“I have no ulterior or dark motives – I just care deeply about Cricket.” – Norman Arendse

LONG READ:

On the 6th of December last year Norman Arendse wrote an open letter to the board of Cricket South Africa in which he implored them to step down. It was passionate and accurately reflected the mood of the nation’s supporters, sponsors and players.

In it he said that even their resignations would probably be too late: “I suspect the horse has bolted, and we are beyond the precipice, and into the abyss.” Now, Arendse is back on the newly constituted CSA board as an independent director having already served a full term as president and five years as the lead independent director. He will have to work with many of those he urged to resign. Will that be possible?

Despite clearly not being permitted any interference or influence in the appointment of the eight independent directors, the CSA Members Council comprising the 14 provincial presidents lodged a unanimous objection to the appointment of Arendse. Unanimous. The Members Council haven’t agreed on anything for years with the majority intent on scuppering the ratification of the new MOI and majority independent composition of the new board. Yet the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’ could agree that they didn’t want Arendse back in the boardroom.

“I don’t know why that would be,” Arendse said from his legal chambers in Cape Town at the start of a 90-minute conversation. The contents of his letter are an obvious start but a small, significant minority of the Members Council knew they were accurate so it doesn’t explain the unanimity. The mistrust and suspicion of Arendse goes a long way further back than that, before the great majority of the current MC were even in place. The full letter is included at the end of this article. It is a good read, for those with the time and inclination.

There were people who felt Arendse was a little too ‘ambitious’ in pushing for the CSA presidency and that, when he got the position in 2007, he extended and exceeded its boundaries of power. The most emotive amongst a number of controversies was his use of the presidential selection veto which was instituted by Krish Mackerdhuj years earlier as a way in which transformation could be accelerated. But it was viewed more like a nuclear deterrent than something to actually be used.

Arendse vetoed the selection of Jacques Kallis in the South African squad for the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 and then over-ruled the selection of Andre Nel for a tour of India in March 2008 replacing him with Charl Langeveldt. He said he wouldn’t even go to Newlands to watch Kallis bat. The comment was divisive, obviously, and insulting to one of the country’s greatest players but it was born out of his frustration at the glacial pace of transformation.  He was trying to say that people of colour needed their own role models. And in complete fairness, although Kallis later developed into a fine T20 batsman winning the IPL twice with the Kolkata Knight Riders, there was plenty of speculation in 2007 about his suitability for the 20-over game.

Langeveldt, of course, declined to accept his place in the touring party because of the manner of his selection and the always emotional Nel was reduced to tears by his omission. But it wasn’t just the two players who were shaken by Arendse’s interventions – it was all professional players.

Arendse describes his young self, modestly, as having been “a pretty useful cricketer.” As a dashing batsman and, later, a canny off-spinner, he became the youngest player to represent Western Province at the age of just 16 before concentrating on his legal career at UCT. But in the professional game, players play, selectors select and administrators administrate, it’s a golden rule of the game. Cricketers are insecure at the best of times but having their careers affected by men who are not supposed to ‘interfere’ created widespread resentment. I’m curious whether Arendse was aware of the hurt he caused and the pain felt by Langeveldt and Nel - and whether he regretted it now:

“I don't regret the reasons for the incidents, I just regret the lack of understanding of the need to have a diverse national team. Joubert Strydon was the convener of selectors and he said “I don't agree with your decision, but I understand why you have made it. Mickey Arthur was very unhappy. But I said ‘we must do what's right for South Africa’. There were differences of opinion, and they are regrettable, but we must do the right thing,” Arendse says. I’m still curious about the matter of personal empathy. Was there any? Is there any?

“I had to tell myself that I must be concerned with the image of South Africa. The population was clamouring for change. We had to look at the big picture. But I did feel for them personally, yes. Mohamed Ebrahim, the late president of Western Province, brought Langers to my home and we discussed it. I know that both players were upset. They're very different cricketers, very different bowlers, they both deserved to be in the squad. I don't know why we couldn't take 16 players, perhaps it was a cost thing. Ideally, I would have had both players in the squad,” Arendse says.

But back to the present. Arendse was amongst the 282 applications the Nominations Committee received from people interested in a place on the new CSA board. It sounds like a lot but an extremely reliable source confirms that the very vast majority were from ‘professional’ board-sitters whose primary interests were the kudos and pay-cheques rather than cricket. “There was an extreme shortage of cricket administration experience so it was inevitable that Norman would make the short-list and then the interview stage,” the source said.

