Pride, Prejudice & Power at the ICC: John Howard knocked back

Michael Roberts, 14 July 2010, courtesy of An abbreviated version appeared in in ABC Unleashed under a different title of their choice. See It attracted 162 comments from bloggers in three days — mostly Aussies as I surmise. Well worth taking their views into reckoning.

John Howard ct. Africa b. Asia for nought…………………………… reads the scorecard in the command rooms of the ICC this week. What we have seen is the force of power, prejudice and pride marshalled by nationalist sentiment. Let me commence in elliptical fashion by quoting from Shakespeare’s King John (Act 2. Scene 1.612):

 Well, whiles I am a beggar, I will rail

And say there is no sin but to be rich;

And being rich, my virtue then shall be

To say there is no vice but beggary.

 Then, I ask you to substitute “power, pride, prejudice” and “nationalist sentiment” for riches, beggary and vice. There, then, you will see the motivational-mix directing the plays within and around the ICC as well as the media responses in Australia.

John Howard in Photo by Desmond Kwand courtesy of AFP

    I can afford to smile wisely on this issue. In November 2008 I organised a Public Forum on “Pride, Prejudice, Power and Race in Cricket.” As keynote speakers, Boria Majumdar, Gideon Haigh and Huw Richards expanded my knowledge about cricketing politics at high levels. I still remain profoundly ignorant about the machinations in ICC circles. So my analysis below is surmise, albeit conjecture proceeding on a priori principles and expertise in the sociology of politics.

 Arguments in Surmise

Cocooned in the cumulus clouds of their own universe, Cricket Australia’s power brokers made a fatal misjudgement. When John Howard, seeking another sphere of limelight and power, actively canvassed for the position representing Antipodean cricket at the ICC, Cricket Australia thought he would be just the figure to clip the wings of the contemporary cricket world’s superpower, namely, India.

    So they snubbed and insulted New Zealand by ditching their experienced cricket administrator, Sir John Anderson, who was already pencilled in for the job; [and, significantly, on that occasion Peter Roebuck was quite adamant that Anderson was better qualified than Howard for this type of job[1]]. This act of treachery caused considerable heartburn in Kiwiland. But once they succumbed to the regional voting system, they were irrevocably hitched to the Australian wagon and now they are doubly punished.

     The Australian power-play was misguided. If Anderson had been their candidate, he would have walked into the job of Vice-President and eventually become President according to the conventions prevailing. The protocols have been disregarded now in a measured move because John Howard was, and is, a tainted figure in many eyes, notably in many Indian eyes. It is Indian opinion that swings the balance not that of Zimbabwe, so Howard and his Australian supporters are simply fooling themselves if they try to claim the moral high ground by emphasising that his public criticism of Mugabe was a major factor in his rejection.

   The black marks – um! eh, oh, rather an awkward metaphor in this context — against Howard stem from his record as Prime Minister. Asian observers had recorded his distaste for increases in Asian immigration into Australia and the manner in which he stole Pauline Hanson’s racist garments as one move in a process which ensured that the Liberal Party would be re-elected.

    He further tainted his image in cricket circles by sticking his oar into the Muralitharan controversy in 2004 and calling the renowned bowler a “chucker.” This was a populist move designed to garner votes, but there is little doubt that he himself was a true blue Aussie with all the prejudices of those cricket fans who were self-righteous in their efforts to cleanse the game of those heinous demons, the “chuckers.”

    This campaign had commenced in full measure in late 1995 when Murali was no-balled by Darrel Hair. Evidence from Australian circles indicates that it was a pre-determined conspiratorial move that involved key figures in the Australian cricket camp.[2] Likewise, there is enough reason to suspect that several members of the Australian umpiring fraternity were behind Emerson’s no-balling of Muralitharan at Adelaide in January 1998.[3]

    What the Asian world observed in the period 1995-2004, therefore, was an Australian witch-hunt directed against Muralitharan in circumstances where Australia was kingpin in the cricket world. This persistent chase was the vanguard of a broader campaign against “chuckers.” Most chuckers were deemed to be spin-bowlers from Asia. One suspect was young Harbhajan Singh. The Australian cricket coach, Bob Simpson, went so far as to have Harbhajan secretly video-taped as raw-material for his “prosecution” of this claim.

