Thursday, April 26, 2012



Mr Oliver Stocken

Chairman of MCC
Lord’s Cricket Ground
St John’s Wood

Dear Oliver,


The issues that the MCC has faced surrounding The Vision / Master Plan are the most consequential the Club has faced for a very long time. The surrounding controversy is not, as the President said in his radio interview with Jonathan Agnew on 28th March 2012, ‘much ado about nothing’. The concerns around the development of Lord’s are real and deep-seated. Much is at stake; there is a very great deal to be gained and a great deal to be lost.

To date, what has been gained is negligible. What has been lost – money, time and reputation – is significant. As rank and file MCC Members, we have received from the Club a range of explanatory letters and statements, listened to radio interviews and read articles in the press – which, rather than offering clarity and re-assurance, have served to contradict, obfuscate and raise alarm.

Our concern is compounded by the Resolution the Committee is asking Members to support at the imminent AGM on 2 May, namely: “That Members ratify the decision of the M.C.C. Committee not to permit any residential development on the leasehold land at the Nursery End of the Ground”.

The Resolution is wrong on every count. To allow it to pass through unopposed would be equally wrong. You are aware that we have sought, as individuals and collectively, to raise our concerns in meetings and through communications with you, the President and the Acting Chief Executive. We have consistently called both for an independent enquiry and for the Resolution to be withdrawn – but these requests have been rejected, whilst our many questions have gone largely unanswered.
Denied the opportunity by the Club, as we had requested, to communicate directly via email with our fellow Members, this Open Letter is a last resort to alert Members to concerns and to encourage them, prior to the AGM, to oppose the Resolution for the following reasons:

1. The President has publicly acknowledged the flawed process behind the Committee's decision-making and is, he has said, ad idem with Sir John Major on this matter. No decisions concluded on the back of a flawed process, seemingly driven by wanting to achieve a pre-determined outcome, should be allowed to stand - let alone expect to be ratified.
The Resolution is in direct contradiction of the Club’s statement (Development Q and A, posted online in December 2011): “The Club has not ruled out any development at the Nursery End in the future.” Many different reasons have been given to explain the Committee’s decision to abandon residential development on leasehold land. These include:
a) economic risk, financial viability (Development Q and A, December 2011);
b) the undesirability of four tower-blocks and a view that the Members would not support these; (President’s letter, 13 February 2012, his interview with Jonathan Agnew on TMS, 28 March 2012;
c) the Club’s having no need of £100m, President’s letter 2 April 2012.

Never has there been a suggestion that decisions were rooted in a clear principle not to permit residential development on the leasehold land. We sense that policy is being made on the hoof.

3. A Resolution seeking ratification of a decision not to progress the particular scheme involving four high-rise blocks of flats, albeit a scheme drawn to the Committee’s specifications and approved by it, would be more understandable. We include ourselves amongst Members with reservations on aesthetic grounds about such a proposal. The ratification of a decision not to countenance residential development of any nature on leasehold land is altogether a different matter.

4. The Committee’s aiming to pass a Resolution that will be determined inevitably in its favour by postal voting without offering a credible counter-argument is undemocratic and morally questionable. In failing to ask open questions and to provide full, complete information on which informed opinion could be based, the Committee seems both unconcerned about learning what Members really think and driven by wanting to achieve a further pre-determined outcome.
5. The Chronology accompanying the request to support the Resolution is selective and skewed. It fails fully to report the Committee’s positive endorsement of plans for residential development on leasehold land, of outcomes from its receiving reports, in detailing dates when it gave approval to plans and when it sanctioned appointments. Other notable omissions include:
a) MCC’s failing to buy the leasehold land in question unopposed prior to the public auction at a price much lower than it subsequently and unsuccessfully bid in the 1999 public auction;
b) Westminster City Council’s request for a long-term Master Plan (as opposed to requests for piecemeal planning) and its declaring it unlikely that temporary planning permission for the Nursery Pavilion on the leasehold land would be renewed beyond 2013;
c) details of rental obligations to RLP and five-yearly reviews within the leasehold agreement;
d) agreements between the Club and RLP to develop the leasehold land in a joint venture and the circumstances under which RLP made payments to the Club;

e) how MCC defined ‘a satisfactory guarantee of major matches from the ECB’ reported as a pre-condition for residential development on leasehold land and the extent to which the Platinum Package meets such a condition;
f) details of briefs, reports and recommendations of many expert advisors;
g ) the date when Almacantar made an offer prior to the offer reported as a ‘revised offer’ in February 2012, what this amounted to, when it was formally presented and considered by the Committee;
h) a clear explanation of ‘a number of conditions, including a satisfactory planning consent’ that were attached to Almacantar’s ‘revised offer’.

