Sportstar archives: Ali Bacher, the busiest man in Johannesburg

Ali Bacher ran from pillar to post to get South Africa back into the fold and since then has been more active in organising international cricket for New South Africa.

Dr Ali Bacher: "The unification of cricket under the United Cricket Board of South Africa has for the first time brought all cricket supporters together behind the national team..."   -  V. V. KRISHNAN

Dr. Ali Bacher is recognised as the moving force behind South Africa's return to international cricket. His role as the Managing Director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa is a new one. His main work which lay first in organising rebel tours later switched to the more important one of hastening the acceptance of South Africa's return.

It is easy to spot Dr. Ali. He is simply the busiest person in Johannesburg. He ran from pillar to post to get South Africa back into the fold and since then has been more active in organising international cricket for New South Africa, first in India, then in the World Cup and then in the Caribbean. His most important assignment may be the organisation of this tour of South Africa by the Indian cricket team.

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Sportstar approached him with a questionnaire that he replied to despite the crushing demands on his time. There may be no happier person in Jo'burg than Dr. Bacher. After all, he was the captain of South Africa's most victorious team in Test cricket. Now he is the main force behind international cricket coming back to South Africa with the blessings of the ICC.

What is your perception of the general mood of cricket lovers in South Africa? Are they overjoyed at being able to receive a visiting team after so many years?

The mood of cricket lovers in South Africa towards the coming historic tour by India is one of great anticipation and excitement. Due to the time zone differences, South Africans had to wait up to all hours to watch the matches in India on television and the country virtually came to a standstill. So one can just imagine what the response is going to be for the tour in South Africa.

Is there any reason at all to believe there are any reservations regarding the cricket tour? Are all sections of South African public welcoming this tour by India?

The unification of cricket under the United Cricket Board of South Africa has for the first time brought all cricket supporters together behind the national team and behind this first official tour since the granting of membership to South Africa by the International Cricket Council last July. There might be a few reactionary members of the public who are against the tour. But by far and away the vast majority of South Africans fully support the tour.

You must have been overwhelmed by the public response to the South African cricketers landing in India. Do you believe the Indians can expect such spontaneous response there? What plans are being made for their being received on arrival from Harare?

The warmth and magnitude of the welcome the South African cricket team received in India was, according to international observers, unprecedented in world cricket. Whether we can match that is debatable, but I know that the whole of South Africa is just waiting to extend the hand of friendship and gratitude to the Indian team. I have been inundated with requests from people wanting to play host to the team, and our problem is how to strike a proper balance between South Africa's hospitality and the cricketing needs of the Indian team.

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There has been criticism from a few quarters that the programme is heavily laden in favour of the more advanced areas of South Africa. Will the Indian tourists be able to help the development of South African cricket by visits to township cricket programmes, etc? Are there any plans in this regard?

One of the main objectives of the United Cricket Board of South Africa is its development programme. This has four aims: to broaden disadvantaged communities; to redress the imbalances in cricket caused by apartheid; to use cricket to help bring about a non-racial and democratic society in South Africa. The tour by India is going to be a mighty boost to all four of these aims. On the question of facilities in the black townships alone, we are putting aside a significant amount of the proceeds from the tour into multipurpose sports centres in the townships. The presence of the Indian team with its young stars is going to be an inspiration to our youth, especially those who are coming into cricket through our development programme in their hundreds from disadvantaged communities. We have also made arrangements for the Indian team to see the programme at work in the townships and to assist at coaching clinics where possible.

Dr. Ali Bacher of the United Cricket Board of South Africa and Steve Tshwete (left) of the African National Congress, at a press conference in Auckland on February 29, 1992. The eve of South AFrica's first match in New Zealand in 28 years.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

What sort of playing conditions can the Indian team expect in South Africa? Will their special diet requirements be taken care of?

Playing conditions in South Africa are among the best in the world, with fair wickets that give batsmen and bowlers equal chance. Test venues vary from high altitude (Johannesburg at 6000 ft.) to sea level. There are several outstanding day-night venues, a form of the game which has proved enormously popular in South Africa. Special planning has gone into meeting the needs of the Indian team, including diet requirements.

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Is there any reason at all to believe that special security arrangements will be necessary for the smooth conduct of the tour?

The security of the team in South Africa is assured, and there is no need for extraordinary measures; except perhaps to keep the well-wishers from overwhelming the team.

