When the ECN Czech Super Series begins on June 13th, the Českomoravský Kriketový Svaz (the Czech Republic Cricket Union) will be able to boast of their primacy over the world’s cricket calendar.
Time will tell what this opportunity to broadcast live cricket from the Czech Republic to a world starved of action will have locally. It’s nevertheless hugely exciting for the Českomoravský Kriketový Svaz — a twenty-year-old organisation spearheading cricket’s growth in a bohemian, medieval and football-loving nation.
I had a chat with the board’s Chief Operating Officer, League Administrator, and wearer of many hats, Terry O’Connor to find out more about growing cricket in this new frontier.
Building a thriving club network – “Czech people are sport mad. It’s much more common to play sport twice a week and not watch any than vice versa”
Participation in cricket in Czechia is growing. 300 adults of predominantly South Asian ethnicity play across the nation’s 16 teams from 9 clubs – concentrated in Prague and Brno. Prague Cricket Club was formed in 1997 as the first of these, and it wasn’t until 2000 that the Českomoravský Kriketový Svaz was formed and affiliated to the ICC.
A streamlining of the country’s work permit process in 2015 was a key change, which has made it easier for non-EU nationals to live and settle in the Czech Republic. They now have 40, 20, 10-over and indoor domestic leagues, making it possible to play cricket for most of the year.
Taking cricket to the Czechs – “We can turn cricket into Kriket”
The board’s strategic plan for growing the game is very clearly prioritised on the removal of barriers to entry for Czechs. Chief among these is language.
Chris Pearce set up the Kriketova Akademie ČR in 2015 to run Introduction to Cricket courses and after school clubs for 6-14-year olds. It followed a trip to England with a colleague where they translated an ‘Introduction to Cricket’ program into Czech in conjunction with Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club.
Fast forward to the present day, there is a network of 25 Czech coaches who’ve brought cricket to 7,500 kids over the past year, split evenly between boys and girls. They now have junior national teams playing at Under 15, Under 12 and Under 10 levels.
O’Connor is clear that “the only way to have long-term sustainability is to talk about and coach cricket in Czech. We need to ensure language is not a barrier to participation, but it’s not the only barrier we’re trying to remove.”
Sport is integral, cricket isn’t – “We have to get to 5,000 kids playing a week before the cultural aspect kicks in”
Retaining young people as they move from primary to secondary school — when there are no after school cricket clubs — is a key piece of the jigsaw. This is why they are developing formal pathways for kids from primary schools into club cricket and with some success.
Last year clubs registered 395 junior players, 30% of whom were female. There are ambitious projects ongoing to develop facilities and to instill development models in cricket clubs so that they are sustainable, inclusive, and capable of becoming a cricketing home for aspiring young cricketers.
It’s here that the global audience can be a lifeline for local cricket. If, as O’Connor hopes, they can double the 450,000 people who’ve tuned in for parts of the Vanuatu T10 Blast, it will be a huge revenue driver in a country where there are only four dedicated cricket fields, two of which are on the same grounds. Converting this cash into infrastructure could be one of a few possible legacies from this tournament.
Capture national attention – “To Czechs, Czech cricket looks like a bunch of people standing around on a field”
If O’Connor is adamant that Czech Cricket needs 5,000 weekly participants, it needs to challenge perceptions about the sport, and this will take time.
“We only have one or two TV pieces and a couple of print every year. We want the legitimacy of the Czech sports media to feature our results as a starting point. When we can say that X people watched this cricket match, they will start to take notice.”
In many ways, this is the long game that the board is playing — trying to create a basic understanding of the merits of cricket to sports writers who don’t yet get it. By playing hosts to a tournament shot from four cameras, live streamed from Czechia to the world, there is an opportunity to better package up and present the sport.
An opportunity to inspire – “Young people will get to see cricket looking as good (if not better) than other sports”
The tournament will be the first time a young Czech cricketer can genuinely watch local cricket in their own language on a screen and say to themselves “if I move into hard ball and keep going this is where I could end up.”
With less than two weeks to the tournament beginning, it’s anyone’s guess how it will go and what legacy it will have. Challenges such as how to retain young local players and transition them into senior club cricketers and grow the game for girls will remain regardless of whether it does or doesn’t go well.
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