Turbulence at the top: Cricket SA is still finding its feet after management changes. Picture: Gallo Images/Sydney Seshibedi
Turbulence at the top: Cricket SA is still finding its feet after management changes. Picture: Gallo Images/Sydney Seshibedi

Local cricket was scheduled to resume last Saturday with the new-fangled Solidarity Cup, a 36-over jamboree featuring three teams of eight players each, captained by AB de Villiers, Kagiso Rabada and Quinton de Kock. The venue was to have been SuperSport Park in Centurion, with proceeds going to professional cricketers stricken by Covid-19.

The match would have been televised; the audience virtual.

The feel-good day was intended to signal a slow return to normality, allowing fans to temporarily forget about the politics besmirching the game and enjoy the infinitely more edifying spectacle of their heroes hitting sixes instead.

Alas, after announcing the Solidarity Cup, Cricket SA (CSA) was forced to postpone the event, pending the necessary thumbs-up from the ministers of sport, arts & culture and health.

This is not the first time CSA has told the long-suffering public that something is about to happen, only to discover that it’s jumped the gun.

Cast your mind back three years, for instance, when CSA said it was getting into a joint venture with SuperSport as equity partner in a new tournament, only for the partnership to be abandoned in a flutter of "he-said, she-said" accusations.

That tournament was the brainchild of then CSA CEO Haroon Lorgat. It was called the T20 Global League (T20GL), and it was abandoned late in the day, after having had an auction and an eye-wateringly glamorous launch at the Bulgari Hotel in London.

Lorgat later fell on his T20GL sword (walking away with R18m), ushering in the reign of Thabang Moroe, who was divisive and inefficient in a way no other CSA CEO has ever been.

After a litany of commercial errors, odd decisions and legal spats — with the SA Cricketers’ Association (Saca, the players’ association), and Western Province Cricket — Moroe’s 2½ colourful years as CSA’s head honcho came to an end in early December, when CSA president Chris Nenzani and the board belatedly discovered their cojones and turfed him out.

The straw that appeared to break the camel’s back related to the revoking of the accreditation of five cricket journalists, a situation that led the SA National Editors’ Forum to weigh in, and civil society to voice its disapproval. It precipitated a grovelling apology to the nation and cricket community, with Moroe saying in early December: "I look forward to new levels of engagement."

Within three days he’d been shown the door.

At the time, a CSA press release said Moroe had been placed on "precautionary suspension" on "allegations of misconduct, pending further investigation". In a later release, CSA promised that the Moroe matter would be resolved in six months.

Unsurprisingly, given CSA’s track record of underperformance on such matters, the Moroe matter wasn’t resolved by June 6, prompting Saca to give the organisation a cheeky nudge.

Saca CEO Andrew Breetzke was quoted in a press release two days later, saying it defied belief that progress in the matter had been so slow. He further accused CSA of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a "convenient excuse" for the delay.

The FM can reveal that one of the reasons the matter has been so slow to conclude is that forensic auditor Fundudzi Forensic Services was appointed only in March, though Moroe’s precautionary suspension was in December.

CSA has apparently budgeted R4m for the process, and Moroe has continued to be paid his salary of R365,000 a month.

At the time of writing, the forensic audit still hasn’t been concluded, though that should happen in the coming weeks.

Thabang Moroe. Picture: Gallo Images/Sydney Seshibedi
Thabang Moroe. Picture: Gallo Images/Sydney Seshibedi

This is in contrast to, say, CSA’s quick conclusion of the case against another suspended senior member of staff, former CFO Naasei Appiah.

Moroe and Appiah used to be the best of chums. Indeed, it was they who levered Lorgat out of the organisation when the T20GL crashed and burnt.

The love affair didn’t last. When Moroe was flailing late last year, he appeared to contrive a case against Appiah, as well as against acting director for cricket Corrie van Zyl and commercial manager Clive Eksteen, saying they had not discharged their duties to Saca professionally.

Van Zyl has since been exonerated and returned to work, but Appiah and Eksteen have been suspended as a result of disciplinary action taken against them.

In an open letter to the cricket fraternity two weeks ago, Eksteen said he would be taking CSA to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration, while Appiah is appealing his suspension.

Given these inconsistencies, it is difficult not to conclude that, despite the good work done by interim CEO Jacques Faul, there is a "third force" inside CSA, comprising people appointed by Moroe.

"Explain to me how Moroe has been on full pay all this time, whereas Appiah wasn’t?" asks a CSA employee. "He’s being protected, it’s the obvious conclusion to draw."

The FM understands that Fundudzi’s forensic audit into Moroe’s use of the company credit card, among other things, will be made public shortly. This will finally allow the organisation to put the wasted Moroe years behind it, as Faul and a more robust board continue to haul the organisation back into the black.

"Some of this is down to simple good management," says Faul. "We’ve cut credit-card spend by 36%. We’ve cut those operational staff using company credit cards down from 47 to 29. I’m cautiously optimistic we’re going to make a small profit this year. I’m guessing in the region of R40m-R50m."

He adds: "To be fair, Covid-19 has also played into our hands, certainly in the short term. There’s been less travel in the period, so less [spent] on flights and accommodation, and we are looking at a major sponsor who is likely to make up most of what was lost when Standard Bank didn’t renew. So things are looking up."

As SA approaches the fourth month of either complete or partial lockdown, the Covid-19 pandemic can be viewed as a threat, but it can also be seen as an opportunity. For all the confusion around the Solidarity Cup, the competition was an attempt to harness the fear and confusion of the current moment for the greater good.

Faul has undoubtedly brought best practice to his time at the organisation. The legal wrangle with Saca has been shelved and there is greater confidence in CSA from corporate SA.

Importantly, given that it plays such a crucial (some may say dubious) behind-the-scenes role in the way sport is run in SA, SuperSport and CSA have re-established a close working relationship, after the SABC was gifted the first two editions of the Mzansi Super League.

The million-dollar question is whether Faul, who is in his interim role only until September, has the stomach for the endless politics and infighting that makes SA cricket such an intractable and bloody beast.

Not all is lost, because there are examples close to hand of how cricket can be run for the benefit of all.

In late May, for instance, the Central Gauteng Lions had their AGM. At the event, constituent clubs voted to dispense with racial voting blocs, as stipulated in a 2012 report into transformation in the province by judge Pius Langa, and elected an equitable, racially transformed board of five black Africans, two Indians, two coloureds and two whites.

They also elected a woman president, Anne Vilas, for the first time, and did so with a groundswell of common sense and everyday intelligence that makes one cautiously optimistic about cricket’s future.

Not for the first time, CSA could learn a lesson from its constituents.

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