Broader issues in spotlight after annus horribilis for Cricket Ireland

Ireland ODI Super League

It hasn’t been the best of years for Cricket Ireland, has 2019. There was a significant loss (a “six figure sum“) due to cyber-fraud, the collapse of a media rights deal, the loss of players who want to maintain their ‘local’ status in County cricket, and the postponement of the Euro T20 Slam. Now, to close the year out, the cancellation of some homes fixtures in 2020 has been announced; a planned Test match against Bangladesh will be replaced by a single T20I and a five-match series against fellow-recent Full member Afghanistan in the shortest format has been scrapped altogether. Ireland’s one-off Test against Sri Lanka in Galle has also been postponed.

The easy thing here is to look at Ireland’s shocker of a year and put the blame on its administrators, but the fact is, Cricket Ireland has been a shining light of the game off the field for over a decade; its executives and governance model are heralded, and many observers agreed that their promotion to Full Membership of the ICC was long overdue. There’s more to this than just being about Ireland.

Cricket Ireland’s press release included a lengthy statement from CEO Warren Deutrom (copied in full below). He made a number of salient points which will hopefully set off some alarm bells in cricket’s halls of power, as his words shine a spotlight on some major issues for the sport, around funding, fixtures and sustainability; how will it continue to help grow the game, and, in this instance, support its emerging giants.

After being promoted from Associate membership alongside Afghanistan in 2017, Cricket Ireland, alongside eleven other Full members, has one of seventeen votes on the ICC Board. However, this equality does not extend to the levels of financial support from the global body nor access to fixtures.

Early in his statement, Deutrom made a pointed observation on the current funding levels for Cricket Ireland from the ICC, being an “allocation amounting to less than half of that of Zimbabwe, our expected revenues from the ICC Funding Model for Full Members have not been realised.”

While final amounts have never been officially announced it was reported at the time of their elevation that Ireland and Afghanistan would each receive approximately $5m per year from 2017-2023. Zimbabwe’s share of ICC distributions equated to $94m over the eight-year cycle, almost $12m per year:

Time to take stock

Uncertainty around global funding and the Future Tours Programme don’t just affect Full members. Development (Associate) funding is cut from the same cake as the Full members and CWC Leagues and T20 World Cup pathways all align with global events, and generally have longer running times than any full member qualification pathway.

The ICC budgeted to distribute ~$1.7bn to members over the current eight-year rights period 2015-23. The BCCI made that amount of money itself, in the 2017-18 financial year.

With a new BCCI President seemingly determined to get more money from the central pot, where does this leave the game and how it funds its future?

The ICC distributes ~$212m per year to members, FIFA ~$437m. On the face of it, this looks good. Until you dig deeper.

Over the 2019-2022 cycle, FIFA will distribute $1.746bn via the FIFA Forward Programme, where every one of the 211 members is entitled to receive $1.25m per year over the cycle as long as they meet certain criteria and the monies are used for specific initiatives. An additional $250,000 per year is available to nations with less than $4m in reserves.

Conversely, the ICC gives 91% of its distributions to 12 of its 105 members, including almost a quarter to just one. $20m per year is left to cover 93 Associates, the smallest grant being below $20,000 per year.

Emerging cricket nations are encouraged to develop their own means of income, beyond ICC grants, be they from government, corporate or other sources such as franchise leagues. Recently, however, we’ve seen the Euro T20 Slam and Afghanistan Premier League postponed, pay issues at GT20 Canada, the BPL run entirely by the BCB after a dispute with franchise owners and an aborted attempt by South Africa to run their own ‘Global’ league which cost CSA over $14m and cost the CEO his job. Where to next for Associates looking to generate income?

If cricket ever truly wants to be a global sport it really needs to take a step back and consider its strategy, because a future where the international game stratifies to the point where it is truly dominated by a handful of teams is inevitable unless the inequity in the way cricket distributes income from the international game is addressed.

Similarly, the sooner the ICC’s global events also focus on creating a broader platform to showcase the sport, and actively promote the growth of the game alongside acting as money-making machines, the better.

Without these changes, all attempts to sustainably grow the sport outside its traditional centres will continue with one arm tied behind its back and we risk a future where countries will drop off the radar as future players are lost to other sports and interests, and where the successes of countries like Ireland and Afghanistan coming through the system will be long distant memories.

Twelve of the seventeen votes on the ICC Board are Full members, and the game needs these countries to look past their own short term financial goals to the future of the global game, and agree a more equitable plan around fixtures and funding, or risk the sport whittling away.

Full statement from CI CEO Warren Deutrom:

“We were proud to become world cricket’s 11th Test playing nation and have a long-term commitment to that format of the game. Both fans and players alike have enjoyed the spectacle of Ireland competing in the Test arena, however we have been very careful in our approach to Test cricket and understand that it is a long-term proposition to build up a competitive side in the long game, and will require significant investment in permanent infrastructure before we can make regular Test cricket financially sustainable.

