Cricket will change irrevocably over the next few years, thanks to a brazen takeover of the ICC by the three biggest boards in the game, Neil Manthorp writes.
You may be curious about how the recent coup – which saw the boards of India, England and Australia take control of the administration and finances of the world game from the designated administrators, the ICC – will affect the future.
The Future Tours Programme (FTP), which provided structure and context to Test and ODI cricket, has been torn up. The agreement that all the major nations would attempt to play each other home and away in a four-year period no longer applies. The Test and ODI rankings, which gave meaning to what were previously random bilateral tours, will be bereft of credibility and plausibility.
The big three nations are likely to play each other in either format so regularly the gloss which made the fixtures attractive – and lucrative – will dull. There is no greater threat to sport than spectator indifference. It translates to lower television ratings and therefore a lower bottom line. Variety is the spice of life, and sport.
The strongest sports in the world are those which seek to build the strength of its weakest members, not its strongest. American sports give the least successful franchises first pick at the annual draft because strong competition grows interest, and revenue. Spanish football has been struggling for years because Barcelona and Real Madrid take over half the revenue from television. Both bank around €140 million (R2.1 billion) every season. The smallest clubs are given a little over €10 million (R150 million). What chance is there of genuine competition?
Is competition not the greatest reason sport is followed? Even more than jingoistic or tribal loyalty?
The 2014 Super Bowl was played between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos, the first of which had been part of the grand finale just once before and the second of which had not featured since 1999. Neither city, by the way, ranks in America’s top 20 by population. And that is the point of competition. Every supporter of every NFL franchise starts every season with the genuine belief they can win. What a wonderful thought.
International cricket may not be a franchise system but the similarities are obvious. Except there are only 10 teams, not 20. Even more reason to encourage the growth of the smallest. Instead, Zimbabwe will barely play Test cricket in the future and Bangladesh will be fed A teams by the big three. If India are to fulfil the commitments they agreed to in the process of gathering the votes they needed, they will need 16 months in the year. Concurrent ODI and Test tours in different countries is one way out. The other is to renege on promises.
Not a single voice of authority in the game, outside the big three, has supported the change in structure which sees just three nations claim all meaningful control of the game and over half its global revenue. The list of those who oppose it contains many of the biggest. Lord Woolfe, commissioned in 2011 to write a report on improving ICC governance, said: ‘My sole concern … was achieving the best result for the future of cricket. I don’t see how we could see it as anything but a retrograde step. It is giving extraordinary powers to a small triumvirate, and everybody else has got no power to say anything or do anything.’
Mike Brearley, one of England’s most successful captains, a practising psychologist and chairman of the MCC, said: ‘Protecting Test cricket [as the triad claim] seems a bit empty when the one project in place to protect it – the agreed Test Championship – is the first thing to be scrapped. ‘Second, it is morally wrong. India [et al] should not have a right to the majority of profits made by the ICC, just because their deals bring in a large percentage of the money. The ICC events take their credibility from all Test countries, and from the history of the competitions. The World Cup started in 1975, and the first two were won by West Indies,’ Brearley said, before addressing the importance of having as many competitive teams as possible.
‘Competition will be threatened if the money is disproportionately divided – and earnings may be less likely to flow in if competitiveness is diminished. Only in the US have people realised that retaining interest and a chance of success in all teams in a league is essential if competition and passionate following are to blossom.
‘What is more, if India are the bullies they are felt to be, why should England and Australia feel so confident that they will keep to arrangements? Why would they not expect India to demand more and more?’ Brearley asks.
The vast majority of professional players, too, are on a crash course to certain conflict with the new regime. N Srinivasan, head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), and soon to be president of the ICC, has never made a secret of his disdain for the Federation of International Cricketers (Fica) and has called for the ICC to ‘derecognise’ the organisation which represents the players in eight of the 10 Test playing countries. (India and Pakistan are the only countries without a players’ association.)
The ICC co-operates with Fica in its supply of funding, which includes the automatic transfer of 5% from prize money won by member nations at ICC events. Cancellation of this arrangement would instantly jeopardise the federation’s future, and Srinivasan knows it. The federation has, however, been resolute in condemning the ICC changes, with Paul Marsh, Fica’s recently resigned executive chairman, calling it ‘a very sad day for our game’. Closer to home, the South African Cricketers’ Association’s chief executive, Tony Irish, has said: ‘Placing power and control of the ICC in the hands of three individuals who have also themselves decided on the deregulation of the playing schedule is a sure way to undermine the fairness and competitiveness of international cricket.’
The English Professional Cricketers’ Association was established nearly 30 years ago and enjoys a relationship of mutual respect and co-operation with the England and Wales Cricket Board. The Australian Cricketers’ Association, too, is strong, independent and on good working terms with Cricket Australia. But Clarke and Edwards engaged in a great deal of mock shoulder-shrugging when engaged in the takeover and will merely repeat the exercise when confronted with their own player associations.
Clarke and Edwards privately told selected media they had ‘no choice’ but to go along with Srinivasan’s demands. They painted a bleak picture of ICC events like the World Cup without India in them. Television revenues would plummet and the global game would suffer a financial meltdown. Everybody would suffer.
Really? Would India have withdrawn from next year’s World Cup? Would Srinivasan and the BCCI have risked alienating the billion fans who represent the very essence of their wealth? The BCCI makes its money from the size of its television audience, not because it administers the game well or its team performs better than any other. And much as that audience enjoys the IPL, it would not be satisfied with that alone. But Clarke and Edwards were too greedy for the money and too spineless to call the BCCI’s bluff.
The ‘small seven’ will continue to be marginalised in the years to come and their frustrations will grow. It was always the BCCI’s intention to expand the IPL – in the number of teams and the length of the season – and that will compromise the quality and integrity of international fixtures with the best players unable or unwilling to turn down salary packages far greater than can be offered by national boards.
The shunted seven need to hold their own meetings and, as far as possible, make their own choices and decisions. A shared grievance is a lightened burden. They need not stoop to the puerile gutter-lows of the BCCI and threaten non-participation in the World Cup, but the mere formation of an alliance will send a critical message to the bully and its sycophants that they are, in fact, outnumbered.
The Wanderers boardroom would be a fine venue for the first meeting…
DID CSA SELL OUT?
After initially declaring the restructuring proposal to be ‘unconstitutional and fundamentally flawed’, CSA softened its position after a number of largely inconsequential ‘concessions’ by the big three until finally accepting the compromised proposal. CSA president Chris Nenzani said there were three reasons the proposal was accepted. He believed the new structure would keep democratic processes in place, ensure South African cricket remained financially stable, and the Proteas will be able to play more four- and five-Test series against the top nations.
There is nothing democratic about the new ICC structure. Theoretically, the new executive committee, on which the BCCI-ECB-CA triad hold a majority, must report to the ICC board on which all 10 Test-playing nations are represented. The same board which acquiesced so meekly to the takeover in the first place.
In truth, Nenzani and CSA had nowhere to go. They were backed into a corner and had two choices. Keep pride and honour intact – and go bankrupt. Or join the bully’s gang and keep cricket’s community alive in SA.
As Nenzani said: ‘It was not the ideal outcome but it was the best possible one that was available to us.’
This article was first published in issue 124 of SA Cricket magazine.
Photo: Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images/Gallo Images