“Actually, I was interviewed twice,” Arendse says. “It was a thorough and rigorous process. I was asked by (former Proteas Test bowler) David Terbrugge about my relations with the players and my views on their relationship with the board. I reminded the panel that I had always supported player involvement and representation on the board and experienced some discomfort from other directors because of ‘sensitive’ issues – in other words, money. But I said they could be recused during financial discussions,” Arendse said.

“Perhaps in future we should think more along the lines of the England Cricket Board, which has specified non cricket directors and specified cricket directors. Maybe we could move to a position where we have people like David Terbrugge, Adam Bacher, Andrew Hudson, JP Duminy, Hashim Amla, Robbie Peterson or Ashwell Prince serve at that level.

“I also reminded the panel how closely I had worked with Tony Irish when he was CEO of the Players Association and we co-operated on the MOU between CSA and SACA. Sure, we clashed on certain issues and saw things in different ways, but we were always able to resolve our differences and even if we could not agree on everything, we got the job done,” Arendse says.

It strikes me that there are certain things to understand about Arendse the Advocate and Arendse the man in order to further understand Arendse the cricket administrator. In court he is fierce and uncompromising, saying and doing whatever is necessary to win his case. He pushes the boundaries and, some say, occasionally breaks them. In 2004, while representing and defending the Zimbabwe Cricket Union against a charge of racism brought by 15 ‘rebel’ white players, he was accused of ‘manhandling’ his opposite number. Turns out he may have touched his adversary on the shoulder during a recess while settling an argument with him. He vigorously denies any wrongdoing.

“I have never been reported for misconduct or unethical behaviour,” Arendse says, understandably aggrieved. “I am also a past chairman of the General Council of the Bar (GCB), the regulatory body of all practising advocates in the country.”

Yet whatever wounds are inflicted and received in court, stay there. “I have a thick skin, you have to in my job,” he says. He and fellow independent director, Steven Budlender SC, have “enjoyed many battles in court” but Arendse sees that as a positive, an asset to both them and the board, rather than a problem. Although he fights hard and argues powerfully, Arendse insists he is a compromiser. Is it possible that some players and cricket administrators have been too quickly or easily cowed instead of standing up to him?

“The problem,” said one man who worked with him in the mid to late 2000s, “is that it becomes exhausting. After a while you know it’s just easier to agree with him otherwise it becomes an argument and there’s no way you can win an argument with him.” What Arendse may see as a constructive, ‘robust debate’ is a pugilistic, verbal punch-up to those without his arguing skills. “It’s intimidating and easier just to nod and agree,” says his former colleague.

“I’ve gone into thousands of sports meetings with strong ideas and often with an idea of the outcome I am expecting. But more often than not my views have been changed and the outcome is different because a range of ideas and different opinions are always better than a single viewpoint,” Arendse says.

Something else worth remembering is that, unlike the majority of the CSA board and Members Council which presided over the organisation’s shambolic plummet into dysfunctionality, Arendse has a record of sticking by his principles and even stepping down when appropriate – as he did from the CSA presidency in 2008 with two years of his term remaining. He suggested the abolition of the presidential selection veto which had caused so much angst although he lost none of his conviction that transformation should remain very high on CSA’s priority list.

Ironically, however, it was the breakdown in his relationship with CEO Gerald Majola that caused him to walk away. Ironic on three levels because Majola’s view on how it should have worked back then is pretty much exactly what has now been ratified by CSA’s new MOI and constitution. And ironic because Arendse opposed it in 2008 but is now in favour it. This is what he wrote in his resignation letter:

“The CEO is of the view that the president is merely a ceremonial head there to preside over meetings, and to attend matches, and functions.

“By contrast, I hold the view that the CEO is employed by the board, and is accountable to it. The president, in between meetings, stands in the shoes of the employer [the board], and the CEO is accountable to him. As a consequence of these sharply contrasting positions, the relationship between the CEO and I, has broken down irretrievably. Should we continue in this way, there is a real danger that cricket may be plunged into a crisis, and the game be brought into disrepute.” The third irony, given what transpired in the last three years, is contained in the last line.

Although Arendse believed, rightly, that the CEO should be held accountable to the board, he did believe – and made his views known – that there should be a majority of independent directors on the board.        

But back, again, to his reasons for writing the letter last year and for wanting get back involved in the face of such apparently strong objections.

“The public were disillusioned at what was happening to our beautiful game. The board was losing a grip because of malfeasance and poor governance. I asked myself what protocols, as a former president and independent board member, prevented me from writing it, and there were none.

