KNCB general meeting looks to the future

The need for verbinding – a Dutch term which in this context we can perhaps best translate as ‘unity’ – and for stability were the keynotes when the KNCB held its winter general meeting on Saturday, with Guido Landheer’s new Board facing its constituents en masse for the first time.

Verbinding was what had been called for by the chair of the committee which had been put together to find a way out of the crisis of governance in which the KNCB had landed itself a year ago, former chairman Marc Asselbergs, in his final report on his committee’s work, and this meeting was a test of the extent to which reconciliation has been achieved.

Landheer cited it as he thanked Asselbergs and his team for their work and invited the meeting to dissolve the committee, and he went out of his way to create and maintain a positive atmosphere, more than once stating that the new Board was ‘standing on the shoulders’ of its predecessors.

There were, it is true, hints that the old faultlines are to a degree still there, but the Board came through its first real test largely unscathed, and it will go into 2023 with a fair amount of justified confidence.

There was, after all, a good deal to celebrate: the ‘Summer of Cricket’ had seen eleven home matches against four Full members successfully organised; the men’s national team had beaten Zimbabwe and South Africa in the World T20 Cup in Australia and thereby qualified for the next one, in the West Indies and USA in 2024; the women’s side had completed a visit to Thailand, securing a first-ever ODI win against their hosts; a new CEO had been appointed; and a sponsorship agreement supporting the women’s team had just been signed.

Landheer congratulated Betty Timmer, the outgoing CEO of the limited liability company (BV) which had been responsible for organising the ‘Summer of Cricket’, and her team for all their efforts, and there were presentations to key figures from the three clubs which had hosted the matches, VRA Amsterdam, VOC Rotterdam and Voorburg.

There was also recognition for former national captain Jeroen Smits, who played more than 160 matches for the Netherlands, served for a time on the Board, and is now the men’s team manager; he became a Lid van Verdienste, a form of honorary membership granted to those who have provided distinguished service to the organisation.

The financial outcomes of the summer’s events have not yet been finalised and will not be known for two or three months; organisationally, the BV has been brought closer to its parent body by the  decision to make KNCB CEO Monica Visser chief executive of the BV as well, with a view to achieving what the company’s Board chairman Steven van Hoogstraten called ‘unity of policy’.

As for the future of the BV itself, now that the ICC has abolished the ODI Super League and there is likely to be no repeat of the ‘Summer of Cricket’, Landheer indicated that his Board would review that once the finances had been settled and an evaluation carried out, and that this process would also revisit the recommendations of the Governance Committee which reported a year ago, proposing a substantial widening of the BV’s responsibilities.

In view of the fact that the financial position of the BV at the end of its hectic summer, and the implications of that for the KNCB, remain unclear, there was a degree of provisionality about the discussion of the end-of-year financial statement and budget for 2023.

The welcome news that the prognosis for 2022 is a surplus of €330k., as against a budgetary prediction of breaking even, was somewhat overshadowed by a suggestion from the floor that the new Board had broken the rules by spending nearly €600k. more than provided for in the budget without securing the prior approval of the general meeting.

That €600k. was, of course, a good deal less than additional €900k. in income, and this argument appeared to be based upon a somewhat idiosyncratic reading of the Constitution and Standing Orders, which require the Board to get prior approval for any agreement worth more than €100k. – the provision does not cover increased spending more generally.

The matter will no doubt be considered in due course by the KNCB’s Finance Committee, which reports to each spring general meeting on the Board’s management of the finances, and for the moment the concerns were noted.

The meeting as a whole, however, appeared to be more interested in looking forward rather than back, and the longest discussion, not entirely surprisingly, was about the organisation of the domestic competitions in 2023 and beyond.

Here we saw a range of the hardy perennials: the influx of overseas players (or, as the Dutch tend to call them, ‘cricket tourists’); the question of whether top division matches should be played on Saturdays and/or Sundays; the overlaps with the football and hockey seasons and the resulting difficulties of many clubs in getting hold of suitable grounds; and the need to recruit more umpires and scorers.

On the overseas player issue, Landheer declared his Board’s ambition to ensure a ‘more level playing field’, given that some clubs remain able and willing to buy success by hiring a larger number of players from outside the Netherlands, but acknowledged that Dutch and EU mobility and anti-discrimination laws make achieving this far from straightforward.

Securing suitable facilities, he said, was primarily a responsibility of the clubs, but the Board and its staff would do what they could to help in discussions with local authorities, which mostly control the grounds, and with other sports federations.

The Saturday/Sunday debate remains intractable, although there is a fairly widespread understanding that in the period in May and early June when cricket is competing with football and hockey, increasing or even maintaining youth numbers often depends upon junior cricket being played on Sundays, which requires that the top divisions play on Saturdays.

There was less discussion of what was perhaps the most far-reaching point on the agenda, the Board’s Policy Plan 2023.

This was introduced by Landheer (relating to Cricket Development), Board member Reinout Scholte (High Performance), and CEO Visser (management), and they laid out a vision of the KNCB’s long-term objectives and how they proposed starting to get there.

The recent series of regional meetings had revealed broad support for the plan, with clubs keen to see progress on the expansion of women’s and youth cricket, recruitment of umpires and improvement of facilities, and on the redevelopment of cricket outside the Randstad (the urban conglomeration from Rotterdam to Amsterdam).

Landheer declared his Board’s long-term ambition to see cricket clubs in all 50 of the largest cities and towns in the country, and referred to a recent indoor tournament in the northern city of Groningen, which had featured twelve teams and which would hopefully lead to the re-establishment of a club there; an additional 1.3 FTE would be added next year to the cohort of regional development officers, with a focus on the city of Eindhoven and the provice of Flevoland.

Much will need to be done if the Board’s ambitious targets are to be met, but the overall sense of this meeting was that there is a desire to move forward, and a willingness to work together to grow the game.

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