Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Cricket SA (CSA) is plunging into a crisis that threatens to eclipse the 2009 Indian Premier League (IPL) bonus-scandal in depth and magnitude.

The cause of the crisis is the T20 Global League, CSA’s first foray into an international T20 tournament. It is designed to rival the IPL and Australia’s lucrative Big Bash.

It’s a tale of intrigue which speaks to the battle to grab a slice of what little money there is in SA sport, as well as the lack of transparency in our sporting codes.

It came to a head two weeks ago, at a heated CSA board meeting.

Board members accused CEO Haroon Lorgat of secrecy, high-handedness, profligate spending on first-class travel and lack of transparency in relation to the hyped tournament — the first edition of which is due to run for six weeks from November.

It’s an ominous start for a tournament meant to be a money-spinner.

T20 Global League shows up lack of transparency, battle for money coming into SA sport

In June, the new league had a jamboree opening at London’s upmarket Bulgari hotel in Knightsbridge to reveal the new owners of the eight teams — which include Indian, Pakistani and Dubai-based businessmen.

But contrary to what was said, not all of the eight contracts have been signed, and not all the deposits have been lodged.

All the Proteas will be available for one of eight local T20 Global franchises. However, international scheduling suggests the Proteas won’t be available for all future editions of the tournament — a fact not widely known by the new team owners.

It’s left a sour taste in the mouths of local franchise executives, whose eight stadiums provide the tournament venues. They remain distinctly uneasy about the lack of transparency, the opaque business model, as well as widespread conflict of interest.

Says one: "If there’s nothing to hide, why all this cloak and dagger stuff? I don’t know anything about my majority shareholder, who they are or where the money is coming from. My questions don’t get answered adequately. Most of us smell a rat."

There is particular concern with the franchises based in Durban, Centurion and Port Elizabeth. This week, a fourth franchise owner, the JSE-listed Brimstone, announced as the owner of the Stellenbosch/Paarl franchise, quietly walked away.

This means there are now no local owners — fuelling fears that this appears to be a tournament designed for the enrichment of a global cricket and business elite of which Lorgat, as former CEO of the Dubai-based International Cricket Council (ICC), is part.

At that board meeting two weeks ago, the faction opposing Lorgat asked him to resign. Three days later, a hastily arranged board teleconference led to a truce between Lorgat and those directors. Lorgat, sources say, said he needed time to consider his options.

Haroon Lorgat: Facing opposition. Picture: MARK WESSELS
Haroon Lorgat: Facing opposition. Picture: MARK WESSELS

It underscores the toxic atmosphere at CSA. Chief financial officer Naasei Appiah and Lorgat have such a strained relationship they don’t talk. Appiah has been cut out of much of the financial nuts and bolts of the T20 Global League. It is understood he has filed grievance procedures against his boss.

Labour lawyer Charles Nupen has been asked to mediate, but insiders say Lorgat isn’t co-operating with him.

When approached, Appiah refused to discuss the dispute, citing CSA media protocol. However, sources said Lorgat has instituted lie-detector tests for senior staff members in the wake of the troubled working relationship with Appiah.

It all suggests morale is at rock bottom, even as CSA is moving into opulent new headquarters on Glenhove Avenue in Johannesburg from September 1. Yet pay increases have been frozen and there has been recent talk of industrial action.

The atmosphere of paranoia doesn’t stop at CSA’s doors. Local franchise chief owners are being forced to sign nondisclosure agreements about the T20 Global League, which effectively amount to gagging orders.

When approached, CSA refused to comment. "CSA does not intend to respond to queries based on information sourced from faceless individuals. If and when CSA has legitimate information to communicate to the public, we will do so through normal means and channels."

At its core, the crisis is about CSA’s sale of the T20 Global League’s broadcast rights and the money it’s likely to make. Ordinarily, these rights would have been taken to market on behalf of CSA by the International Management Group (IMG), but in late 2015 CSA opened preliminary talks with Lagardère, a rival company.

There was nothing wrong with IMG being sidelined. It remains CSA’s agent in all other respects, though industry observers say IMG took the IPL broadcast rights to market and is well-acquainted with rights evaluation, sales and back-end logistics.

Lagardère, however, is well-respected in the global rights space, having been instrumental in selling the Africa Cup of Nations rights, for example. But talks with Lagardère hit a snag when Venu Nair, an employee, resigned in February and took the T20 Global League’s rights with him. Nair’s company, Ortus Sport & Entertainment, registered only in April, is now the sole agent for CSA’s T20 Global League’s broadcast rights.

A London-based broadcast source, in a discussion with the
Financial Mail, described the relationship between CSA and Ortus as "contrived". Another believes IMG and Lagardère would be within their rights to seek compensation.

"There would also be a restraint of trade dimension to Nair’s Lagardère contract. So one wonders exactly [where] he would be allowed to sell and where he would simply be allowed to counsel and offer advice,"
he said.

[T20 is] where the game is going internationally, it’s what the players want to play in and it’s what the fans want to see.
The issue is in getting the details right
Tony Irish

TV rights for digital and free-to-air broadcasting have exploded in value in recent years. While CSA hasn’t publicly put a value on its T20 Global rights, it probably runs into hundreds of millions of rand.

The IPL’s broadcast rights for the 10-year cycle just ended are worth $1.63bn but are expected to rise to something approaching $3bn for the next round of negotiations.

The England Cricket Board, which is launching its own 20-over tournament to rival the IPL in 2020, is expected to net in excess of a billion pounds.

Tony Irish, head of the professional cricket union, the SA Players Association, says T20 is the way to go.

"It’s where the game is going internationally, it’s what the players want to play in and it’s what the fans want to see. The issue is in getting the details right," he says.

This past weekend, the franchise owners met in Dubai, and the next significant event is the T20 Global League draft on August 19, to pick the players. While drafts are usually made for TV, Nair has not yet sold the rights so there is no immediate prospect of it being broadcast on, say, SuperSport.

There will be 15 draft rounds. Players picked in the first half of the draft will get two-year contracts, while those picked in rounds 8-15 will be contracted for a single season. Each franchise will have a roster of 17 players, with two players (a local marquee player and an overseas marquee player such as Kevin Pietersen or Chris Gayle) already having been named.

While Irish sees this as revolutionary for the local game, others believe the logistical know-how and staffing requirements of such a high-intensity tournament is beyond CSA’s capabilities unless it seeks outside help.

Already, a dispute is looming between CSA and SuperSport, which broadcasts cricket in SA. SuperSport believes its current broadcast rights agreement will cover the new tournament but CSA disagrees.

This means SuperSport is unlikely to televise the draft live. CSA may, however, go for the live streaming option, as it did with the tournament launch at the Bulgari hotel, with SuperSport taking snippets on Blitz.

But there are other problems.

T20 tournaments are highly lucrative but highly flammable, attracting a band of roving privateers beholden to nothing but their own swollen bank accounts. Matches in the Caribbean have become so dubious that a specific language has grown up around them, with laptop-wielding match-fixers at games being called "ringsiders."

From a strategic point of view, CSA might be correct in creating the T20 Global League — but it also gives the devil a back door.

CSA has just finished an 18-month match-fixing probe relating to the domestic Ram Slam T20 Challenge, which led to high-profile cricketers, including former Proteas batsman Alviro Petersen and bowler Lonwabo Tsotsobe, being banned for various lengths of time. The current free-for-all threatens to duplicate the conditions which led to that disaster.

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