Fears of an Australian Indian confrontation were reignited again last month after John Howard's bid for Vice President of the International Cricket Council, as an Oceania candidate, was rejected. Had John Howard been elected he would have become the President of the ICC after two years, when the current President and a powerful Indian cabinet minister Sharad Pawar steps down. However, the controversy did not snowball into a media and a diplomatic tug of war, which partly showed how much John Howard is disliked these days even in Australia.
The Australian Cricket Board erred in its judgment by nominating Howard in the first place over New Zealand Cricket chairman Sir John Anderson who should have been the first choice as the Australia-NZ nomination for the ICC.
John Howard's criticism of Sri Lankan spinner Murali was too harsh. Prime Ministers in Asian countries don't go about berating sports persons of other countries.
The image of John Howard using tough language after Indian nuclear tests is more etched in Indian minds than John Howard’s decision to sell uranium to India.
Remember John Howard's treatment of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef to gain cheap votes?
Howard also adopted an extreme hard line on Zimbabwe.
No wonder opposition to John Howard was overwhelming and came from six cricketing nations and not just India. His political past would have never allowed him to be consensual candidate. There are just 10 countries who are qualified to play test cricket and a split among them would be disastrous for the future of the game.
John Howard showed he is a thick-skinned politician when he travelled secretly to Zimbabwe to garner votes for his ICC nomination, forgetting that he had been canvassing against Zimbabwe for most of his political life.
The issue has still not died down and Howard's refusal to quit has muddied the waters. It’s like saying John Howard wants to get re-elected to the seat of Bennelong in the coming elections after he lost the previous one. Due to his insistence that his nomination for the job should go forward, he will block chances of other suitable candidates for the post. By persevering and refusing to see the tide of opinion running against him is a trait that comes naturally to John Howard. Remember he refused to vacate the prime ministership for his deputy until he got trashed in the elections and even being defeated in his own seat. Howard's reluctance to withdraw his candidature for the ICC post is ridiculous. The more he stays put the more harm he does to cricket.
Critics have been blaming India and other countries for blocking Howard’s nomination. The question we need to ask is: what if Zimbabwe proposes Robert Mugabe as President of the ICC, when it is their turn? Would he be acceptable to Australia? It is like Sheikh Taj Hilaly being proposed as Mufti of Australia. His people have a right to nominate him but he is not going to be accepted by the majority. Australia and New Zealand have a right but the candidate has to be acceptable and non controversial.
It is time for Cricket Australia to propose a new candidate for the ICC top job. Australia has scores of better candidates to represent us and we need to put them forward instead.
Remember the hue and cry in the Indian media against Australia at the height of violence against Indian students in Australia last year. The appointment of Peter Varghese as Australian High Commissioner to India has helped in a big way and taken the edge off the arguments of those people who said Australia was a racist nation. It was clear if Australia was a racist society it would not have been possible for a person of Indian descent to represent Australia in such a high position. There has been a significant reduction in the rhetoric and anger of Indian criticism of Australia since his appointment.
It is now time to duplicate the Peter Varghese diplomatic strategy in cricket. Dr Harry Harinath is a poster boy of the Australian Indian community and is one of the best examples of the professional acumen which people of Indian origin bring to the Australian community. He landed into Australia with 40 cents in 1971 and was recently awarded an Order of Australia medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours and recognised for his services to cricket and the community. Harry Harinath is currently heading the New South Wales Cricket Board and has a lot of administrative experience in cricket both at the State and the National Level. He brings with him superb administrative skills and should be the new choice for Australia and New Zealand for the ICC top job. He will be acceptable to all and there is every chance that powerful Asian cricket boards will back him for the post, thereby making Australia, again, a powerful cricketing entity.
This is also a lesson to all politicians to aim to build a global image for themselves rather than pander to lowest elements in the society and raise rhetoric. This is something that Kevin Rudd understood but did not have time to implement. Think of it: if Kevin Rudd was the appointee of Cricket Australia for the ICC, he would have won hands down. He would win even today.
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