In an exclusive interview with PakPassion.net, the outgoing Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board Najam Sethi spoke about the achievements during his tenure, the current state of Pakistan cricket, the challenges he has faced and those facing the nominated PCB Chairman Ehsan Mani, how Imran Khan can use his influence to help organise cricket on regional terms and shed light on the reasons for his departure.
By Amir Husain (25th August, 2018)
PakPassion.net: How would you summarise your tenure as Chairman PCB?
Najam Sethi: I would say that it was a lot of hard work, mixed in with a lot of learning but overall a great experience. But, I do think that I deserve the freedom I have now.
PakPassion.net: What do you feel were your greatest achievement as Chairman?
Najam Sethi: Obviously, holding the Pakistan Super League stands out as possibly the topmost achievement during my tenure as PCB Chairman. This was an uphill task due to many internally created hurdles by the PCB establishment. It was incredibly difficult to get people to work together and to overcome financial, administrative and organisational issues. Then there was the matter of keeping all the franchises happy and in line with the objectives of the project. This was important, especially when the business model wasn’t entirely clear to them. I had to constantly try and explain things to them which was an uphill task in itself.
PakPassion.net: Where do you feel you leave Pakistan cricket now?
Najam Sethi: We tried to create a new foundation where certain key points stand out. Number one in that is the introduction of new blood and this was crucial because people would say that there isn’t much talent in the country. The fact is that the talent is there, but it never had an opportunity to blossom and come out. The PSL gave an opportunity for that talent to express itself where the younger players had the chance to rub shoulders with the high and mighty in the dressing rooms and to learn from them, as well as to understand the nature of high-quality competition. So, I think it’s been a wonderful achievement to tap the talent via this avenue.
The second big thing is that the modern game requires injection of capital, but the public sector and their bureaucracies are not geared for this and it’s only the private sector that is able to do this. And that is a big innovation we made in the PSL which was to bring in the private sector and to organise and motivate them to put their money where their mouth is. Then there was the task of making it all work and crossing the initial hurdles which were the losses, purely in cash-flow terms. This was a challenge as the fact was that the ‘asset’ was going up in value, but we were not able to realise the benefits in cash-flow terms. Even now as we speak, the franchises are not geared up for marketing and we, PCB, have to do a lot of it for them. What they need to do is to become far more professional in their approach as compared to what they are now. Having said that, I also feel that they have managed to create a brand whose asset value has gone up and in the second round of bidding for rights which should happen in the next 3 months, both the PCB and the franchises should end up making good money. To be clear, whilst the franchises have been in loss, the same is not the case with the PCB. However, now with the values of their businesses up by a factor of 3 to 4 times their original value, they are expected to start making profits.
I will add here that it wasn’t that easy explaining to them that their PSL involvement was a 10-year model and that the first three years are going to be tough before the returns come in. But that is now about to happen, and they can see the writing on the wall in that sense and they are obviously mighty pleased, and I just hope, that this trend continues with the arrival of a new management team at the PCB. In the event that the franchises are not able to achieve their goals, there is bound to be a lot of heartache and squabbling and that could ruin the dynamism that the PSL has and that is a huge challenge for the new administration.
PakPassion.net: Did your personal rapport with the franchise owners play a crucial role in PSL’s success?
Najam Sethi: The fact is that I did not know most of the owners at the onset of the PSL. But I had to work with them to build the bridge between the bureaucracy of a state organisation and the private sector’s dynamism, which was a huge and difficult task. I am not sure how the new management will deal with it but in my case, I came in from the private sector and my professional background is in economics, finance and business although I went into the media later. My original background helped me to understand the private sector’s problems and concerns which is one of the areas that the establishment in the PCB had never encountered before. This was because everybody there was a paid government servant and were not prepared to take risks or initiatives and as I said before, I am not sure how the new administration will fare in this regard.
PakPassion.net: Any areas where you feel you didn't achieve your target during your tenure?
