Sticks and Stones, and a new Tournament…
By the middle of 2019 Thabang Moroe had already made over half a dozen trips to India to woo the BCCI into cooperating with and perhaps even supporting a South African domestic T20 League. At first Cricket South Africa’s Chief Executive believed he was making progress – because that’s what his hosts wanted him to believe.
Eventually the penny dropped. He and his entourage were completely without influence and ‘presence’. All promises of an ‘alliance’ were superficial and usually made by underlings. Nothing was happening. Moroe and his cohorts might have been invited to attend the IPL final as guests of the BCCI, but they were making no progress. And they had to pay for their own flights and accommodation. Or at least, CSA did.
So Moroe swallowed his considerable pride and set out to secure the most influential man in SA cricket, Graeme Smith. In his recently concluded Arbitration Hearing in which he was cleared of three claims of racist conduct, Smith outlined in graphic detail all of Moroe’s attempts to hire him as CSA’s Director of Cricket. “The whole board is supportive of my choice being you” and “This position is for you, Chief!”
Eventually, despite waiting months for a contract, commercial terms or a job description, and setting aside a host of understandable reservations, Smith accepted the job because South African cricket was in a state of deep crisis, on and off the field. For two and a half years he worked long hours trying to get things back on track, reporting to three different interim CEO’s and without a Chief Commercial Officer. Mostly he did that job, too.
Several Moroe appointees worked almost as tirelessly to undermine him throughout his tenure. They leaked a ‘surprise’ increase in his salary which was, in fact, straightforward and above board. Smith’s initial contract had been negotiated with an IPL ‘window’ for him to commentate and supplement his income, thereby saving CSA half a million rand. When it became obvious he could not leave his position for six weeks, the extra remuneration was added. As had been agreed.
Whatever the view on the fierce nature of CSA Advocate, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi's approach in the hearing, and that he was found to have attempted to ‘trap’ Smith by changing his line of argument mid-hearing, it was only fair and right that the SJN Ombud’s ‘tentative’ findings against the former captain should be tested and investigated. The allegations, albeit always questionable, needed to be properly examined before independent legal minds of the highest order. They were so examined and he was emphatically cleared of all charges.
What is curious, however, is the lack of accountability for those who made the defamatory and brazen claims against him in the first place.
Former Lions and Cobras batter, and former president of the SA Cricketers Association, Omphile Ramela, removed by the CSA Interim Board in December 2020 for being “obstructive”, claimed publicly during his evidence before the SJN that Smith “must be hunted out of the building with immediate effect in handcuffs”, that he was party to “corruption” and was “incompetent”. In a Tweet published in July 2021 (since deleted), he went as far as calling Smith’s remuneration “fraudulent”.
Former CSA Board director, Dr Eugenia Kula-Ameyaw strongly insinuated before the SJN that Smith’s initial reticence to work under Thabang Moroe was based on racial grounds. Even though he said at the time that he would prefer to be answerable directly to the majority black Board, headed by Chris Nenzani.
Thami Tsolekile said under oath in an affidavit before the SJN that “In 2013, I heard Graeme say “if Tsolekile plays, I will retire" only to eventually concede much later (again under oath) that he never heard Smith say those words and was not sure who made the alleged statement. Not before the alleged statement was published far and wide in various media, as if fact.
Smith was not alone in being the subject of wild accusations. Tsolekile also claimed, under oath, that CSA-appointed match fixing investigators, Louis Cole and David Becker, deliberately targeted black people in their investigation. That claim, too, was found to be baseless by the Ombudsman.
And what of the Ombudsman himself, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC? He must have known that making ‘tentative findings’ of racism against Smith would be hugely damaging, even if ultimately found to be baseless. He made them nonetheless in the knowledge that they would be seized upon, published and republished ad infinitum.
At least two people in the cricketing fraternity were found in the Ombudsman’s report to have engaged in acts of racial discrimination because they did not submit statements to, or appear at, the SJN to counter allegations against them. Remarkably, neither of them was even notified of the allegations against them. This despite repeated assurances publicly – and in the SJN terms of reference - by the Ombudsman that all “alleged perpetrators” would be notified of claims against them and be provided with an opportunity to respond.
Both individuals have had successful careers within the sport and the claims against them are deeply injurious. Will the Ombudsman and his team be held responsible for this oversight? What recourse do these individuals have? None. A lack of accountability is a ‘culture’ in South African cricket and it has been around for decades.
Remember the Fundudzi Report, the forensic audit which exposed (some of) the financial irregularities at CSA and which was so damning about Moroe’s mismanagement and incompetence? Has Moroe ever been held accountable? Of course not. The entire organisation started crumbling under the presidency of Nenzani who oversaw the appointment of Moroe, and what did he do? Resigned, walked away and closed the door behind him, never to be seen or heard of again.
I was an active supporter of the new, majority-independent Board of Directors at CSA. I’m still in favour of the concept but they need to do a lot more to satisfy cricket’s stakeholders that they are in fact committed to acting in the best, long-term interests of the game. There is still no Chief Commercial Officer, CSA’s financial position is increasingly precarious and we still have the Mark Boucher hearing to ‘look forward to’ next month.
But we do have a new T20 League. It is instructive that it is a SuperSport initiative and that they are shareholders in the venture alongside CSA. That, at least, gives us hope. Greater accountability will be expected and required. Smith, meanwhile, is in India to commentate on the second half of the IPL. Even in quarantine, he was contacting some of the best international players to persuade them to choose South Africa over Australia’s Big Bash which will clash with the new tournament in January.