Exclusive: Robin Smith on attack in Yorkshire CCC row

FORMER Yorkshire chairman Robin Smith has launched a strong attack on new encumbent Lord Kamlesh Patel, calling on club members to rise up against proposals to make key changes to the club rules and questioning the process by which Patel was appointed.

Former Yorkshire County Cricket Club chairman Robin Smith. Picture: Tony Johnson

Smith, the Yorkshire chairman from 2002-2005, and again from 2018-2020, believes it would mean an end to Yorkshire’s 159-year history as a members’ club if changes concerning the appointment of board members are ratified at an extraordinary general meeting at Headingley next month.

In a nutshell, Yorkshire are proposing that board members can now be appointed who are not existing club members (up to eight out of 12), that the England and Wales Cricket Board has a seat on the club’s nominations committee (which recommends board members) and that members can have two seats on a board that also includes two ex-officio representatives in the form of the chief executive (currently acting CEO Paul Hudson) and the managing director of cricket (Darren Gough).

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Smith believes that the overall effect would be to put Yorkshire in the control of “strangers” and leave it prey to “external manipulation, including political pressure”. He insists the ECB should have no role in the club’s governance when it is also regulator and claims that the EGM on February 2 is invalid because Patel – appointed in November at the height of the racism crisis – has yet to be elected to the board by members.

Lord Kamlesh Patel. Picture: Simon Hulme

Yorkshire claim such changes are vital to broaden their diversity and skills-set in the wake of that crisis and that Smith is guilty of “a fundamental misunderstanding of the club rules” with regard to the changes and to Patel’s appointment. The proposed changes will be on the agenda at a members’ forum at Headingley next Saturday.

In a letter seen by The Yorkshire Post, Smith tells Lord Patel: “You are calling upon members to accept radical changes to the club’s legal structure before you yourself have even been elected to the board. You are required to submit yourself to the members for election at the first general meeting after your appointment (by a discredited board, incidentally) and this you have failed to do, thus rendering the extraordinary general meeting a nullity. The proper course now is for the motion to be withdrawn and the meeting cancelled.”

Smith continues: “You appear to be calling for the ECB to play a governance role within the club in the selection of board members. This cannot be right, for it casts the ECB as a participant in the club’s governance, when it is also our regulator. You are proposing that the large majority of board members should be outsiders with no prior connection with the club. The rationale for this proposal needs explanation. Why should people who have never previously been sufficiently interested in Yorkshire cricket to join the club be better able to manage it than its members? The club is after all open to anyone to join.”

Smith adds that “your proposals provide in effect for the handing of control over the club’s assets, including its valuable intellectual property, and its unique world-renowned heritage, to strangers” free of charge and that “the club’s members are not interested in compensation but they are very interested in the club retaining its control over its immensely valuable assets and preserving its inheritance for the benefit of future generations”.

He concludes: “Potentially the most damaging impact of your proposals is the extent to which they would render the club prey to external manipulation, including political pressure. External, so-called ‘independent’ directors with no interest in the club, could be readily appointed under political pressure and thereupon the club will have lost its independence. Your proposals would end the club’s 159-year history as a members’ club. I have no option but to oppose them and to call upon members to do likewise.”

In a statement issued to The Yorkshire Post, the club responded: “In the last two months, the changes we have made at Yorkshire County Cricket Club are vital to the long-term future and success of the club. We believe that we have made significant progress in rebuilding the club, but we are only at the start of this long and important journey. The proposed rule changes are a positive move which will improve the necessary skills, experience, expertise and diversity at board level and help create a welcoming and inclusive culture at the club while ensuring that our members have a stronger voice, including the appointment of up to two members on the board itself.

“It is unfortunate that this challenge to the proposals is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the club rules, including the appointment of Lord Patel as chair which followed existing procedures relating to the direct election of two individuals to the board. In addition, the proposal to include a representative of the ECB on the nominations committee is appropriate and entirely in line with good practice relating to independent oversight, and many counties have adopted this model. Members have the ability to overturn any nomination of an independent director when the appointment is put to members for ratification, thereby retaining ultimate control.

“Yorkshire County Cricket Club is nothing without its members and their views are essential in shaping how the club is run. Many are supportive of the proposals as a key step forward from the past, and understand how vital it is that we meet the ECB criteria and bring international cricket back to Headingley.”

Yorkshire have received 45 responses to their whistleblowing hotline set up in response to the racism crisis, with Mohinderpal Sethi QC and his team in the process of arranging interviews.