Former Cricket Australia and ICC (International Cricket Council) chief Malcolm Speed gives insight into a career plagued with allegations of corruption against players and organisations he overlooked.
I’ve always been attracted to sports administration. I played basketball at state level for the Melbourne Tigers between the ages of 12 and 25. As a young lawyer, I was asked to join the board of Victorian Basketball Association [now Basketball Victoria] and became president within quite short time – I was only around 30-years-old.
David Stern was an early influence on my career. As a young basketball administrator, I visited the former NBA (National Basketball Association) commissioner on several occasions. I saw how people gravitated towards him to work at the NBA, and how he turned the NBA around from a struggling league into a massive worldwide sporting enterprise. He has great style, is eloquent and tolerant.
When I became CEO of Cricket Australia, it was a turbulent time. I had been involved in basketball for a long time, and was chairman of Basketball Australia when Cricket Australia sacked its CEO. Players were pushing for higher salaries and better working conditions at the time. There were also issues about betting, match-fixing, player behaviour…you name a problem, the chances are it happened during that period.
I had a difficult relationship with the Australian cricket team. We argued over money and the players’ union was threatening to go on strike when I first started at Cricket Australia. But towards the end of my tenure, I had quite a good relationship with team captain Steve Waugh, and enjoyed my involvement with the players.
Defending Shane Warne and Mark Waugh was difficult. The toughest period at Cricket Australia was 1999, dealing with the allegations [that the players sold weather and pitch information to a bookmaker]. It was front page news around the world. I tried to put processes in place to ensure that betting and associations with bookmakers didn’t make any further inroads into Australian cricket.
I knew that if I didn’t accept the ICC CEO role in 2001, I would never get it. I was 52 at the time I was headhunted, and the opportunity to lead a sport at the world level was very intriguing. A significant amount of money had just started to flow into international cricket following the sale of media rights, so part of the challenge was to put a team of administrators in place to resource the ICC for it to be a more effective governing body.
Politics is difficult at an international level. There are different ethnic races, languages, cultures, and ways of doing business…but the major difference in my role at the ICC was that I no longer had a cricket team to worry about, and that was the best part of the Cricket Australia role.
Zimbabwe was a problem the whole time I was at the ICC. In 2007 I asked the board to commission an investigation into the country’s cricket finances. Subsequent to the report, I was quite keen to resolve the matter so that stakeholders in Zimbabwean cricket could be satisfied that their money had been put to good use. That created clashes between me and other ICC board members
Some people thought I exercised too much power at the ICC. There were some personality clashes and clashes of principles. That tends to happen as a CEO, so I guess it was just an occupational hazard. I could have handled the disagreements better, but they gained a momentum of their own. Perhaps I could’ve worked harder to balance the interests of those involved.
I need to be more patient and less aggressive – I’m a typical Australian. One of the things that I learnt very early on at the ICC is that Australians are very direct. If we have a problem we bring it into the open and we deal with it. However, that’s not the case with some of the other cultures in the cricket-playing world. I’ve learnt that the hard way a couple of times – my biggest regret is that I wish I could’ve learnt that earlier.
I’m easing into retirement. Today I largely write government reports when contentious issues arise, including anti-doping, alcohol advertising, sports betting and corruption. I enjoy the diversity and flexibility; I work three days a week, and the rest of the time I spend with my family and playing golf.
Illegal betting is still cricket’s biggest challenge. The emergence of betting on cricket – especially in the sub-continent where it is illegal and unregulated – has fuelled this. It has been difficult to get the message to players that they cannot be involved with bookmakers or gamblers in any way.