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Stanford inquests begin

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Mihir Bose | 17:36 UK time, Friday, 20 February 2009

The Stanford saga has provoked a lot of debate this week, not least on my previous blog, so let me try to address some of the comments and questions.

First, let me say that when I interviewed Sir Allen back in November, I did indeed make the point about his charm and ability, like the best politicians, to really focus his energies on you.

But let's also be clear, that wasn't me endorsing him as a business partner for the ECB or all his activities, it was just me reporting how he came across face-to-face.

Some have also commented that it is unfair to question the actions of the England and Wales Cricket Board in not probing Stanford's background.

And there are many who agree, like Lord Morris, the independent director of the ECB, who points out that the ECB is a sports body, not a financial regulator. Or to use the more picturesque phrase of Andy Nash, chairman of Somerset, the ECB does not stand for European Central Bank.

I do have some sympathy for this point of view, especially given only a few months ago, Antigua's financial regulator - admittedly a lightly regulated environment - gave Stanford a clean bill of health.

But before we can pass judgement we ought to be told more about the due diligence the ECB performed.

I understand that the ECB did use a firm and it would be useful to see its report.
It would not have had the powers of SEC or the FSA but if it was done properly, could it not have helped?

The more fundamental question however concerns the motivation for the ECB getting into bed with Stanford, more so because other cricket bodies - the Indians, the Australians, the South Africans and the ICC - turned him away.

Sir Allen Stanford celebrates with the Stanford Superstars

These cricket boards run cricket teams that are rivals of England. But this rivalry is on the field of play. Off it they are partners who have to work together, otherwise there would be no international cricket. Yes, England want to beat Australia every time they play. But Australia and other cricket countries must still want to play England, otherwise there can be no international cricket. Rivalry in cricket is not like rivalry between high street supermarket chains.

This distinction between business and sport is very important. Cricket, like all sport, is a business but a very special kind of business. When Stanford came calling, the ECB should have paused and asked: our cricket partners do not want to do business with him, why should we?

It is no secret why the ECB went into business with Stanford. On November 3, after the conclusion of the Stanford match, I discussed in detail why England went to the island and the damage it had done English cricket.

Let me quote my conclusion:

"Publicly, Clarke refuses to accept the suggestion that the trip to Antigua was a sweetener for the players but that is the hard reality.

"The ECB claimed the match will benefit West Indian cricket and, because it was televised to the US, it will finally help cricket break into the American market. Both ideas are naïve.

"For more than a decade the ICC has been trying to break into the US market and failed. American cricket has been bedevilled by infighting and the US sports market is not easy to break into as football knows only too well. China, which the ICC is now targeting, is more realistic.

"As for helping West Indies cricket, nothing could be more fanciful. What we saw in Antigua was West Indians playing an exhibition match on a rich man's ground and getting very well paid for it.

"West Indies Cricket Board officials were mere bystanders - even Caribbean cricket legends who back Stanford, like Sir Vivian Richards, are contemptuous of the board.

"It is hard to imagine another cricket nation where a private individual would be allowed to stage an international match in this fashion and it indicates how much of a broken reed West Indian cricket is.

"Stanford may or may not revive the game in the Caribbean, but England's Twenty20 train cannot be hitched to that. Hard as it is for the ECB to come to terms with Indian power, if the train is not to disappear completely out of sight, they must seek an accommodation with India or there will have to be more sideshows like the one we have witnessed last week while the main Twenty20 action takes place thousands of miles away."

Nothing that has happened since has made me change that view.

True, English cricket is on better terms with the Indians now but, had they not made that misjudgement last year, the English game would not even have known who Stanford was.

English cricket like so much of English sport has evolved over the years. Until 1968 it was run by a private club, the MCC. Then, as a result of the D'Oliveira affair, what Peter Oborne in Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy calls one of the most shameful episodes in English cricket history, this private club was forced to shed its power. Recall the ICC was originally the overseas department of the MCC

The cricket governance we have is far from perfect, with India's rise exposing the ICC's limitations. The ICC reminds me of Winston Churchill's famous quip about democracy being 'the worst of all systems but the only one we have.'

But by allowing Stanford to hire the England cricket team for a frolic on his ground, English cricket went backwards into the past. And it now finds it has turned into a murky and muddy cul-de-sac.

How it turns round and gets back on the cricketing highway without too much of the Stanford mud sticking to its boots is the question to which we'll all now be awaiting the answer.

Severing all its contracts with Stanford, as it has done this afternoon, is just the start.

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