Certain problems cropped up during the Australians' rugby tour. Do you believe any of it will spill over to the cricket?

The problems that occurred during the recent international rugby tours to South Africa happened because pledges to the ANC by the South African Rugby Football Union were not carried out at the Eden Park Test in Johannesburg between South Africa and New Zealand. Against the agreement, the South African flag was officially flown; "Die Stem" was officially sung as the national anthem, and a minute's silence for the victims of all violence in South Africa was not kept by the majority of the crowd. These requirements, however, were met at the next Test between South Africa and Australia in Cape Town. These are not apartheid. This had the effect in South Africa of drawing people of goodwill together and this is, I believe, going to be even more true of the tour by India to South Africa. The tour could not have come at a more critical time in our history in our search for role models upon which to build our new society.

Sport has a vital role to play in this regard as well as being a key platform for the reconciliation process following the devastation caused by apartheid. The Indian tour will help South Africans to concentrate on issues that will face cricket because the United Cricket Board of South Africa has decided that no national symbols or anthems will be used until such time as they have been agreed to democratically by the majority of South Africans. The only flags that will be officially flown at international cricket matches in South Africa will be those of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, the local cricket administrative body and the touring team.

The tour is being made with the blessings of the ANC. Can we suppose that the ANC is wholly behind the venture?

The tour to South Africa by India has the full support of the African National Congress. History will recall that it was India who proposed South Africa's membership of the ICC last year and that this proposal also carried the endorsement of the ANC. There is no doubt that without this dual support, South Africa would not be back in world cricket and for this we are most grateful. This puts an extra onus on cricket in South Africa to ensure that our non-racial constitution is translated continuously into human practical terms.

What implications do you think the tour has for South African cricket and society in general, particularly since this will be the first tour by people from certain parts of the world to South Africa?

Let me answer this question by speaking firstly about the tour by South Africa to India late last year. This was one of the most historic events in world cricket because it signalled, not only South Africa's admission to the international family but the triumph of good against the evil of those things that bind them together, rather than those that split them. It will, I believe, be a most emphatic catalyst in bringing about peace and democracy. The tours to and from India have also brought together again South Africa and India, two countries with strong historical ties. In critical terms, it will give an enormous boost to the game from grassroots to the top.

Dr. Ali Bacher, Managing Director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, seen with Madhav Mantri and Polly Umrigar at the Wankhede Stadium on October 28, 1991.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES

 

How beneficial do you think the tour will be from the UCBSA's point of view? Will it help generate funds for the Board? Will all the international matches be a sell-out?

There has been an explosion of interest after the tour to India and our reaching the semifinals against the odds at the World Cup. The forthcoming tour is going to push this interest even higher, and so we expect very big crowds, especially for the popular limited-overs game. The tour will help considerably in raising funds for the development of cricket in South Africa especially in the disadvantaged areas where the need is greatest.

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What sort of tie-up has been made for the telecasting of the series abroad? Has Doordarshan, the official Indian TV station been in touch concerning buying rights?

The United Cricket Board of South Africa has a three-year contract with CSI limited giving them exclusive rights to sell international cricket played within South Africa on the international television market. We are anxious that as many people as possible within India will witness this historic tour. We have therefore given instructions to our agents to do everything possible to ensure that the Test matches and the day/night Internationals will be telecast to the Indian cricket supporters and lovers through the official Indian television station.

How far have negotiations gone for a reciprocal Test tour by South Africa? Will South Africa be touring India early in the 1993-94 season?

As you are aware, the United Cricket Board of South Africa has come under considerable pressure to exchange international tours with other countries who also were extremely supportive of South Africa's return to world cricket. I refer particularly to Sri Lanka and to the Australian Cricket Board who seconded the motion proposed by India for South Africa to be admitted to the ICC in 1991. This has made it necessary for South Africa to accept an invitation from Sri Lanka to tour that country in August/September 1993 and to resume international contact with Australia during the later 2/3rds of the 1993/94 South Africa/Australia cricket season. Taking cognisance of the above you can appreciate that for us to undertake a full tour of India during October/November 1993 which we would dearly love to do, would result in an impossible situation for our players, whereby they would be playing international cricket for eight consecutive months. It is therefore with great reluctance that we can only enjoy a very short tour of India in November 1993.

(This interview was first published in the Sportstar Magazine dated 24/10/1992)

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