Cricket set for a sea of change

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Johannesburg – Speaking in November at the MAK Pataudi Memorial Lecture – an annual event hosted by the Indian cricket board in honour of India’s greatest cricket captain – one of India’s finest players, Anil Kumble, called on his country’s cricket administrators to utilise their newfound power in the sport with great care.

“There has been a shift in the balance of power,” said Kumble, who played 132 Tests for India, and is the third-highest wicket-taker in the five-day format behind Muttiah Muralitharan and Shane Warne.

“It is extremely important that we wear our power lightly and make contributions that are worthy of emulation, because, cricket has to be above every other consideration… It is ironic that the rest of the cricketing world has accepted India’s lead role rather more easily and with greater pragmatism than India have.”

Sitting in the audience was Narayanaswami Srinivasan, the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) president, and a man whose actions are in stark contrast to what Kumble held forth that November evening in Mumbai.

Kumble continued: “Notwithstanding the position of pre-eminence we enjoy both on and off the field, it is extremely important for us to demonstrate leadership with responsibility,” he said.

“Traditionally, our leadership style has relied less on belligerence and more on driving consensus. It is important that the development of cricket and its popularity among its member nations are protected and nurtured.”

On Tuesday morning in a boardroom in Dubai Sports City, the International Cricket Council’s (ICC) board – made of up of the presidents/chairmen of the 10 Full Member boards (the 10 Test-playing nations), three elected Associate Member countries (nations outside of the Test-playing 10), the ICC president, vice-president and chief executive – will meet to discuss proposals for the future administering of the game that have far reaching consequences.

Mostly, those consequences are very bad.

Central to most of the ICC’s problems is a grand reach for overwhelming power being made by the BCCI. The BCCI is already an immensely wealthy body – at least it should be, given its ability to acquire revenue through sales of television broadcast rights to show cricket’s most popular team, the Indian national side, whose fortunes dictate the mood of some one billion people.

No other board can match the revenue-earning power of India, because no other nation has as large or fervent an audience for cricket as does India. Having, in recent years, grown to understand that, the BCCI now wants to wield that power – and only to its own ends.

What’s wrong with that?

The BCCI would have us think nothing, but even if one were to disregard the vicious social implications of it being the de-facto head of a dictatorship, pause for a moment to consider that cricket is a sport with very minimal global outreach.

It’s not football, played in almost 200 countries and the national game in the vast majority of those.

It’s not even rugby, which can claim sufficient popularity to host international events in the US. Cricket is played seriously by just 10 countries and only eight of those are any good.

Essentially 130 years of Test cricket has garnered only 10 nations who competitively walk out to the crease – that’s a rather damning indictment of the sport and, more specifically, its administrators.

Now, if the proposals outlined in a Position Paper crafted by the ICC’s three wealthiest boards – the BCCI, Cricket Australia and the England and Wales Cricket Board – are ratified over the next two days in Dubai, that growth, already sluggish, will be severely stunted.

Many of the proposals simply make no sense – except of course when looked at from the perspective of those who already have much desire to further line their coffers: distribution of ICC funds is to be based on a “contribution cost” basis; leadership of the ICC will be handed to a new executive committee – with the three boards to be represented permanently by their presidents, while a fourth member will be voted in on a rotation basis.

Other proposals include a new two-tier Test competition, with promotion and relegation, but relegation excludes the three wealthiest countries because, well, because they’re rich.

Imagine Kaizer Chiefs, Orlando Pirates or Mamelodi Sundowns, finished bottom of the Premier Soccer League, but because they’re the wealthiest clubs in the country they’re exempt from being relegated. That’s what the boards in England, Australia and India are proposing for a new Test match competition.

There is also a proposal to do away with the Future Tours Programme – which attempted to provide some structure for an international calendar for tours – and for boards to engage in bilateral negotiations to establish when tours will occur. While England and Australia state they will honour tours over an eight-year period, there are no such guarantees from India.

Last Thursday a BCCI working committee, not surprisingly, came out in support of the proposals and, ominously, claimed that if the ICC board didn’t agree to the proposals, India would have to consider whether it could participate in future ICC events, ie the World Cup.

The BCCI feel they can do that because the rest of the cricket world is so beholden to India, and in particular the television revenue they attract, that they can effectively blackmail the sport.

Thus far, Cricket SA is the only full member to public express its disgust with the proposals, describing them as “fundamentally flawed” and “in breach of the ICC’s constitution”.

While no other board has spoken out, some powerful entities and individuals in the sport have expressed their concern in recent days.

Malcolm Speed and Malcolm Gray, both former senior administrators with Cricket Australia and the ICC; Ehsan Mani, another former president of the ICC; Clive Lloyd, who captained the great West Indies team of the 1970s and early 1980s and also a former match referee; as well as former Cricket SA managing director Ali Bacher and the International Players Association, have all expressed their concern over the proposals.

Mani in a letter to the current ICC president Alan Isaacs – which he wants distributed at Tuesday’s meeting – outlines a series of problems with the proposals and in some instances makes a mockery of what the three boards have proposed.

“The three boards have completely undermined the integrity and standing of the ICC, its president and the board of directors in promoting their own agenda without due and proper discussion by the board. Clearly, the right standard of boardroom behaviour is not seen to be in place,” wrote Mani.

In that letter he constantly references the governance review conducted by then British lord chief justice Baron Harry Woolf which was handed to the ICC in 2012, but rejected virtually out of hand by the BCCI, and has barely merited discussion at ICC board level as a result.

Among a host of recommendations, that include mechanisms to help expand the game globally and strengthen boards that don’t have the financial muscle of India or England, Woolf called for more independent directors at ICC board level.

“The ICC board and members should, as a matter of urgency, discuss the Woolf Report with a view to implementing its recommendations as soon as possible,” Mani concludes.

The financial model worked out by the three boards in private discussions between Giles Clarke (the ECB chairman), Wally Edwards (chairman of CA) and Srinivasan in Perth last year, makes for devastating reading.

India would receive the vast majority of funding from ICC events like the World Cup – the ICC’s main cash cow – and funds would be distributed based on how much revenue is generated by each Full Member.

At the moment, all the Full Members receive an equal share of funds generated from ICC events, and a further percentage is distributed among Associate Members – like the Netherlands, Ireland, Kenya and Bermuda.

Speed, a former ICC chief executive, was left dumbfounded by how the three boards came up with the model.

“I cannot see any reason whatsoever why India should receive extra funding from ICC events at the expense of struggling countries such as Scotland, Ireland, Uganda, Kenya and the other 100 Associate and Affiliate members where every dollar counts,” he said.

“India generates hundreds of millions from domestic and international media and sponsorship rights from matches played against the other Full Member countries,” Speed told website espncricinfo.com.

Therein lies the rub. The BCCI feels, owing to the funds it generates, that it deserves a larger slice of the revenue pie.

If they get that, cricket development in other smaller countries where the sport is looking to grow, will effectively be killed and even the future of the sport in some Full Member countries will be jeopardised too.

As a result, it is understood the likes of the West Indies and New Zealand are willing to back the proposals, if only to ensure they get some piece of the action from India in future.

Sadly, it appears the BCCI leadership is ignoring Kumble’s advice. Never mind wearing power lightly, the BCCI is out there wielding a big stick.

Administrators in England and Australia have sold themselves to the big bully in the schoolyard, now for the rest.

The Star



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