6. It is unacceptable that £3m should have been spent on the project to date, a sum which, discounting what might yet be paid to Alamcantar and to RLP, is conservatively estimated. In his letter of 13 February, the President stated that this money had not been wasted, yet elsewhere he has acknowledged that it has been. It is surprising that a Committee which authorised this expenditure believes it has sufficient credibility to expect its decisions to be ratified.

7. The Resolution is rooted in illogicality; it lacks both common sense and commercial astuteness. Residential development on leasehold land offers many significant benefits. These include:
a) financial security for the Club, creating a reserve from which to implement much-needed renovation and development , other important activity and generally give better value to Members;

b) capitalising upon leasehold land for which the Club has a growing liability;

c) eliminating long-term rental liabilities which will run into tens of millions of pounds;

d) ensuring productive use is made of the land which, if Westminster Council were to prohibit the retention of the temporary pavilion and other potential uses, could lie merely fallow;

e) preserving freehold land and the space that this affords in an already congested ground.
8. We believe that it is in the Club’s best interests to keep fully open the option of undertaking residential development on leasehold land on an understanding that any development should meet the following criteria:

a)  it should by reasonable people's judgments be in keeping with the ambience of Lord’s;
b) it should be likely to meet with local residents' approval and offer some community benefit;
c)   it should, wherever achievable, be undertaken on lease-hold land;
d) it should be undertaken at no risk;
e)  it should deliver an excellent financial return to the Club, as endorsed by independent evaluators.
9. We understand that Minutes of the Main Committee and Estates Committee would confirm that these benefits were understood as long ago as 2004 when the desirability of pursuing residential development on leasehold land ahead of freehold land was also recognised. As plans for the Vision / Master Plan were developed and reviewed by the Committee and shared with the Membership, it seemed clear the Committee was fully committed to undertaking residential development on leasehold land in order to secure funds with which to undertake cricket-led development. This commitment is evident from the Committee’s applying funds to the plan and in allowing third parties to do the same. The Resolution amounts to an inexplicable volte face.

10. Christopher Martin-Jenkins’ view of events in February 2011 when the first Development Committee was disbanded, as reported in serialised extracts of his autobiography in The Times on 11 April, is one you have said is an accurate reflection of matters. It is clear from the serialised extracts that plans to develop on leasehold land had become embroiled in issues around personalities. You have expressed the view that the Vision / Master Plan in its entirety was impractical and that the financials had not been thought through fully. Despite these very legitimate concerns, there palpably remained a very strong case for pursuing residential development on the leasehold land, whilst simultaneously addressing the concerns.
What seemingly ensued as a consequence of issues becoming personalised is outright polarisation, a straight choice between the Vision / Master Plan in entirety or nothing at all. That matters were not managed to allow plans to be further refined so that the Club could secure all of the benefits whilst countering legitimate concerns was a mistake. This led to a straight choice between "Will we?" or "Won't we?" rather than consideration of "What?" and "How?"

11. One of our number, a former Vice-Chairman of KPMG, has written to you separately, questioning the President’s reference in his letter of 2 April to "a balance sheet which is already strong". He has expressed his concerns that the balance sheet is much less strong than the President supposes and, like all of us, he is unclear how the Platinum Package will generate the means by which to enable the Club to undertake development. He has suggested that the Committee and Trustees should be very sure indeed that the Club's future financial position will be secure before rejecting an offer of £100m with ‘no strings attached’.

12. We have heard it said that the Resolution is a tactic to persuade RLP that its land has no value - with an underlying assumption that RLP will sell up cheaply to enable the Club to develop on it and retain all of the profit. If this is the case, it is an extraordinary high risk strategy, likely to achieve the polar opposite, since:
a) the Resolution will have strengthened the case that both Almacantar and RLP could present if they pursue matters through the courts, exposing the Club to allegations of time-wasting and failure to act in good faith;

b) it risks worsening already damaged relationships with RLP and others at a time when the Club should be creating collaborative relationships with those capable of offering beneficial partnership;

c) it is disingenuous in the extreme and is involving Members in ‘game-playing’ of a dubious nature.

