Born in Cape Town on September 25, 1949, Percival Sonn, universally known as Percy, dedicated much of his life to the development of the game of cricket in the former townships and the marginalised communities of South Africa. He was educated at the University of the Western Cape and obtained his law degree in 1972.
Sonn never played at international level, but was a leading cricket administrator in South Africa. His interest and illustrious career in cricket administration blossomed while he was still a teenager during the apartheid era in South Africa. He helped with the organisation of his club side, Belville South, in the 1970s. This marked the start of what was to become a lifetime’s work for the betterment and advancement of the game at local, national and international level.
Sonn worked in the South African cricketing scene in various capacities from 1974 until his untimely death in 2007. In 1991 he played a pivotal role in the unity process aimed at integrating both white and black players into the sport that marked the re-admission of South Africa into the international cricket scene in 1992. The country had been expelled from international cricket for its apartheid policies just before the first World Cup in 1975. Nevertheless, his career has been somewhat tainted by some allegations of drunkenness whilst on international duty. For example, he was forced to issue a public apology following allegations that he was drunk and disorderly at a 2003 Cricket World Cup game between India and Holland.
Sonn served as president of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) for three years from 2000 to 2003. He was Senior Counsel in South Africa’s judiciary system and had much input in all legal matters affecting the UCBSA. That background helped make him a respected member of the ICC hence he was chosen to represent the UCBSA at the ICC Congress during the match-fixing scandal in 2000.
For the greater part of his career, he helped redefine South African cricket and transform the country into a major cricketing nation. He was also instrumental in fighting the racial prejudices against black players in South Africa where the question of the racial composition of the national side has dominated cricketing discourse.
n apartheid South Africa, there were groups who felt they were excluded from the higher echelons of the sport on the basis, inter alia, of race. For many years, cricket was rocked by exclusivist tendencies and Sonn played a significant role in making it an inclusive pursuit, which is one of his greatest legacies. He did not only challenge exclusion, but also queried the fact that the new cricketing era is symbolised by the forces of commercialism which, it has been alleged, are tearing up cricket’s old ethos and replacing it with a new set of values in which making money features more prominently than “the correct way to play” and even the “right spirit” of the game. The commercial dimension the sport has taken actually prompted Percy Sonn in his inaugural speech as the president of the ICC to remark: “We must not let [commercialism] dominate the landscape or lose sight of what this great game is all about.”
This quote sums up his sentiments about the game. Sonn, a high flyer in South Africa’s cricket hierarchy and justice system, however, succumbed to complications following colon surgery and died on Sunday, 27 May 2007 at the age of 57.
He is survived by his wife, Sandra, and three children.