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Issue #1462      7 July 2010

Howard’s treatment by ICC should not surprise anyone

John Howard’s bid to be the next Vice President of the International Cricket Council (ICC) received a telling blow when six of the nine test playing nations voted against the move. While Australia, New Zealand and England were in favour of the appointment, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Bangladesh and the West Indies all rejected it.

There are many naysaying this decision in the media today. Peter Roebuck (Sydney Morning Herald), who was initially against the idea of Howard being put up for the role and preferred the New Zealand candidate Sir John Anderson, claims that in spite of this, Howard would have been a force for good offering the ICC the prospect of someone who might “ask awkward questions”.

That may have been the case. However, it is also possible that, having regard to his inexperience in cricket administration, he would ask the wrong questions, to the wrong people, in the wrong way. Liberal MP Peter Dutton was in ABC News Breakfast declaring the decision outrageous. Presumably the Liberal Party now believes that democracy is only suitable when it favours them and their friends, but is an affront to decency when it involves one of their kind being rejected. No doubt if Bob Hawke had been the candidate and had been rejected we wouldn’t have heard “boo” from Dutton. At least Bob Hawke could play the game to some degree.

Let’s start with Sri Lanka. In 2004, John Howard made a statement which, for all intents and purposes, called Sri Lankan bowler Murali Muralitharan a “chucker”. Whether or not Murali was or is a chucker is not for this writer to say. His action has been tested numerous times and he has been cleared to play by experts and cricket’s governing bodies.

India too can feel aggrieved by the past actions of John Howard, although in much more serious circumstances. In 2007, the Australian Federal Police arrested and detained an Indian national, Doctor Mohammed Haneef, in regard to alleged terrorism offences relating to the 2007 bombing of Glasgow airport. There is no need to go into the details. Suffice to say that Haneef was cleared of any wrong doing after some deplorable actions of the Howard government in what had all the appearances of the use of dog whistle politics in the lead up to an election. (Haneef was arrested, interrogated, locked up for a month and had his visa cancelled. He announced last week that he is suing the Australian government.) Fortunately it backfired. To say that the Indian government and Indian nationals in general were upset by the incident would be an understatement.

Of course, we can look further back to see that Howard’s attitude towards Asia may have been an influencing factor in the decision made by the six that rejected him, or at least as far as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh go. During the mid to late 1980s, when Howard was leader of the then opposition, Howard’s policy of One Australia rejected multiculturalism and called for a slowing down of Asian immigration to support social cohesion.

The Hawke government rejected this approach and some Liberal members of the House of Representatives actually crossed the floor to vote with Bob Hawke’s motion that race or ethnicity should not be an immigrant selection criteria.

As for South Africa, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, Howard’s past actions in regards to apartheid would certainly make him a less than attractive candidate in their eyes.

Howard was one of a very few Australian politicians who opposed sanctions against apartheid South Africa during the ‘70s and ‘80s. In particular, he was in favour of Australian sporting teams, including cricket teams, touring South Africa despite that country’s despicable policies towards its non-white citizens. This was the same South Africa which would not permit mixed race sport to take place under apartheid, thus excluding teams from the West Indies and the subcontinent. While these restrictions were later relaxed for international teams, the opprobrium remained.

Whether or not John Howard’s history should be relevant to the test playing nations that rejected him, when considering him for this post, the fact is that it will be relevant to them and it would be hard for anyone to distinguish his past from his abilities.

It has become obvious that the relevance of the ICC is not an important issue for most of the test playing nations.

The ICC is as much of an anachronism as Howard, a remnant of when England and Australia controlled the game. For better or for worse, India controls the game now. Australia and New Zealand needed to put up a candidate that could work within the current system. Howard was never going to be the man for that job.


Next article – The politics of Avatar

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