For a man who seems to have spent the past couple of months fighting brush fires, some of which have threatened to turn into major conflagrations, KNCB chairman Jurgen Delfos manages to keep his eye firmly fixed on the horizon.
Asked this week to reflect on what his priorities were when he took on the job back in April, he has no hesitation in talking about big themes and the longer term.
‘What made me really enthusiastic,’ he says, ‘was the prospect of making the game accessible to everybody, and to making everyone feel welcome in the Dutch cricket community.’
His own background as a recreational ‘Zami’ (Saturday afternoon) cricketer had given him few opportunities to experience the game as played by cricketers from Asian backgrounds, who now constitute nearly 70% of male players in the Netherlands, but he sees greater inclusiveness as a key priority.
‘After going to a T10 tournament at [Topklasse club] Sparta in September 2020 and seeing the energy and enjoyment there, I thought a lot about how important cricket can be in helping new arrivals in the Netherlands and their families feel welcome here.
‘What better way of helping Afghan refugees, for example, feel at home in the Netherlands than through our shared love of the game?’
For Delfos, this perspective is linked to the more concrete task of evolving a strategy for Dutch cricket through to the end of the next ICC cycle, in 2031, with an intermediate reference point in 2024 and annual plans, starting with 2022.
‘We need to be asking,’ he insists, ‘what the cricketers of 2031 will want the game to be like, so that we can mould our structures to meet their demands. We know that the trend across society is towards activities which take less time, and cricket needs to respond to that.
‘I believe that we need to shift the balance towards T20, where the international opportunities are also greater, but without detracting from 50-over cricket; the balance between the two formats should be roughly equal.’
Doesn’t placing more emphasis on T20 inevitably mean reducing the scope for the longer formats?
‘Not necessarily,’ Delfos replies. ‘By scheduling creatively, we can make more use of April and September, especially in the shorter formats where it’s possible to use venues more intensively, even in combination with football and hockey.
‘And why shouldn’t the KNCB organise tapeball tournaments, rather than leaving that to the initiative of groups of enthusiastic individuals?’
The objective should be, Delfos believes, to make cricket a 365-day-a-year game in the Netherlands, with more emphasis also on attractive indoor competitions for men and women, as well as for youth players.
Given the chairman’s strong beliefs about multiculturism in Dutch cricket, wasn’t he particularly disappointed by the controversy towards the end of the Topklasse season, when a match between HCC and VOC – incidentally his own club – was abandoned because of allegedly racist abuse against an Indian player?
‘Yes, of course I was,’ he responds, ‘but it also provided us with an opportunity to open up a discussion about intercultural relationships in the Dutch game, and about how we achieve great inclusivity.’
One of three working groups meeting over the winter is in fact devoted to the topic of inclusiveness, and the KNCB has been in dialogue with NOC*NSF, the Dutch Olympic Committee, about a possible independent assessment of the extent of the problem in Dutch cricket.
The need for open discussion is in fact a recurring theme in Delfos’s thinking: ‘we mustn’t be afraid,’ he says, ‘of facing the difficult issues.’ That includes divisions, within the Board, between the Board and some clubs, and among the clubs themselves, which have been exposed by the recent crisis around the termination of the CEO’s contract.
On the so-called ‘Restore Trust Group’, the coalition of clubs which has been most critical of the Board, Delfos is keen to make clear that while he believes they have a valuable role to play in the ongoing discussions about the future, they do not have a special relationship with him as chairman.
‘Eight clubs represent about a fifth of the KNCB’s membership,’ he points out, ‘so they will get about a fifth of my attention.’
One persistent issue over many years has been the most appropriate governance model for the relationship between the Board and the office, with the Board in theory staying out of operational matters and confining its role to oversight, but in practice often getting involved operationally as well.
Delfos brings his background in the commercial world to bear on the problem, noting that when overseers become involved in day-to-day operations their oversight function is inevitably compromised. Yet it is sometimes the case that the staff need access to expertise which they do not themselves possess.
‘The Dutch Rugby Bond has an interesting approach to this problem,’ he observes. ‘They have Commissies van Bijstand [Assistance Committees] which can offer expert advice and support in specific areas, leaving the Board free to exercise its role of oversight.
‘That might be a model we should consider.’
The internal problems of the past few weeks have been a distraction from the national men’s team’s disappointing performance in the World T20 Cup, not least because the resignation of vice-chairman and High Performance portfolio-holder Hans Mulder and the dismissal of CEO Milena van Not have removed two of the key protagonists, but also because attention switched very quickly to preparation for the Super League series against South Africa.
Delfos vigorously denies any suggestion that he himself wants to play down the high performance dimension of the KNCB’s programmes.
‘The high performance area is crucial,’ he asserts, ‘as a focus for players’ ambition, as a means of gaining exposure for the sport, and as a way of providing role models for youngsters as they get involved in the game.
‘The time will come for looking at many of the fundamental questions, such as the future role of passport-holders in the (men’s) national team, our policy on central contracts, the development of more home-produced players, and so on. But that will have to wait until the current vacancies have been filled.
‘For now, we are looking forward, to the 2022 season and in particular to the World T20 Qualifier in Zimbabwe in July.’
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