“Before I wrote it I tried to speak to people on the board. Jack Madiseng, Oupa Nkagisang, Angelo Carolissen, Beresford Williams, Donovan May…I go back a long way with Beres, all the way to St. Augustine's Cricket Club, the club of the great Basil D’Oliveira. I wasn't pointing fingers at individuals, it wasn’t personal, I wasn’t naming names. But you realize when people start not taking your calls, that there was a serious problem. So I wrote the open letter,” Arendse says. “If we don't pull in the same direction we will fail. We all serve CSA PTY limited. We serve the players, the public, and now all the directors must pull in the same direction.”

The organisation’s dire financial situation and the reputational damage it has suffered bother him in equal measure: “We must stop the bleeding and the wasteful expenditure, especially on legal fees. I declined to get involved as a lawyer in the actions CSA took against Western province and Northwest when they asked me. I said would much sooner mediate for no fee than take money from CSA it could ill afford,” Arendse says.

What about the directors’ remuneration which has increased from the R96k per annum recommended by the Nicholson report in 2012 to over R400k in less than a decade?

“I was absolutely shocked when I read some of the numbers. And I expect the new board to address the issue of directors’ remuneration urgently. When I was the lead independent director between 2013 and 2018 I was paid an honorarium by the Remco of R143k, less tax, which at my (tax) rate left me with around R75k per year - and some complimentary tickets for the President's suite,” he says, smiling. “When I heard about the amount being paid to the directors, and their refusal or reluctance to step off the board, I realized that there was a problem. We cannot be in the situation where we have an organization in financial distress, and have such inappropriate payments being made,” Arendse says.

“We need to bring sponsors back to the game. The conflicts of interest that have bedevilled cricket and rightly concerned sponsors, have now finally been changed and we need to convince sponsors of that. And we need adequate and strong representation on the ICC board to bring the lucrative tours back here. Now that Kolpak is no longer an option, we have our best players back in South Africa and we need to pay them commensurately in order to keep them here,” Arendse says.

“The truth is, cricket countries take advantage of other people's problems. We used to represent the ‘small seven’ in our battle not to be marginalised by the ‘big three’, but we were a top three country on the field. We were always in the top three of the rankings in all the formats if we weren't number one, but we have lost that voice. Every country should be entitled to their slice of the ICC cake,” Arendse says.

Graeme Smith’s appointment as Director of Cricket is wholly endorsed by Arendse who says he recognises the importance of the credibility he brings to an organisation which is struggling for it internationally. “It is all well and good for Graeme to call (BCCI president) Saurav Ganguly and persuade him to organise a tour, but it’s no good if the BCCI ask: ‘why should we be involved with South Africa while they are in this situation – is it good for us?”

Current CSA president, Rihan Richards, appeared to lay the blame for the appointment of now disgraced CEO, Thabang Moroe, at Arendse’s feet because he was the lead independent directors, but: “It was a board decision not to advertise the position because they believed they had identified someone with the requisite skills in Moroe and they believed he could be mentored by Haroon Lorgat,” Arendse says.

“There were no problems during my tenure as lead independent and there was nothing in the Fundudzi (Forensic Financial) report to finger me for any wrongdoing or breach of fiduciary duties,” Arendse says. In truth, every member of the board and Members Council who had anything to do with Moroe’s appointment, actively or otherwise, should accept responsibility.

Arendse points to the increase in the number of Black African cricketers required to play at franchise level from two to three as one of the greatest successes of his term as Lead Independent Director between 2013 and 2018 and reminds me that he initiated discussions on the establishment of a batting academy to address the shortage of specialist Black African batsmen in the domestic game.

Arendse’s five years as LID were, financially, CSA’s most successful ever as the organisation built up financial reserves of over R800 million. Arendse served with considerable success on a number of important committees and developed constructive and constructive relationships with his fellow directors, notably fellow independent Paul Harris (“Who got rid of him? Not me!”). It is also worth noting, lest the impression is created that Arendse is a polarising figure without support, that he received considerable and diverse backing in his application to join the current board.

Arendse has had a highly successful career in the law and hopes, in time, to secure a seat on the bench as a Judge. He works hard and lived in a large house in one of Cape Town’s most affluent suburbs before downscaling to a more modest apartment five years ago. He certainly doesn’t need the money and, at the age of 63, might easily have chosen an ‘easier’ life without the shenanigans of sports administration. But he has not.

“I have no dark or ulterior motives, nothing suspicious other than a love and care for the game. We need to share in carrying the burden I can't afford to have personal differences. We can't afford to have personal differences. If there are any then those people should not be in cricket, we need to take the blinkers off. I'm happy to be back in the frame and part of the team,” Arendse says.

“We only need to look at what New Zealand has achieved on and off the field. They have one of the best administrations in the game, and a great development program. We can, and need to aspire to that.”

