Big business dictates that football often dominates both the front and back pages in the national media. The spotlight also regularly falls on the more unsavoury aspects of the game, including accusations of drug-taking and corporate corruption.
But the national game has been displaced in the press recently by one sporting issue. One that has fast become a major diplomatic stumbling block.
The Zimbabwe crisis has split opinion throughout the sporting and political worlds. One small nation state in southern Africa and the conduct of its leader Robert Mugabe has focused attention firmly on the game of cricket, and consequently its governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC).
Urvasi Naidoo has been the ICC in-house lawyer since April 2002 and is unequivocal about the ICC’s stance on Zimbabwe.
“As far as the ICC is concerned, there’s no justification for political consideration in the sport,” she says. “We certainly don’t want politics to come into it. Ultimately, we have a responsibility to our smaller members. The bottom line is we want the game to survive.”
After qualifying in 1992, Naidoo worked in the immigration and employment teams at Simmons & Simmons for two years, before defecting with one of the firm’s partners to Kingsley Napley, where she spent another couple of years.
After gathering a few sports clients during her stint in private practice, including commercial work for the ICC, Naidoo decided to specialise in sports law.
“It’s one of the most competitive areas
in law,” she enthuses. “It’s sexy work, it’s glamorous – and all the boys want to do it.”
Naidoo spent 18 months in the US, working for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics Organising Committee 2002, during which time she completed a Masters in Sports Law.
“It was a bit of a risk, but to work for a premier event like the Olympics was a fantastic experience, despite what people were saying at the time about corruption, security breaches and even the Mormons,” she says.
It was after her stay in Utah that Naidoo was tipped off about the ICC job, which would later make her the first in-house lawyer at international cricket’s governing body since its inception in 1909.
The ICC was initially an offshoot of the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC). “We do have a very special relationship with the MCC – they’re our landlords,” says Naidoo. “We were born from them so it’s an understandable alliance.”
In recent times the ICC has positioned itself as the global authority for all things cricket and has recently taken the game to countries as far-flung and exotic as China and Mexico. A recent merger with the International Women’s Cricket Council (IWCC), the equivalent organisation in women’s cricket, has also broadened the ICC’s target audience.
Naidoo herself does not undertake any commercial work, all of which is handled by the ICC’s Monaco office, along with IP issues.
Naidoo’s own role covers a range of legal work, including governance, employment, regulatory issues, constitution and, crucially, managing the ICC’s relationships with member countries, which now total 92.
She is also company secretary and plays an active role in the ICC’s triannual board meetings and at the conference for all member states, held at Lord’s every summer.
Naidoo has established a dispute resolution panel to handle contentious issues in the wake of the ‘Denness affair’, during which effigies of ICC umpire Mike Denness were burnt by India fans disgruntled with some of his decisions in a Test series with South Africa.
“It could easily have become a full-blown international incident and there was no process in place to deal with it,” she says.
Naidoo seems to have had some resistance from players about introducing a new overarching anti-doping policy. “Drugs problems have been highly publicised in other sports,” she says. “I think that cricket to a certain extent is suffering from that. Cricket doesn’t have a doping problem. I don’t think you could take steroids and bowl much faster.”
Naidoo has found that implementing a universal dope-testing system is not as straightforward as it might appear, as it presumes a level of equality across all cricket-playing countries. “Countries like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe may not be so hot on the topic of drug-testing and may not have the medical staff or the proper laboratory facilities we need,” she explains.
In the meantime, Naidoo is realistic about lawyers’ role in sport. “I think the fact we need in-house lawyers these days is a product of our increasingly litigious society and the fact that cricket itself has the potential to be huge in different markets. Passions run deep about this game.”
International Cricket Council
|International Cricket Council|
|Employees||20 (in UK)|
|Turnover||$78m (£42.5m) – the money goes back to the members and into the development programme|
|Annual legal spend||$1.5m (£820,000)|
|Main advisers||Blackstone Chambers, Olswang and Simmons & Simmons|
|In-house lawyer||Urvasi Naidoo|
|Reporting to||Chief executive officer Malcolm Speed|