Najam Sethi: Absolutely so and you will be surprised to note that one of the first things that I wanted to do when I was appointed as Chairman PCB was to try and organise regional cricket along the way its organised all over the world which is also what Imran Khan has been saying all along. I recall that in my first meeting at the PCB I said that we need to do what Imran Khan has been talking about as that is the right way to go forward for Pakistan cricket. We had to have quality regional teams and we must have a system which feeds talents to those teams. This would allow for a fiercely competitive and high-quality environment. But one thing which was standing in the way of this progress were the departments and the way the cricket structure was organised in which these entities were a world unto themselves. Many of the cricketers had jobs with the departments and the regions were lazy in a way as they could not raise money to support themselves and were dependent on PCB’s largesse for their survival. This is exactly the kind of crisis that a strong man like Imran Khan can resolve as he believes in it and the departments will not be able to stand up to him. PakPassion.net: How in your view, can domestic cricket be organised in regional terms?
Najam Sethi: What we need to do is to merge the system in a way that we only have regional cricket and that departments should become sponsors of cricket, rather than cricket playing agencies of their own. When that happens, you will get proper fan basis and the regional sub-nationalisms coming into the equation and you will see the stadiums filling up. Who really wants to see a cricket match where one department is playing another department? Such teams have no fan loyalty, so it doesn’t make sense, but we have a situation where the departmental system is strong with many of Pakistan’s top cricketers having played for the departments and are thus unwilling to speak against their alma maters as such. And the reason the departments came into the picture was because the Board was poor and could not pay their players well. This is why the departments came in and thought that this would be good for their image but in the end, they became bureaucratised and also were not getting any real fan following as well as any significant revenues out of it. For the removal of departments from Pakistan cricket, a change in constitution is required which isn’t as easy as it sounds, as I found out when I tried to change it. There was a revolt against me and people even went to parliament to stop me from changing the cricket structure which was producing some top stars for the country. What people were forgetting was that those were the days of Test cricket where placid pitches were the norm. But, now life is changing, and cricket is being played at a faster pace and our structure wasn’t geared for that. It was indeed a terrible time for me as I could not even persuade my own Board on this issue as the PCB itself had a representation of four departments and they suddenly saw their existence under threat and put up a huge resistance. I believe that Imran Khan should take on this challenge and revamp the domestic structure.PakPassion.net: Your response to a report that accused you of phone tapping of PCB officials?
Najam Sethi: What can I say about this type of report? The facts are that there was a lot of leaking of PCB’s internal affairs due to rivalries inside the establishment and information, which was false was being given out to undermine each other. I sent out a note saying, please do not do this and if we find out who is leaking information which is damaging PCB, then we will take action against those persons. It looks to me that those who were indulging in such activities spread this lie about phones being tapped. Do you think I have control over such matters by using ISI or having access to phone tapping equipment? What this points to is a tragedy which is that the PCB has been beset with internal rivalries and corruption. This has eroded the organisation and I have had to fend off such lies and propaganda which has been originating from within the organisation. PakPassion.net: What's was the toughest and most frustrating aspect of being Chairman PCB?
Najam Sethi: Sometimes we were in the middle of a complex negotiation and before we could conclude this negotiation, people would leak sensitive information about this in a distorted manner. That was extremely frustrating as it could hurt us as we were still in the process of discussing the matters internally. But, then I realised what was happening. There was a clique within PCB who had good relations with the media and the media provided support and protection for them in return for information. In this way, the interest of the organisation was blackmailed by the media in many ways and I believe that was wrong and should not be allowed as it hurts the PCB. But that’s what vested interests in PCB are all about. This is why I always made myself available to the media so that I could explain things in a clear manner and sometimes I would say, look this is background material so please don’t use it as it will hurt our interests but I did understand the need for information and we would let you know when we came to a conclusion on that matter. I suppose this is how the world works and we should do the same. It is probable that these leaks were coming from lower level staff who had axes to grind against the PCB due to possibly not getting an increment to their salary or were simply unhappy and so off they went leaking information to the media which was terrible. PakPassion.net: What happens now with your role in the PSL?
