ICC’s Growth Strategy initiatives may convey the organisation’s purported desire to expand cricket’s global footprint; but up until relatively recently, the sport’s popularity has remained largely confined to countries historically associated with the Commonwealth of Nations (and before that, the British Empire). However, there are clear signs that times are now changing, and cricket is finally achieving a modicum of the growth that many Associate advocates have dreamed of for a long time.
Aided and abetted by T20, cricket’s snappy and action-packed format with its universal status, cricket has managed to gain a foothold in places as diverse as Central and South-East Asia, Brazil and lately the former French colonies of Africa. Currently, the Francophone Associate cricket contingent consists of Cameroon, Mali, Rwanda and Seychelles with Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso hoping to join their ranks in the near future.
Emerging Cricket sat down with Fédération Ivoirienne de Cricket (FIVC) President Dosso Mekrokro and Cricket Burkina Faso (CBF) coach Sore Daouda to discuss the emergence of cricket in Francophone nations and both organisations’ ambitions of obtaining ICC Associate membership.
Origins and Present
Situated on the Atlantic south coast of West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire is as renowned internationally for its football stars like Didier Drogba, Yaya Touré and Salomon Kalou, as it is for its resorts, rainforest and cocoa beans. It is a region of the world, where the passion for football eclipses everything else. All of Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon have produced global football stars and put in memorable performances at past FIFA World Cups. Which is why it makes the emergence of cricket in this region a fascinating story.
“I discovered cricket on a national TV show and I liked the sport straightaway. I sent a youngster to Ghana to learn for a year. On his return, we organized the first training course for coaches in 2015 in Abidjan and that is how cricket was born,” describes Dosso Mekrokro.
From this humble beginning, the sport has made slow but steady progress in the last six years. Currently, the national cricket scene consists of 8 senior men’s clubs, 9 junior teams and 5 girls’ teams.
“In total we have more than 250 athletes playing cricket and four training centres in four high schools. We organize our matches in schools because we have no land of our own. There are also colleges in Abidjan playing the sport and hopefully very soon in the cities of the interior,” the FICV President says.
“But we lack a lot of training and cricket equipment. We have good relations with the Nigerian Cricket Federation which has just given us material for children. However, we need sponsors, we need further help from outside. The limited resources that the Ministry of Sports provides us (around $7,000 USD annually) is not sufficient to properly equip the teams and organise training centres which increase every year,” he continues further.
The story of Burkina Faso cricket is heavily intertwined with that of their southern neighbours. According to coach Sore Daouda, Ibrahim N’Diaye (current CBF President) founded the sport in 2016 after witnessing the game being played in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Ibrahim told me about cricket after he saw it being played. Together, we worked hard to grow the sport from scratch. Thanks to Monsieur Dosso as well for helping us with cricket equipment, which allowed us to start training. Ibrahim has been funding everything till now; if we succeed in our goals, it would be because of his determination. We are currently in the process of establishing a cricket federation in our country.”
At present, there are 10 clubs (all based in capital Ouagadougou) with 68 regular participants and around 225 players. In a bid to increase their cricketing knowledge, the board has found it useful to tap into the local Indian expat population, who have formed four teams off their own.
“Unfortunately, we lack funds to organise a national championship and furthermore terrorism is also a barrier to our development. Therefore, cricket is mainly practised in the capital; but we still organise competitions for girls, men and kids on a regional basis,” says Daouda.
Both FICV and FCB have big dreams for the sport and aspire for their respective countries to become great cricket nations. However, promoting and developing the sport is hard work in an environment where cricket is fighting an uphill battle against more established sports such as football, basketball, rugby and tennis.
“We want to make cricket a top 10 sport in Burkina Faso by 2026. Our strategy is to increase awareness through the use of social media. With regards to equipment, we make our own bats, bails and wickets but there’s not enough to supply all the clubs. We need funding from ICC and are working on getting ICC Associate membership in that regard,” says Daouda.
Meanwhile, over in Côte d’Ivoire, the Federation is also in the process of sorting out the necessary paperwork to make a push for Associate status.
“For 3 years we have made the request and sent several documents to ICC through the Africa Cricket Association (ACA) office based in Johannesburg. By the end of January 2022, we hope to receive the final result. Once we get Associate status, the material and financial support from ICC will help greatly with further development of the sport,” Mekrokro states.
Fitting Cricket into the Francophone African culture
When it comes to cricket in Francophone Africa, Rwanda is an obvious success story. By many estimates, cricket is the fastest growing sport there. The sport is also being used as a tool to rebuild community relations and heal the wounds of the country’s dark past. But Rwanda’s case is actually quite unique. For many historical and social reasons, it has deliberately moved away from its colonial links with Belgium by embracing Britain, cricket and the Commonwealth, even becoming an official member in 2009.
This is not the case with Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire or other Francophone nations. However, Mekrokro has embraced the challenge and sees no reason why cricket should not become a national pastime.
“There is no sport in the world that a French-speaking country cannot practice. We are on the right track and by the end of 2023 you will see us on the ground,” he declares.
On the other hand, Daouda strikes a more pensive tone.
“In Burkina Faso, it is not easy to develop a sport which is virtually unknown. When we talk about cricket, the majority of people don’t understand what it is. But I am confident that our social media strategy would bear fruit. Also, when we introduce cricket in schools, we have seen all the pupils want to try the sport and receive encouragement from parents,” he states.
He also concedes that the language barrier presents a big challenge in trying to grow the sport.
“We try to find a way around it by explaining cricketing concepts to our coaches and players in French. But it is difficult, if you don’t have someone who can speak English to help you. All the documents, meetings and videos are in English. In my opinion, ICC really needs to think about including other languages like French to make it easier for us to understand the rules and being able to express ourselves.”
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