“We have additionally been very open about the financial and resource constraints that we operate within, and especially a number of financial headwinds that we have faced as we transition from an Associate Member to the operations required of a Full Member.

“The ICC have been supportive in giving us this opportunity, but the reality to date has been Cricket Ireland dealing with significant financial challenges. The costs associated with delivering to Full Membership standards and fulfilling a much greater number of international fixtures each year has not been matched by expected revenues and a number of key unforeseen financial blows. With an allocation amounting to less than half of that of Zimbabwe, our expected revenues from the ICC Funding Model for Full Members have not been realised. Although we generate a higher percentage of our own income outside of ICC funding than a number of more established nations, the fact is that it is insufficient to help us transition smoothly to our current status.

“This has been a great disappointment to us as we had hoped to have had an injection of new money into the sport from Full Membership that would have not only helped fulfil fixtures, but invest in infrastructure and the grassroots game across Ireland. We have been told that this expected shortfall is set to continue until 2023 when a new ICC Funding Model will be developed that will hopefully provide a greater share of the overall allocation, although of course that is still subject to discussion among all the members.

“In addition, while the day-to-day running of cricket goes on, we have also been hampered by the revenue shortfall from the postponement by 12 months of the Euro T20 Slam, an international broadcast partner falling over, the high costs of insurance of international games held at home and the ongoing challenge of high temporary infrastructure costs given the lack of a permanent cricket stadium in Ireland.

“2020 will also see one of our four internationally-accredited grounds out of commission with Clontarf undertaking major renovations that has put a strain on our match allocation process next year.

“As a result of all of this, the Board has had to make some tough decisions on the fixtures and ground allocations to ensure we can fulfil as much of the home programme as possible.

“The first area of prioritisation for 2020 has been white ball cricket over red ball. Like all Irish cricket fans, we would love nothing more than to be competing on all three fronts – Tests, ODIs and T20Is. Unfortunately, our financial constraints have led us to cut the home Test match next year. As the Test does not form part of the World Test Championship, the one-off match lacks context. For effectively a “friendly”, the expected costs for hosting the Test would be over €1 million, with little expectation of creating revenue streams to cover the costs of hosting.

“Those tough decisions also include having to prioritise some white-ball cricket over others. With Bangladesh and NZ coming over for important ODIs, it makes sense to extend their tours with complementary T20Is. Similarly, Pakistan is the #1 T20I team in the world and have proven popular visitors here over the years. However, we have notified the Afghanistan Cricket Board that we shall not be in a position to host them for the 5 planned T20Is in 2020. We have been regular and frequent opponents of the Afghans every year for a long time now, and we shall be again in future. However, needs must at this juncture to ensure we are operating as a responsible governing body operating within our means.

“The ODIs and remaining T20Is next year, on the contrary, both have greater context and direct connections to two upcoming World Cups. The T20Is will form essential match play experience leading into the T20 World Cup in October, while the ODIs will become important with the start of the new World Cup Super League next year, which is the next 50-over World Cup’s qualification process. This will mean that in 2020, three of the Bangladesh ODIs and the three New Zealand ODIs next year directly count towards world cup qualification.

“It’s pertinent to note, we are aware that potential further changes may be forthcoming in the Future Tours Programme, as other Full Members similarly firm up their schedules. We are awaiting communication on these and will publish that information when we have clearance to do so.

“The second area of prioritisation has been match allocations. Our Match Allocation Group undertook significant work several months ago allocating international matches to grounds, however as our schedule has changed and the financial challenges in 2020 have become clearer, we have had to review and tweak that allocation to ensure cost minimisation of the fixtures and to maximise the reuse of both pitches and temporary infrastructure where feasible. We are still working on finalising the myriad pressures of pitch usage and financial considerations to ensure an allocation that is feasible from a pitch-use perspective, is cost-conscious and also fair. Unfortunately, the reality of having more matches than fresh international pitches on which to play is that we cannot confirm anything until we have confirmed everything. Bearing in mind the knock-on impact for inter-provincial and club cricket schedules, we are aiming to confirm that as quickly as possible.

“Despite these changes, next year is still set to be our biggest-ever year of international cricket, with the men’s squad undertaking multiple overseas tours, hosting the world’s number one T20I side, hosting the World Cup runners-up and playing in a World Cup, while the women will participate in multiple series’ and participate in a 50-over world cup qualifier.

“In addition, we are still hopeful of hosting the inaugural season of the Euro T20 Slam to launch in 2020, bringing even more exciting cricket action to these shores for fans to enjoy.”



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