SA Cricket magazine reader Michael Swartz writes in an open letter to CSA director of cricket Graeme Smith detailing the thing he has to get right.
Graeme, thank you for standing in solidarity with the national cricketers who have voiced their support for a movement that essentially is a plea for equality.
With many things, including the cricket fraternity, there are always supporters and detractors. Be that as it may, I write this to you as part of the broader transformation dialogue. For those of us who love the game of cricket – including you and the CSA administrators whose responsibility it is to grow the game – we must adopt a longer view of what I believe true solidarity needs to look like in practice.
Thinking back, I have always admired you as a cricketer and young leader. You were always up for the challenges you faced, and whatever the task ahead of you, you took it head on. That fortitude and boldness felt most tangible during your captaincy of the Proteas. Your showing of solidarity towards equality within our beautiful game and within our society, is another indication of your courageous leadership.
However, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. A genuine commitment of solidarity towards the child in the township or rural village requires an investment in the sport that entrenches diversity at all levels of the game of cricket. To achieve this degree of diversity, sustainable reform over a prolonged period is required at the grassroots level. Any attempt at reform within the game that excludes institutional grassroots shift will merely result in hollow aesthetics.
As a cricketer, I have witnessed cricket’s potential to be a contributing mechanism for positive change. But change geared towards sustainable material means that goes beyond bowling and batting is still to be desired. The associated benefit of cricket is that it allows young children and youths to be involved in a sport where they can give between 10-12 hours of their week towards something they love.
If a child plays for most of their junior years, the amount of contact time could result in a significant amount of influence over their developmental aspirations. Cricket’s design creates an institution that has a big influence on the personal, social and emotional development of children who play the sport. So, besides growing the game just for the sake of it, the associated benefits of cricket provide communities and children with a safe space to grow. So, if we want to talk about more than just solidarity towards marginalised black lives, the opportunity to effect change should excite you.
Just like South Africa’s gini coefficient, the cricket offering landscape is very unequal. In Cape Town, the quality of and investment in cricket along the Table Mountain corridor far outweighs the offering on the Cape Flats and surrounding townships. I would venture to guess the picture is similar throughout the country. The offering is also structured differently – schools play a dominant role in offering cricket in more affluent suburbs. Whereas the cricket offering in lower-income communities is dependent on the deteriorating resources of community cricket clubs. However, herein lies the opportunity, Graeme, when you analyse a cross-section of the diverse network of community cricket clubs for where the game needs to grow, you begin to see the growth and reform opportunities that exist.
The aim should not be to duplicate how cricket is offered in affluent suburbs, but to see how community cricket clubs can play a central role in their communities and become sustainable spaces of hope, safety and excellence.
Centralising cricket clubs would strengthen the capacity to provide cricket as a service to surrounding communities, building strong cricket networks with schools and organisations. When done at scale, you will then decentralise cricket’s offering throughout provinces. All the necessary broad infrastructure is already in place.
Schools in these communities, along with mini-cricket networks, would continue to play an integral role in providing children with accessible entry points to the beautiful game.
If it were for this reason alone, we could get excited, but it’s not nearly enough. Unlocking the potential of cricket in these spaces is not easy, but investing in an alternative to the traditional youth cricket institutional structures is fundamentally necessary.
Unlocking the opportunity and potential will unfortunately be a continuously uphill task. Most socio-economic trends in our communities are going in the wrong direction, the state of junior community club cricket is in decline.
On a very high level, Graeme, it is only your and CSA’s long-term vision and scalable investment in community cricket clubs that will begin to bring about a shift in the trends we see.
That investment must be seen and experienced in communities like Elsies River, Nyanga or Delft. Graeme, can you just imagine the joy of watching Elsies River CC U19 vs Bishops 1st IX – on merit. This doesn’t have to be a desire.
So, where does one begin to solve the challenges facing community cricket clubs? The challenges seem almost endless, ranging from the cricket club administration issues, priorities of cricket clubs, inadequate resources/facilities, community safety concerns, just to name a few.
How do we (this includes you, Graeme) begin to turn the tide on significantly increasing the quality and quantity of cricket at a grassroots level? We are all encouraged by the amount of potential talent that exists on the ground, but the only sustainable way of unlocking it will be through reform.
For a start, I believe we need to begin to view cricket through a different paradigm. We need to view the game of cricket as a public good or commodity; commodities have value. A public good, just like a streetlight is produced and consumed very differently compared to a private good, which we all purchase.
Too often, cricket on all levels is treated like a private good – only available to those who have the means to purchase it. The mechanisms required to produce a public commodity, such as high-quality, large-scale cricket as a community offering, require a reconfiguration of our perspective of the game to meet the objective of cricket reform.
Within the context of a public-good offering, the dynamics and mechanisms that drive its sustainable provision are a difficult task. It is difficult because the problems are complex. I need to make the distinction between complicated and complex problems.
One major distinction is that complex problems have many more unknowns to it. So, the way we go about solving complex problems requires a different method, a more iterative method. For one, constructing and then deconstructing the challenges surrounding leadership, resources, community dynamics etc. would require CSA to seriously consider how cricket is institutionally configured.
My suggestion of viewing cricket as a public good, requires the hierarchy between the different levels of cricket administration to be narrowed (resulting in greater vertical integration) not just finding talent, but also for the purpose of growing the game. In addition, horisontal integration is required between community cricket clubs – complex problems require the coordination and pooling of intellectual capital over a sustained period. We cannot solve these problems in silos.
But, like with most things, including the health of CSA, leadership is critical. Building leadership acumen within each community cricket club will be the bedrock of any reform strategy. Building leadership capacity within a volunteer cricket club administration context is not easy, however, it is extremely necessary. It can be achieved through support – the vertical and horizontal integration allows for mechanisms of coordination, accountability, collaboration, and investment provision to be aligned to produce the alternative – the sustainable provision of quality cricket at scale in targeted spaces.
Graeme, I sign off with this reminder: your leadership attributes of boldness and courage are contagious. Set a clear vision on how you want to grow the wonderful game that speaks to our South African context and you will get the buy-in of the majority – the children playing with milk crates under streetlights and those on the field.
Our communities and our people love this beautiful game.