THE MESS AT CRICKET SA
The organisation running the game in this country may have played itself into a losing position by dawdling over the price of the broadcast rights and having to settle for a lot less in the end
The final episode in Cricket SA’S (CSA) latest crisis played out at Sandton’s Maslow Hotel last Wednesday. Among those present were CSA board members, overseas franchise owners of the T20 Global League (SA’S first foray into international T20 cricket) and, serendipitously, Multichoice CEO Imtiaz Patel.
The purpose of the meeting, ostensibly, was to notify owners that CSA would be firing CEO Haroon Lorgat the following day, but that there was no cause for alarm — indeed, it was business as usual.
There was a sense of literary symmetry to the showdown, in part because it was Patel — not Lorgat — who had been the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) preferred candidate to take over from Malcolm Speed as its CEO in 2008.
At the time Patel wobbled, and finally rejected the offer as Multichoice moved heaven and earth to keep him. It paved the way for Lorgat to run the ICC — theoretically, the sport’s most powerful organisation.
Fast-forward to July 2014, and Lorgat’s ICC credentials persuaded the CSA board to hire him, after the ICC decided against renewing his contract. CSA’S board, full of Lorgat praise singers, brushed aside those urging caution.
The numbers were gerrymandered too. In the wake of the Gerald Majola bonus scandal, it was recommended that the newly constituted post-majola CSA board should have an even split of cricket people and independents.
But this was unacceptable to the SA Sports Confederation & Olympic Committee, which argued that “cricket needs to be administered by cricket people” — so the mooted sixsix board split was diluted to just four independents. An opportunity for a genuine governance overhaul was squandered.
The CSA board then hired an independent headhunter to find a new CEO. CSA’S acting CEO at the time, Jacques Faul, was asked to apply, and rugby supremo Jurie Roux was also mentioned. Lorgat was in the queue, but was by no means first choice.
Eventually, under the watchful eye of the board and the four independents — Dawn Mokhobo, Louis von Zeuner, Vusi Pikoli and Norman Arendse — Lorgat was levered in.
They argued he was a fine administrator who would bring the appropriate checks and balances to an organisation bleeding money. Inconvenient facts, such as his departure from the ICC, were swatted away.
Lorgat did bring his technocratic skills to CSA — the organisation was transformed and the board’s decision apparently vindicated.
Two years after he was hired, at CSA’S AGM in September 2015, Lorgat’s contract was extended by four years. After all, CSA was now on a firm financial footing and the freespending franchises had been reined in, even if Lorgat sometimes found himself in unseemly spats with journalists.
However, CSA’S transformation into a super-bureaucracy came at a cost. Staff complained about Lorgat’s arrogance. Some even hankered after Majola’s warmth and human touch. It was efficiency in a freezer.
“[Lorgat] was very good at managing upwards, at managing his board in other words. He ran a good meeting and was hugely impressive,” says a former CSA insider.
“His problem was that he didn’t manage downwards. His people skills were exceptionally poor.”
In 2016, Lorgat and the CSA inner sanctum began talking about a local T20 tournament to rival the Indian Premier League. This would make CSA financially independent of cricket’s power-broking bullies, India and England, revitalise a flat domestic product and, by offering top dollar, ensure local players pledged their allegiance to the Proteas.
But planning for the T20 Global hit early snags.
Lorgat was secretive about operational matters, marginalising CFO Naasei Appiah. The organisation shuttled through two consultancies before settling on Ortus Sport & Entertainment — an obscure outfit with no track record — to take the broadcast rights to market.
Suddenly the board began to have qualms about Lorgat’s intentions and his cavalier spending.
When the Financial Mail wrote about the headwinds in July, CSA president Chris Nenzani refused to respond to five straightforward questions. “CSA does not intend to respond to queries based on information sourced from faceless individuals,” he said.
Two months later, the hapless Nenzani was at the Maslow Hotel last Wednesday, explaining to T20 Global owners what he and other directors had failed to do. The next day, CSA cut ties with Lorgat.
It seems no accident that Patel, who might once have taken Lorgat’s ICC job, was there. And it is surely more than coincidence that CSA and Supersport, which had endured a frosty few weeks with Lorgat, are now talking about the local broadcast rights sale.
But the delays have meant the value of broadcasting rights has plummeted. CSA isn’t entirely happy, but at least Lorgat is gone. Supersport has effectively stared down CSA, and a broadcasting deal is imminent.
Had the board acted against Lorgat several months ago, it would probably have got a healthy price for the T20 Global’s international and local rights. Instead, it shilly-shallied, driving down the price.
Haroon Lorgat: Ultimately proved to be the wrong ’un