    Indian and Asian memory is elephantine. Indian cricket-followers were only too aware of this history of Australian prejudice with its own particular hues of imperial arrogance and racism. Howard’s remarks on Muralitharan’s bowling action placed him squarely within those earmarked in their books as the “circle of the prejudiced.”

     In discounting this background by their adoption of Howard as their nominee, Australia’s cricketing power-mongers made a fatal error. In responding now, in July 2010, to Howard’s rejection with expressions of moral disapproval and a reading of the ICC board’s action as a form of racist prejudice, Australians do not seem to have comprehended that these strands of xenophobia and prejudice in Asia-Africa have arisen because of a recent history of prejudice and bullying from the Australian side, not just 300 years of White colonialism (though that informs the scene as well).

    These expressions of Asian and African nationalism, moreover, have been more than matched by the national sentiments driving Aussie reactions. The terms that loom large in the reportage are “a calculated insult” and “a snub.” This terminology is the stuff of patriotism, an indication of pride pricked. It is a “snub’ because Howard had been Prime Minister of Australia and, as such, a totem for the collective people as institutionalised nation. Would a rejection of a Malcolm Gray or a Malcolm Speed have been interpreted in quite the same manner as “insulting”?  Perhaps …. but surely not with the same degree of consternation.

    Thus, national sentiments are at loggerheads on this issue, carrying with them several complex strands of prejudice. In my surmise, however, Miss PREJUDICE has been second fiddle behind Mr POWER-PLAY in the wheeling and dealing that went on within ICC corridors. As I write John Clark, Chairman of Cricket Australia, has confirmed that they wanted to “counter-balance” Indian power: “I think it is important for cricket to do some serious soul-searching and for the administration to draw a line somewhere about how one board can effectively have so much strength to be able to run the entire game. There needs to be a counter-balance.”[4]    

     What occurred then was an Australian power-play with John Howard cast as centre-forward and playmaker. This nation-state move has been checkmated by another power-ploy marshalled by nation India backed by other nations black and brown.

     For commentators in Australia to cry “foul” is to forget the motes in their own eyes and their own blemished histories. For them to take a moral stance and demand verbal clarification of the reasons why Howard was rejected is as naïve as imbecile. Power-plays are not moral tales.

    Having begun this essay with a cricketing trope, let me switch to a soccer metaphor as my concluding note. What we have witnessed recently within the ICC corridors is a soccer match without a referee where centre-forward Oz has been shoulder-charged by centre-back Asia just as the other back Africa hacked his ankles. This occurred after several years in which Oz and his mates bestrode the field and indulged in a series of fouls and the occasional head-butt. Power of this type is a transparent act. Further elaboration is redundant.

[1] See “ICC Candidate should be Sir John Anderson,” antipodean-icc-candidate-should-be-sir-john-anderson/

 [2] Owen Mottau, a Prahran stalwart, told me he is ready to give evidence that Graeme Halbisch, also from Prahran and then CEO of the Australian Board of Cricket, told him before the Second Test at the MCG that something was going to happen. Tim Lane on radio intimated the same type of information. Also see Michael Roberts & Alfred James. Crosscurrents. Sri Lanka and Australia at Cricket, Sydney, Walla Walla Press, pp. 112-25.

 [3] See Roberts, Essaying cricket. Sri Lanka and beyond,  Colombo; Vijitha Yapa Publications, 2006, for two photographs re this incident.

[4] See Osman Samiuddin, “Howard lost his support in a week,”, 1 July 2010.

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