

Former ICC chief Speed rejects Asian bloc speculation

AP , SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA

Malcolm Speed has rejected suggestions that a powerful Asian bloc is splintering cricket, despite speculation that the Indian-led alliance contributed to him losing the game’s top administrative position.

Speed, in his first public comments regarding his premature exit as International Cricket Council (ICC) chief executive in April, said the old guard and the vanguard of the game had much more common ground than was widely perceived.

“There is a lot of speculation about the ‘Asian bloc’ in cricket,” Speed said in an interview in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “This occurs rarely. In the past few years, Australia has been more likely to vote with India than some of the Asian countries ... Australia has been a very close ally of India in major strategic decisions — perhaps its closest ally.”

India is undoubtedly the financial epicenter of the sport, contributing an estimated 70 percent of revenue. It has voted in a bloc with neighboring Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh on certain issues, causing a shifting of power away from England and Australia, traditionally the leading stakeholders.

Even with that clout, the four Asian members need at least one other ally among the 10 full members of the ICC to have the power of veto in decision making — which is often Zimbabwe.

India led support for the troubled African nation to retain full membership of the ICC despite being suspended from Test cricket. It was a lack of sanctions against Zimbabwe that cost Speed — regularly the subject of protests from disgruntled cricket fans in India — his job.

Speed admitted he was forced to take paid leave for the last two months of his contract after “an angry and bitter exchange” with ICC president Ray Mali over the handling of Zimbabwe.

Speed told the Herald he had “vigorously opposed” the ICC’s decision not to take any action on the irregularities in Zimbabwe Cricket’s (ZC) finances that were revealed in a forensic report from a leading international accounting firm.

“The ICC board resolved to take no further action on the basis that the KPMG report did not prove that any individual within ZC had profited,” Speed said.

He said despite knowing it meant almost certain dismissal, he chose not to attend a news conference to announce the ICC’s decision on Zimbabwe. Six weeks later, he said, he was ordered to go on “gardening leave” after an informal gathering of ICC directors in Bangalore, India.

Speed, who was also the former chief of Australia’s cricket board, said despite the heavy politicking and the many difficulties in running a diverse, global game, no one country had more pull than any other.

“India’s vote has the same value as Australia’s and the other full member countries,” he said. “If there is concern about irresponsible use of power, there are processes in place to deal with this and the other countries should take firm positions and make them clear.”

He did say it was important for the game, though, for India to show leadership.

“Cricket’s unique selling point is the passion for cricket by Indians — cricket is the most popular sport by a factor of about 30 in the second-most populous country in the world,” he said. “This should be seen as a major positive. The game needs to find ways to use that unique selling point. There is too much fear of an Indian takeover and the power of the Indian administrators.”

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