Blindness makes life difficult, hard work helps: CSA interim board chief

MUMBAI: It’s not often that you see that a physically-challenged person heading a sports body, but when South Africa’s sports minister Nathi Mthethwa recently named Zak Yakoob, who is visually-challenged, as the head of a nine-member interim board that will run the Cricket South Africa (CSA) for the next three months, after the entire board stepped down, he knew what he was doing.
An avid cricket fan, Yakoob was, after all, once appointed as a judge to the Constitutional Court by none other than former South African president and peace icon Nelson Mandela.
In an exclusive interview to TOI, Yakoob, from Johannesburg, shared how he plans to take CSA out of a major administrative upheaval…
You were appointed to the Constitutional Court by Nelson Mandela in 1998 and served until 2013. Is ‘Madiba’ your inspiration?
Very much so. He used to call me “boy” and I must tell you one of the interesting memorable, heart-warming and instructive interactions I had with Madiba. He wanted me to serve on the first Independent Electoral Commissions that managed the 1994 first democratic elections in South Africa, and I of course agreed. He then asked to see me and I started the conversation saying how honoured I was by his choosing me as a member of that IEC. He interrupted me by saying ‘Boy I did not call you here for that. I called you to tell you that I know you are a disciplined member of our movement, but I want you there because you are independent. I instruct you NOT to take our part.’ I leave the assessment of the value of this impact on my life from a political leader to you and your readers!
Did the fact that you are visually-challenged affect your role as a judge? Will that be an impediment in cricket administration, particularly when you attend ICC meetings?
I am blind and blindness does make life, including judging and cricket administration, more difficult in some ways but hard work, attentiveness and discipline is a great help. Sight is not the only way to assess information, responses, evidence etc. I have no hesitation in asking for help from my seeing colleagues, assistants, friends and family members. I do make some mistakes because of my blindness and overconfidence combined, but happily they have not cost too much yet. There is no indication that I will be at the ICC but if I am, I will require a full time, seeing assistant/escort.
The South African team was in India when Covid hit the world and the side had to return to South Africa, in March. What’s the status of that series? Do you plan to approach the Indian board regarding it?
The Board has not yet addressed this issue and I prefer to say nothing now.
Will CSA support Sourav Ganguly in case he tries to contest for the post of ICC chairman?
The Board has not yet addressed this issue and I prefer to say nothing now.
Your interim board includes ex CSA and ICC CEO Haroon Lorgat. How do you plan to use his experience?
The Board will take advantage of the skills and experience of each and every board member to achieve the best result for South African Cricket. Lorgat was the CEO of CSA for some time, but all of us have some experience of cricket and governance in our own ways. I would not like to single out any one person but must say that at least four of the nine members of the Interim Board have cricket administration experience. The strength of the Interim Board resides in its collective wisdom and it is my job to tap all of it in the best interests of South African, African and world cricket.
Do you fear that the ICC will suspend CSA because of government interference?
I have no fear of this kind because the minister has appointed an independent Interim Board with the consent of all role-players. The Minister agrees that he cannot and will not tell us what to do.
South Africa endured a below-par World Cup and then were whipped by India when they went there. How do you plan to lift the team from its current troubles?
Hopefully, in the short time available to us, we will be able to create a climate of enthusiasm, confidence, trust and energy from everybody for the game by ensuring and promoting an open, honest, encouraging, unselfish cricket administration at all levels of cricket in South Africa
Do you plan to ask AB de Villers to come out of retirement and play the T20 World Cup next year?
That will be decided by the appropriate structure, not necessarily the Interim Board. If the question comes to us, we will decide collectively.
There have been reports of tremendous corruption in CSA. How do you plan to tackle that? You have a short time of three months to make a difference…
We will of course pay some attention to past corruption but will mainly furnish information and encourage law enforcement authorities to pursue charges so that everyone is brought to book, severely punished and made to pay back. But 90% of our work is about creating workable and accountable structures and systems to limit corruption in the future (I am sorry to be cynical enough to think that corruption can never be eliminated), about restoring public confidence, about appointing the appropriate personnel and about creating the climate I have described.

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