Discontent Is Rising On The ICC Board Over Manu Sawhney’s ‘Witch Hunt’, While Cricket’s Chairman Hits Back
Discontent is rising on an already fractured International Cricket Council (ICC) board with several directors taking aim at the escalating saga over suspended chief executive Manu Sawhney, who says he is the victim of a “pre-meditated witch hunt”.
As I first reported, Sawhney, who was hired in 2019 and has a year left on his contract, launched an extraordinary defense against allegations of workplace bullying during his disciplinary hearing with ICC chairman Greg Barclay on June 17.
Reading from a prepared statement, which was sent to board directors and a copy obtained by me, Sawhney said he was “shocked” by the allegations, which he suspected were attributed to “two or three people”.
He was put on leave in March after a workplace culture review conducted by PriceWaterhouseCooper (PwC) alleged misconduct from the Singaporean, which included “targeted acts of bullying against certain staff” and “physical aggression such as fist banging”.
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Sawhney labelled the PwC Report, which according to sources cost more than $150,000, as a “generic” assessment of workplace culture and said it had only seen by three directors on the board, while four others received feedback on its content.
With most directors not privy to the report’s details, it has led to disenchantment on an already divided board underlined by last year’s bitter chair election between Barclay and Imran Khwaja, who is the deputy chair.
Some board directors behind the scenes have expressed disappointment over what they say is a lack of transparency and being “kept in the dark”.
“The issue must come to the board because the PwC assessment was sanctioned by the board – not by the chairman or HR committee,” an insider privy to the developments told me. “It was never an investigation, it was an assessment.
“The assessment was about the board and management. But it has become an assessment of the CEO. It should have been brought to the board and let the board decide on the issues that have been raised on the CEO.
“And then the board can authorize the chairman to institute an investigation and disciplinary hearing. This assessment has become an investigation…it was meant to come to the board but hasn’t.”
Sawhney, who had previously been managing director of ESPN Star Sports and chief executive of Singapore Sports Hub, said in his prepared statement that he wanted the disciplinary hearing chaired by an “independent person” and not Barclay, who he claims did not allow his lawyer to be present nor for it to be recorded amongst other grievances.
Some board directors have expressed uneasiness over the prospect of Sawhney potentially being fired without the consent of the board.
On a board where divisions are clearly evident, eyebrows have been raised over why only select directors have had access to the PwC Report.
“It casts a shadow of a doubt whether he (Barclay) trusts the fellow board directors,” a source said. “Not sure you can get a united board behind a decision on the CEO when the time comes. There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered.”
In an email sent to the ICC board on June 21, which I have seen, Barclay said the ICC was “following a process as per our own internal requirements and pursuant to Dubai labour laws and which, as Chair, I am tasked to carry out”.
“I am fully comfortable with the process being followed and with the advice that has been given,” he wrote. “In the meantime, the CEO remains suspended whilst he continues to face the serious allegations relating to his contact and behaviour.
“Pending some limited further investigation, I am close to making a decision and I will revert to you shortly.”
According to sources, Sawhney’s tenure with the ICC is effectively over but the 51-year-old has indicated that he would appeal a guilty decision. The prevailing feeling is that he will push for his matter to be heard at an extraordinary meeting.
Where this bickering board will be hoped to make a final call.