Firm action and firm words required from cricket chiefs
The phrase “it’s just not cricket” is becoming something of a sick joke as the spot-fixing scandal rumbles along. Ten years ago, I advised the International Cricket Council when it faced match-fixing allegations the first time. It was a shuddering shock to the organisation and it took time for them to fully acknowledge what was going on in the sport. This shock – sometimes even denial – is a common response to a crisis, but it can be deadly because it prevents the organisation dealing with it. It’s up to the leadership of the organisation to prevent this culture taking hold. Fortunately, the ICC quickly came to its senses, created the Anti-Corruption Unit and appointed Lord Condon to head it up.
Now it finds itself facing the same challenge again. A pre-requisite for the sport emerging with its reputation intact is for firm action to be taken: without this, credibility will be lost, further fixing willl occur and spectators and sponsors will lose interest in the game. Twinned with the need for firm action is the need for clear and pro-active communication, and in this regard I have some concerns about the ICC’s approach so far. To understand why, take a look at the words of Alex Thomson, Channel 4’s chief correspondent, following last week’s news conference at Lords.
His main point is that the news conference failed to move the story on or provide any new information: as a result the press continues to be filled by other ”experts” prepared to be more open and vocal with their views. As Alex Thomson says:
“No wonder the indefatigable High Commissioner for Pakistan is getting airplay. In this news vacuum his splendid ability to cast the blame in every direction except Pakistan is keeping the whole thing bubbling away almost single-handedly”
This episode provides learnings for other organisations facing major issues:
- Be pro-active in filling the media vacuum unless you want your enemies or ill-informed commentators to do the job for you
- Recognise that the media is hungry for new information, but don’t call a press conference if you don’t have anything new to say: you’ll end up like the boy who cried wolf
For a lesson in how to do it well, look no further than Barry Hearn, the man who runs snooker. On the day that the News of the World made match-fixing allegations about world champion John Higgins, Hearn was quick to talk to the media and left no doubt that the consequences of cheeating would be severe. Quoted on the BBC website he said:
“If there is a sickness in snooker, it will be the death knell of snooker if it is not removed. If John is proven guilty the penalties will be very harsh indeed.”
It’s a statement that may have shocked his lawyers who rarely want the organisation to say very much at all, but it’s clear, direct and it communicates the only message possible if the reputation of the game is to be preserved. I hope that cricket chiefs are equally decisisive.