A step in the right direction?

27 Apr, 2011

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Last week the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) unveiled its Registration of Agents Regulations, 2010 – a set of rules intended to oversee the legitimacy of player-agent arrangements by providing for a rigorous application process for the screening of agents. However, one can’t help but wonder whether the rules so framed are a genuine attempt to address and develop a vague and potentially lucrative aspect of the game, or simply a knee-jerk reaction to the Mazhar Majeed debacle and the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) subsequent condemnation of the PCB’s lax regulatory system in this area.

Let’s begin by acknowledging what the Agents Regulations will certainly achieve if duly enforced by the PCB.

It now appears unlikely that a Pakistan cricketer would be able to employ the services of an agent not approved by the PCB, given that the regulations specifically prohibit players from associating with an unregistered agent. Placing a corresponding liability on the players is reasonable and will pre-empt them from playing the ‘victim’ card. I’m actually in favour of the regulations being more severe in this regard and prescribing penalties for PCB-contracted players who are party to transactions with un-registered agents, whether such lack of registration was within their knowledge or not. At the international level, ignorance of the law cannot be an excuse, a lesson Mohammad Amir learned too late.

However, for all the commendable supervisory discretion the PCB has granted itself under the provisions of the Agents Regulations, I cant help but think that the mischief these regulations are aimed at inhibiting, that being the association of our players with individuals corrosive to the integrity of the game, would only be prevented insofar as that individual is an “agent” as understood in the regulations. By failing to account for the multiple avenues of professional association through which a cricketer may be exposed to the kind of mischief the Agents Regulations hope to obviate, the said regulations reflect a short-sighted and hasty approach by the PCB to curb a problem more complex than they would like to admit.

In the aftermath of the spot-fixing scandal, “agent” was the catchword of regulatory hawks because that’s what Mazhar Majeed sold himself as. But what if the next Mazhar Majeed presents himself as a lawyer? An accountant? Or a ‘business manager’? Are such service providers covered by the Agents Regulations? I suppose that depends on how the Agents Regulations define an “agent”? Problem is, they don’t. The Agents Regulations are silent as to what would constitute an “agency activity” and neither does the ICC Players Handbook or the PCB Constitution provide any guidance on the scope of the term.

It appears conceivable, then, for all manner of questionable relationships and arrangements to slip through the definitional lacuna created by the Agents Regulations. Such arrangements, which may not fall under “agency” per se, are ideal candidates for regulation by the PCB. Accordingly, a clearer articulation an “agent” or an “agency activity” would be helpful and the PCB should be as generous and inclusive in this definition as possible.

If we’re going to talk about agents, let’s be clear as to why a player employs one in the first place: to make more money. Which is fair enough. So, in addition to preventing the abuse of an agent’s position, shouldn’t the PCB concurrently attempt to maximize the monetary benefits a player can derive from a standard agent/agency relationship?

It seems to me that Pakistani players are the most drastically underrepresented commodity in the Pakistan commercial landscape. Cricketers are our pre-eminent celebrities and, as such, are an untapped revenue-generating resource. The blame for this unrealized commercial potential must fall upon the agents who are simply not doing the jobs they should be. Sure, we’ve seen Afridi flapping his shiny hair and flashing his credit card. But how many commercials have you seen featuring Saeed Ajmal, Umar Gul or Umar Akmal? These guys have been notable stars for a while and, after the World Cup, are national heroes. So why do I have to see Ali Zafar and Adeel Hashmi’s faces in the multitude of cellular service commercials bombarding my television? I’d be more enticed to drink a certain brand of tea if it was the sip of inspiration behind Ajmal’s doosra rather than Ali Zafar’s “Rangeen”.

The PCB needs to implement a system whereby the average PCB-contracted cricketer has access to the means of marketing himself, particularly given that the Indian Premier League (IPL) is still unavailable. Perhaps our cricketers wouldn’t need to turn to the shady Mazhar Majeeds if the qualified agents readily accessible to them were capable of marketing their talents.

To that end, I’m not comfortable with the permissibility of an overseas agent under the Agents Regulations. The Agents Regulations specifically envisage a foreign-based “agent” representing Pakistan’s cricketers. I don’t know how the agent system works but it just seems more logical to me that an agent based locally within the same jurisdiction as the cricketer would be better equipped to promote the interests of his client, not to mention being easier to regulate by the PCB.

A corollary to providing adequate access to agents is ensuring that such agents are qualified to represent their clients. Such qualifications are quite distinct from the numerous prerequisites currently set out under the Agents Regulations pertaining to the character and financial legitimacy of a registered agent. However, nowhere does the law address the credentials of an individual to hold himself out as an agent. At a minimum, the PCB should expect an agent applying for registration to provide evidence of some level of experience and competence at providing agency, or similar, services in the recent past to other clientele. In a perfect world, we probably wouldn’t question a player’s brother acting as his agent but perhaps a higher standard of competency should now be expected, for the benefit of the player and the integrity of the game.

All things considered, you have to feel for the PCB somewhat. Other than requiring agents to pass through an exacting application process, there’s not much else they can do to prevent another Mazhar Majeed. Ultimately it’s the players themselves who have to develop an awareness and appreciation of moral and ethical parameters. Without such a basic understanding, it’s not inconceivable for a player or agent to subvert the purposes of the Agent Regulations. Which is why the PCB is on the right track by supplementing the Agents Regulations with schemes such as the initiative launched to educate players on corruption and appropriate standards of conduct. The Mazhar Majeeds will always find ways to approach the Mohammad Amirs. The PCB should try to ensure that the Mohammad Amirs know better.

Farooq Nomani is a Karachi-based lawyer who is willing to represent the PCB for free. He blogs at whatastupidity.blogspot.com.

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.