We are convinced that the proposed Resolution is wrong and that all development options should be kept fully open. We assume that postal votes will have already ensured that the Resolution will be passed. That said, the purpose of this Open Letter is to reach Members who have yet to vote, especially those that will attend the AGM, so they can arrive at a more balanced understanding.
We specifically ask you now to consider the following:
1. Given that a full, fair and open debate is essential at the AGM and that the President is a committed proponent of the Resolution, it seems inappropriate for him to chair discussion lest impartiality were to risk inhibiting discussion. We ask that Item 7 of the AGM be chaired by someone more detached and that it is moved up the Agenda to ensure appropriate time is given.

2. We wish the Committee to recognise that support for the Resolution - and for those proposing it - will be more fairly reflected through votes cast only after full, fair and open debate at the AGM. In the light of this, we ask the Committee to accept that, in the event that the majority of those attending the AGM vote against it, the Resolution does not meet with broad approval and that, by inference, the Committee does not retain the confidence of Members with regard to its handling of the Vision/ Master Plan.
3. It is reported that Almacantar has given notice of its intention to pursue the Club through the courts to recover costs. We assume that RLP will do likewise at some stage. Both you and the Treasurer have confirmed your expectation that no payments will be made either to Almacantar or to RLP - and that there will be no further costs to be met. In the event of any further costs materialising, we ask the Committee to accept that it will have failed the Membership to the point whereby those responsible for such excessive expenditure should be held openly to account.

4. As such, we consider it reasonable that in the event of:
a) the majority of those attending the AGM voting against the Resolution; or that
b) if it were to transpire that payments to Almacantar or RLP are paid or that any other related costs outside of the £3m already identified are subsequently identified or else that other costs need to be paid;
that you should consider your position as Chairman and agree to stand aside. We also consider it reasonable that every Committee member involved in decisions in 2011 and in 2012 should examine their consciences and consider whether they have properly promoted the Club’s best interests and that, if they were to conclude that they have not done this to the best of their ability, they should also consider their positions.

The concerns raised in this letter should never be allowed to detract from the very positive contributions you and other members of the Committee have made to the Club in very many ways outside of this issue – always unpaid, often unnoticed and invariably unthanked. However, we believe that too many mistakes have been made with regard to this particular issue to warrant our retaining faith in the Committee and its leadership. We believe that in challenging the Resolution, we are acting exclusively in the best interests of the Club. We have no personal agendas and there is nothing personal whatsoever within our views.
Depending on how you respond to the specific requests outlined above, depending on the outcome of voting at the AGM and what we sense to be the general mood of the Membership, we will consider calling on our fellow Members to request a Special General Meeting to demand a full and independent enquiry into proceedings and to seek the reversal of the Resolution if it were passed.
Yours sincerely,

Signed on behalf of:




Wednesday, April 18, 2012

To proceed with the Bahrain Grand Prix is an affront

Way back in 1968 Peter Hain coined the phrase "You cannot play normal sport in an abnormal country". He was talking about Apartheid South Africa - but the principle he was articulating then still gets to the heart of the issue of Sport and Politics today. The thing about sport is that if is essentially trivial and ephemeral. To the sports fan, at the time, it seems anything but this of course. We care greatly that our team wins and the more important the match the more we care. But in time, often within a few days, every fan moves on. Any team is only as good, or bad, as it's last game and no event is so important that the basic principles of Human Rights, justice and decency don't apply. When the football match between Tottenham Hotspur and Bolton Wanderers was abandoned after one of the Bolton players was taken seriously ill nobody thought the decision was wrong - there was absolute unanimity that it was the right thing to do. True it was an important event but it was only a sporting fixture and it would have been tasteless to continue. Which brings us to the Bahrain Grand Prix.


