The Ukraine Cricket Federation (UCF) have appointed Dubai-based businessman Shyam Bhatia as the official patron of cricket in the Eastern European country. A special dinner was arranged by UCF to commemorate this occasion, with Bhatia flying to Kyiv to attend. At the event, he gave out signed copies of his book, ‘Portraits of Cricket’ to all board members, whilst also presenting special gifts to UCF President Hardeep Singh and CEO Kobus Olivier.
The appointment represents a major coup for cricket in the region as Bhatia is a man with deep pockets. The multi-millionaire is the founder and owner of Alam Steel, one of the biggest steel companies in the Middle East.
His emergence as a successful businessman is a rags to riches story. Having landed in Dubai with a debt of Rs 10, the Indian expat went onto become a multi-millionaire in just a few years time. Bhatia credits his remarkable success to his love of cricket, stating that the game opened many doors for him in the UAE.
He owns a private cricket museum in his home, which has been visited by many famous sports athletes such as Shane Warne, Sunil Gavaskar and Roger Federer. Furthermore, through his Cricket for Care Foundation, he has been distributing free cricket kits to underprivileged children around the globe, including in Thailand, Indonesia and Japan.
After receiving the award from UCF, Bhatia expressed his delight at the cricket development in Ukraine.
“I am so happy and pleasantly surprised to see that Ukrainian cricket has so much support from the local community. I first came to know about the grassroots cricket work underway here from Kobus Olivier, a couple of years ago. My friendship with him actually dates back to 2014, when he was the CEO of Cricket Kenya. When Kobus approached me for help, I was glad to send him six full sets of softball cricket kits.”
Speaking to Emerging Cricket, the recently appointed UCF CEO Olivier stated that Bhatia’s visit and patronship was a monumental boost to local cricket development.
“The event was a great success. The whole board were there, all the important people in the Indian expat community as well as Kyiv based Pakistani multi-millionaire Mohammed Zahoor. Having people like these involved as sponsors and supporters of cricket with their connections in the government is massive.”
Exchange programmes and new ground
During his trip to Ukraine, Bhatia, accompanied by Olivier, also met with Andrey Pilleroa, the owner of the Astor schools. He donated some additional equipment here to help with the country’s school cricket programme. The ultimate aim is for cricket to be officially incorporated into the Physical Education Curriculum in Ukrainian schools.
“To this end, myself and fellow members of UCF have had very successful meetings with the Deputy Minister of Sport of Ukraine as well as the Department of Youth and Sport in Kyiv,” says Olivier.
There are also plans to set up cricket exchange programmes with the help of Bhatia.
“Mr Bhatia is going to help us with the exchange programme to get cricketers from here (both kids and adults) to go and play cricket at his privately owned ground in Dubai. We will also host them in return. Also, he has promised to send coaches to Ukraine to assist with coaching and development.”
The conversation then turns to the recent opening of a brand new cricket ground, the second one in the country. It is located in Kharkiv, a five hour car ride away from Kyiv. Olivier gives full credit to President Hardeep Singh for the construction of the ground. According to him, it will have a transformative effect on cricket, particularly when the indoor nets are complete.
“Once the indoor nets are done, it will allow us to train through winter. Special thanks to Hardeep. He has done so much for Ukrainian cricket, particularly at the senior level. The new ground we have, he’s paid for everything – the artificial pitch, maintenance of the field. He can legitimately be called the ‘father of Ukrainian cricket’.”
Future Associate status
With influential patrons on board, the UCF is now on a mission to grow the sport quickly. They are targeting an ascension to ICC Associate member status by the end of 2022.
“We have already sent the official letter notifying ICC of our intention to apply for Associate membership. We are having monthly Zoom meetings with the ICC Europe office. They are guiding us through the process, ensuring that we have a clear understanding of the ten criteria. Their input and guidance has been great,” says Olivier.
“The aim is for our application to be tabled at the ICC meeting in June next year (2022). At this stage we are definitely on track. Our senior cricket is incredibly well organised, with tournaments almost every second weekend. We have two grounds and a well structured junior boys and girls pathway system for Ukrainian children. So, we tick most of the boxes. In September, the process will officially start,” he continues.
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