Whether the new CSA administration can work successfully with Arendse might well be a test of the portents for a brighter future. Many people will need to adjust and adapt to the manifestation of his passion for the game, but he, too, will need to accept some compromise and empathise with a different ‘manner’ as well as different views.

As he says, it has to work. It has to. There is too much at stake for it to fail.  

  NORMAN ARENDSE – OPEN LETTER to CSA BOARD,

December 6, 2020  

“It is painful to pen this letter‚" he said.

"However‚ there is just too much at stake to permit our great sport of cricket to fall any further. Silence would be much more painful. Therefore‚ I write this open letter of appeal to our cricket family members‚ the CSA board‚ the CSA members council and the paid CSA administrators to act before it is too late‚”

“I suspect‚ however‚ that the horse has bolted‚ and that we are beyond the precipice‚ and into the abyss.

“As a former CSA president‚ and until just over a year ago‚ the CSA lead independent director‚ I have the utmost respect for prescribed procedures and protocols to be followed when differences arise within the cricket family.’

“It appears‚ however‚ that for several reasons that have manifested publicly‚ the family differences cannot and will not be resolved through the prescribed route.

“What prompts me to say this is not sourced from any insider knowledge or some whistle-blower; they are sourced in CSA’s own public pronouncements and written media statements: the restructuring of our domestic competitions; the concentration of power in the hands of the CEO to make key appointments (approved by the CSA board); the failure to make key board committee appointments including the failure to appoint the independent lead director (after more than a year since the election of the board; the suspension of senior executive officials; the ongoing dispute with SACA; and the recent dispute with Western Province Cricket which ended in a humiliating loss to Cricket South Africa at arbitration.

“These issues are all well-documented and are public knowledge. The last straw must surely be the most recent banning by CSA of several highly respected cricket journalists who collectively have decades of experience in cricket. (Some of them I have disagreed with both privately and publicly‚ but it never entered my mind to suggest or propose that they are banned from the game).

“Their banning is unconstitutional‚ and unlawful‚ and must be deplored by all cricket-lovers.

“The future sustainability of cricket is also at grave risk given the public CSA pronouncement of a projected shortfall of hundreds of millions of Rands. It appears that the culling of franchise cricket as we know it is a direct response to CSA’s financial woes.

“I do not wish to be hypocritical or self-serving. As a veteran cricket administrator‚ I have learnt to accept constructive criticism (especially from well-meaning and experienced cricket journalists)‚ and from members of the public who know their cricket.

“Along the way‚ mistakes have been made. All of us in the cricket family thought that Nicholson would be the panacea for all our cricket ills. Indeed‚ my six years on a restructured CSA Board proved that this was the case – well‚ almost!

“This was a honeymoon period for cricket: we ranked among the best in the world in all formats of the game; we were highly respected at ICC level;

“Our transformation strategy appeared to be working with an exponential increase in the number of Black African players‚ in particular‚ representing the country at the highest level; and‚ the exponential increase of black African cricketers participating at franchise and provincial level; and financially we reached the billion Rand mark (even before our own National Soccer League did!).

“We had over R600 million in reserve. These reserves have now dwindled dramatically‚ and with the unsponsored Mzansi League‚ these reserves will likely be depleted shortly.

“Lastly‚ the utterances of CSA’s head of media and communications Thamie Mthembu rank with those of Saddam Hussein’s spokesman “Baghdad Bob” or better known as “Comical Ali”.

“The CEO’s recent interview has also not inspired any confidence that he is capable of arresting CSA’s decline‚ let alone turning around the organisation to put it on a more secure and sustainable footing.

“All of the above leads me to one very sad conclusion: the CSA board has simply abdicated its fiduciary responsibilities by failing to act with the due care‚ skill and diligence required of it by the Companies Act‚ and the CSA constitution. To the extent that the CSA members council are aware of the above mentioned shortcomings and failures of governance‚ they too must share responsibility‚ and be held accountable.

“I never‚ ever thought I would do something like this‚ but I have plucked up the courage to do so not only to appease my own conscience‚ but also in response to the many‚ many expressions of concern I have received from across the cricket family: past and present administrators‚ past and present cricketers of all colours‚ all persuasions‚ all communities and all religious groupings.

“I‚ therefore‚ call on the board and the members council to meet urgently to consider the matters raised in this letter‚ and to hold the CEO (and those who have been complicit) to account.

“I have shared the contents of this letter with Advocate Vusi Pikoli (former Independent Member of the CSA board‚ and past chairperson of the CSA social and ethics committee) who endorses the sentiments expressed in this letter.

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