Najam Sethi: I have no further role with the PSL after my resignation as Chairman of the PCB. Let me clarify that and say that PSL is simply a department of the PCB in the same way, you have international and domestic cricket and the NCA etc. So, you have a director of each department and the PSL is just another department. There was a move earlier to make PSL a separate entity by making it into a separate company but that ran into trouble as separate companies require a majority of independent directors and the PCB did not agree. Also, there was a huge hue and cry by certain elements of the media who thought that I wanted to set up a separate company so that it would be taken away from the PCB as a cash-cow. I then said, let's forget the idea and let it be part of the PCB. Previously, I was not the Chairman of the PCB and that position was held by Shahryar Khan and he was a traditionalist who did not believe that Twenty20 or PSL was anything significant and he thought that it wouldn’t work. He basically said, that he wanted to do nothing with it and that he wanted to focus on the main areas for the PCB. He asked me to take charge of the PSL and set up a committee to run the tournament. That is the only reason why I became the Chairman of the PSL which basically meant that I was the Chairman of a committee that was running the tournament, and that pretty much was it.PakPassion.net: What should be the priorities for Ehsan Mani?
Najam Sethi: I think the priorities for the next Chairman and his team are simply to review all the projects that we have initiated in our time and to see them to completion. If that is not done, then there will be a price to be paid for that as that would have the PSL hanging in the balance and also jeopardise the bringing back of international cricket to Pakistan. Any other initiatives that we started should also be taken to their logical conclusion to benefit Pakistan cricket.PakPassion.net: Should a change be made in the PCB constitution to allow less interference from the ruling party?
Najam Sethi: Pressure from the ruling party should not matter when it comes to the appointment of a Chairman as the constitution is very clear on this matter. The constitution states that there is a Board of Governors which is an independent body comprised of ten people. Eight of these, in theory, have nothing to do with the government and the Patron can only nominate two members to the ten-man board. Now, four members of the board are elected presidents of the regions and four others are departmental presidents. None of these are under anyone’s influence and are appointed as per rotation policy amongst all regions and departments. Only two members of the BoG are appointed by the Patron of Pakistan cricket and in theory, any of the 10 members can become Chairman. To remove a Chairman, there needs to be a vote of no-confidence against the current Chairman or alternatively, the Patron can remove the whole board but only if there is irrefutable evidence of grave financial mishandling of affairs. So yes, the Patron can create difficulties for the functioning of the board in many ways, but he cannot interfere and get rid of people like this. PakPassion.net: So, in theory you had no reason to leave the PCB just because there had been a change in the government?
Najam Sethi: Realistically speaking, if the Patron of Pakistan cricket does not like the Chairman then there is a problem as he represents a powerful state institution and the fact is that the PCB cannot function when the government is against it. Even though I had two more years to go before the end of my term and technically the Patron could not remove me without removing the whole board, I decided to step aside for two reasons. The first point being that if the Patron does not want me, there is no point hanging around as it will hurt and destroy the PCB and you don’t want to do that. The second point is that this is a Patron who has a vision for Pakistan cricket and one who is a legend in his own right and whether one agrees or not, he must be given an opportunity to take charge. He is a very special Patron of the PCB and there is a lot of public support for his views and knowledge. So, there was no issue about stepping aside from my point of view, but the question was when to do that. Therefore, one had to wait until he was actually sworn in as the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Patron of the PCB. I could not have offered my resignation in a vacuum. If I had announced my intention to leave 10-15 days ago, I would have lost all authority inside the board at a time when we were in the middle of many important issues. This would have not resulted in a smooth transfer of power. I was always clear in my mind that I should go if Imran Khan becomes Prime Minister. If my relations with Imran Khan would have been good politically and we had been on the same page, then this might not have come to pass but the fact, one that we cannot deny, is that we do not see eye-to-eye politically. PakPassion.net: So, what does the future hold for Najam Sethi?
Najam Sethi: I have always had strong political views, and I was originally a member of the media where I run a newspaper, and I will now go back to the electronic media and see how it goes from there.