Percy Sonn, the president of the ICC, has died in Cape Town at the age of 57. He suffered complications following a routine operation on his colon last Monday..
Sonn's predecessor as ICC president, Ehsan Mani, led his tributes: "As a cricket administrator and a man, Percy Sonn was a giant. In all the circles in which he moved, he commanded a huge amount of respect and that was never more obvious than when he was in an ICC board meeting. Percy never spoke for the sake of it but when he did speak people listened. He was one of the most intelligent men I have ever met and cricket will be much the poorer for his passing."
Sonn, the former president of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCB), succeeded Mani at the helm of the ICC in June 2006, and immediately announced his intentions to be a "hands-off" president. This declaration was borne out by his low profile during the World Cup; after delivering his speech at the opening ceremony in Jamaica, he returned to South Africa for several weeks of the 47-day tournament, although that decision may have been attributable to his ill-health.
The last time Sonn was seen in public was at the final of the World Cup in Barbados last month, when he was one of several dignitaries to be booed as they walked onto the podium following the farcical finish to the match. However Ricky Ponting, who received the trophy from Sonn as captain of the victorious Australian team, said: "I will always associate Percy with one of the happiest moments of my career."
Malcolm Speed, the ICC's chief executive, said: "Percy was never afraid to speak his mind but his great skill, especially in meetings where discord was possible, was to do so in such a way that he got everyone together and pulling in the same direction. Percy was utterly committed to the game at all levels and his mantras were that the game had to be inclusive rather than exclusive and that it had to be played the right way, to be true to the Spirit of Cricket."
Sonn's career in the game's administration began while he was still a teenager in South Africa, in the midst of the Apartheid regime. He emerged as a leading administrator when he served as vice-president to Hassan Howa at the Western Province Cricket Board, for nine years from 1974, taking over the role of President of the Board from 1990 to 1992. He served as a vice-president of the South African Cricket Board before the UCBSA was formed, played a crucial role in the unity process in 1991.
Ray Mali, president of the South African board, said Sonn's legacy in South Africa would be a strong sport with role models from all sections of society. "This is a terrible shock and a devastating piece of news as I have lost a close personal friend," added Mali. "I know Percy was so proud to represent South Africa and the whole continent of Africa as the ICC's first president from this part of the world and he filled the role with great dignity and strength.
"Percy was a great administrator who played a key role in the integration process the game underwent in South Africa either side of the end of Apartheid," added Mali. "Percy never saw problems, just challenges, and usually he rose to those challenges, never more so than when he helped resolve the problems that existed within the administration of Kenyan cricket in the early years of this decade."
Sonn's career in cricket administration was often tinged with controversy. In January 2002, as president of the UCBSA, he caused a public rumpus by overruling the selection of Jacques Rudolph for the New Year Test against Australia, opting instead for Rudolph's black room-mate, Justin Ontong. And at Paarl during the 2003 World Cup, he caused a major embarrassment due to his well-documented fondness for a drink.
Away from cricket, Sonn experienced a hugely varied career. Educated at Belgravia Senior Secondary school and the University of the Western Cape, he obtained a Law degree in 1972 and acted as a senior counsel during the match-fixing controversies in 2000. He also worked as an Attorney and an Advocate, served as Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and a legal advisor to the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Sonn also formed and then headed the Directorate of Special Operations in South Africa, the organisation known as the Scorpions, which went after the perpetrators of serious economic offences, organized crime and drug trafficking. Latterly he was the CEO of a forensic investigation company.
He is survived by his wife Sandra, and three children.