The Arab Spring has been one of the most interesting political developments of modern times. Countries with totalitarian Governments like Libya and Egypt have seen those Government fall and others like Syria are teetering on the brink. Others have out of fear instituted some systemic change or tried to bribe their populace into acquiescence to the status quo (the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia). In this febrile world the Kingdom of Bahrain, an old-fashioned and at times tyrannical monarchy, has been in the eye of the storm. The Kingdom has always been something of a paradox. Whilst it is entirely undemocratic it has certain social freedoms when compared with its huge neighbour the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. That is why at the weekends in particular the causeway from the KSA is busy as Saudis come to drink and to whore more easily than they can at home. Bahrain has also been a friend of the West - especially as the home of the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. And the Bahrainis have an ambition to follow emirates like Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar in attracting inwards investment and in strutting on the world stage. The Kingdom is a player in financial services and had been growing rapidly - there is a more than embryonic property market for foreign investors - F1 driver Jenson Button had a house there for a time. But, as we have seen, Bahrain is currently far less stable than some of its neighbours. It is even more autocratic than they are and the fact that the leadership is Sunni whilst most of its inhabitants are Shia adds to the instability. In an extensive recent report Amnesty International said:

"The Human Rights crisis in Bahrain is not over. Despite the authorities’ claims to the contrary, state violence against those who oppose the Al Khalifa family rule continues, and in practice, not much has changed in the country since the brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in February and March 2011."

The Grand Prix

Many modern-day Formula one Grands Prix are held in Nations where the normal rules of commercial logic do not apply. They are essentially exercises in country promotion and funded from bottomless bags of oil money or other central resources. The benefits in respect of national identity are seen to outweigh the considerable costs. Malaysia, China, Abu Dhabi, India, Singapore, Korea and of course Bahrain hold Grands Prix even though the local population shows little interest in them and spectator attendances at the events are often pitifully low. These Grands Prix are elitist and arguably harmless indulgences by rich men who can afford the considerable costs. But when they take place in Countries like the UAE, China, Malaysia and Bahrain which have poor or appalling Human Rights records then it is legitimate to ask questions. For the FIA (Federation Internationale de L’Automobile) the organisers of Formula one Grand Prix the politics and Human Rights record of the country in which an event is held is of no interest. They are only concerned about the commercial and safety/security aspects of an event. Last year there was no F1 Grand Prix in Bahrain not because it would have been a moral affront to go ahead - but because it was deemed not safe to do so. And the decision to go ahead with the Bahrain Grand Prix this year was based solely on an assessment that it was safe to do so. The fact that going ahead in the light of the Amnesty report (and other recent happenings in the Kingdom) would cause offence was not the FIA's concern.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Government proposes merger of three major Sports bodies


Football Association, England Cricket Board and Rugby Football Union under one Supremo

1st April 2012sport-england-91

It has emerged today that Jeremy Hunt, Minister for Sport and Culture, has secured agreement from the Prime Minister and Cabinet colleagues to legislate to combine the administration of England’s three main team sports, Football, Cricket and Rugby, under a single body to be called the England Sports Association. Sources close to Mr Hunt revealed that the Government has been troubled by the “dysfunctional behaviour” of the FA, ECB and RFU and has decided that only tighter Government control and a single organisation can solve the problems. Lord Sebastian Coe is being touted as the likely new Sports Supremo once the London 2012 games are over.

It is understood that the final straw in the dissatisfaction of the Coalition with the maladministration of English sport came when Dave Richards, a senior figure in English football, fell into a fountain after ranting against Football’s international government bodies. This followed revelations of chaos at the top at the Rugby Football Union and continued rumblings about the England and Wales Cricket Board in the light of the jailing of Allen Stanford.

It is believed that Hunt sees that efficiencies can be made by the ESA being formed as a business having one Board of Directors  and management team. “Really all sports need the same sense of discretion and the issues they manage are broadly the same” said a spokesman. “There is also great scope for sharing assets – why not play T20 cricket at Wembley or Rugby Union at Old Trafford?”.

When the Olympic Games is over Lord Coe will be looking for a new challenge and his close links, as a former Conservative MP, with the Party make him a shoe in for the Supremo job. Commenting on the plans the Prime Minister is understood to have said “I’m sure that Seb Coe, despite not living in Oxfordshire, would do a good job and this proposal, which has my full support, is very true to the Conservative values of thrift, efficiency and jobs for the boys.”