"John Howard for President". It makes about as much sense as "Joh For PM" and now looks just as doomed. The supposedly-innocuous bid to parachute Howard into the vice-presidency of the International Cricket Council from July this year, and by virtue of succession, its presidency from July 2012, appears dead in the water.
The nomination of Howard, jointly sponsored by Cricket Australia and Cricket New Zealand after much reported internal acrimony, seems likely to be rejected at the next ICC Board meeting. Seven out of ten full ICC members need to vote in favour of his appointment. Today it appears that as many as four (South Africa, Zimbabwe, India, Sri Lanka) will be opposed.
The reasons being reported are varied, but some are downright nebulous. Zimbabwe are said to be opposed because of Howard's hard-line stance against the Mugabe regime. Sri Lanka are opposed, and Sri Lanka Cricket chief DS de Silva appears to be on record over this, because of Howard's lack of cricket playing or administrative background. Howard's apparent support, in 2004 in one of his "I'm not a social commentator but..." radio interviews, of the opinion that Muthiah Muralidharan was a chucker, has also been cited as a reason for possible Sri Lankan opposition.
India's opposition is mere speculation at this stage, somewhere along the lines of claims that the man who would precede him as ICC president, Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar, "doesn't like him". One self-aggrandising politician uncomfortable at having a self-aggrandising ex-politician breathing down his neck? Hopefully, this is just scuttlebutt.
South Africa's opposition? Solidarity with Zimbabwe, it would seem, together with an assessment of the bleeding obvious... John Howard is not a consensus candidate. Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket had trouble agreeing on his nomination.
And as a public figure in Australian political life for almost four decades, John Howard has left a nation intensely polarised over his legacy. Strong leader, yes. Autocratic even in meetings, so it seems. Politically astute, few have been wilier than he. Businessman, never. Cricket follower, a mug. Sports administrator, no experience. Diplomat, no non-political experience.
I've already had plenty to say over my opposition to John Howard's nomination to the ICC. It shouldn't be overlooked, however, that Howard had earlier been mentioned as the possible head of an independent commission to oversee rugby league in Australia. (Think the Bud Selig or David Stern of the NRL, or, drawing a much longer bow, the Lalit Modi.) The commission, agreed to in principle, has yet to get off the ground, but Howard's name seems well off that agenda now.
The unanswered question with the NRL and ICC job offers is: who approached whom? Did these bodies approach Howard or did he or operatives on his behalf approach them? I don't know the background to this. Could his name turn up in other ceremonial capacities in the world of Australian sport? (NB: unless I am sadly mistaken, he has been noticably absent from Football Australia's 2018-2022 FIFA World Cup Bid campaigns - one sport for which he has little interest.)
John Winston Howard is clearly not going to be the unifying face of world cricket for the years 2012-2014 or any other years, and the numbers are shaping up against him. Time for Cricket Australia and New Zealand Cricket to go down to the corner bakery, buy the biggest humble pie in the shop, and come up with another candidate. Sir John Anderson even.