Howard's bid for ICC vice president under threat

John Howard is discovering the controversy that often dogged him as Australian Prime Minister is undermining his potential future as head of the ICC.

updated: June 12, 2010 12:07 IST
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Dubai, United Arab Emirates:

John Howard is discovering the controversy that often dogged him as Australian Prime Minister is undermining his potential future as head of the International Cricket Council.

His bid to become the next vice president, which would give him an unopposed path to the ICC presidency in 2012, is running into opposition from Zimbabwe and South Africa over his past criticism of the Mugabe regime and from Sri Lanka, which opposes his nomination because he's has no experience in cricket administration.

Howard, who is being nominated jointly by Australia and New Zealand, needs seven out of 10 votes on the ICC executive board to win approval, with the already delayed ballot expected to be conducted at the annual conference in Singapore later this month.

"There has always been issues with John Howard's nomination right from the off," said Osman Samuddin, Pakistan editor for a leading cricket website. "Partly, his political background and the nature of his politics is working against him."

With the board divided, Howard's fate appears to be in the hands of India, which is expected to influence several other countries and thus far has refused to divulge which way it will vote.

India's Sharad Pawar, who is the current ICC vice president and is set to become president, last month reaffirmed his support for the process which endorsed selecting a president and vice president on a rotating basis of regions. Australia and New Zealand are first in the rotation. The process was agreed upon two years ago after the board briefly deadlocked over the nomination of Pawar and the current president David Morgan.

The unexpected controversy is just the latest example of how the cricketing landscape has changed in the past two decades.

It was not that long ago that Australia and England had the power to veto any ICC board decision. But as India has evolved as the sport's commercial base, its influence has expanded.

"The shift in power towards India is largely income based. When teams play India the television rights sell for a pretty substantial amount and so it makes sense to become friends with India," respected cricket analyst Harsha Bhogle said in an e-mail to the Associated Press. "I suspect too that there is more than one vote where India is concerned and in such a tiny club, even a couple of votes become critical."

In what should have been a formality, Howard was never an easy sell. A brusque conservative, he was Australian Prime Minister for 11 years before his coalition government was swept from power in 2007.

And while he has been a regular attendee at Test matches and describes himself as a "cricket tragic," he lacks experience as a cricket administrator.

His name should have been submitted in January but even Australia and New Zealand initially were divided over his selection.

Australia strongly supported Howard while New Zealand backed its former chairman and ICC representative Sir John Anderson.

The countries finally settled on Howard and the ICC executive board was supposed to rubber stamp the nomination in April _ but officials claimed travel disruptions due to the volcanic ash cloud in Europe made that impossible. Sources close to the ICC said it was delayed over the growing opposition on the board to Howard's nomination.

Zimbabwe, which in the past has labeled Howard racist and was angered at his successful efforts to keep it out of the Commonwealth, has spearheaded the opposition. They also accuse him of leading efforts to strip the country of its Test status in 2003.

"Now he wants our endorsement and we are not going to give him that," said one Zimbabwean cricket administrator, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a Zimbabwe Cricket board meeting later this month where its position on the Howard nomination will be made public.

"The Asian countries support us and have continued playing cricket with us when other cricket countries were refusing to play against us," the Zimbabwe official said. "We know they share the same sentiment with us over the refusal to support Howard's candidature."

South Africa is reportedly supporting Zimbabwe, though officials from Cricket South Africa refused to comment.

Pakistan and Sri Lankan officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said their boards were leaning against the nomination. But because of the implications on diplomatic relations, they are seeking advice from their respective governments.

"He has no experience running a sports body," Sri Lanka Cricket Chairman Somachandra de Silva said, adding that Australia's Jack Clarke or New Zealand's Alan Issac would be better choices.

Neither Cricket Australia nor Howard have commented publicly since the nomination became bogged down.

Former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed told The Australian newspaper last week that the opposition from Zimbabwe was hypocritical _ since it had long called for countries to separate the game of cricket from politics.

"Their position now, as I understand it, is that Howard's not qualified because he's a politician and he's criticized Zimbabwe, so they bring politics back into it when it suits them," Speed, a Melbourne-based lawyer and also former chief executive of the Australian cricket board, told the newspaper. "I think the behavior of Zimbabwe, and South Africa supporting them, has been outrageous."

ICC officials have said there is no process in place should Howard's nomination be rejected, though it is likely that Australia and New Zealand would be asked to submit another name. And if the two boards insist on sticking by Howard, the nomination process could face its biggest test yet.

"Whichever way it goes, it can't be great for cricket," Samuddin said. "For a game with so few serious members, such a split can be damaging and self-defeating."