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Less than a month after the ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed described China as the sport's biggest growth market, the cricket photographer Graham Morris was refused a visa to enter the country.
Morris was asked to travel with MCC to record their first tour of China at the end of September. He was planning to work on the first leg only, to Beijing, host city for the 2008 Olympics. MCC applied for the visa on Morris's behalf nine days before the tour party left, sending his application with those for the rest of the members of the tour party - players, umpires and management. The Chinese government told MCC that, because of his role as a photographer, they would have to refer his application to administration in Beijing, which would take more than nine days. All other applications were successful.
"I have absolutely no idea why they wouldn't let me into the country," says Morris. "The most controversial photo I would have taken would have been the MCC team sitting on the Great Wall of China."
Following the initial refusal Morris wrote to the Chinese government assuring them he would seek written permission from them if he wished to sell any images to publications. They still refused.
"If the ICC is so keen for China to play cricket, then it should go out of its way to make sure these things don't happen," says Morris. "The success and joy of cricket isn't just about playing; it's about reporting it too. It's integral.
"You'd like to think the ICC would get involved. If it had been a Sky TV reporter and camera crew that had their visa application denied, then I'm sure they would have got involved. It's what the ICC is there for."
"MCC is very disappointed that Graham wasn't allowed a visa," says Iain Wilton, MCC's head of communication. "The tour was supposed to be good for MCC, good for cricket in general and good for the growth and promotion of the game in China."
When The Wisden Cricketer contacted the ICC, it admitted it was the first it had heard of the incident. The ICC approached the Chinese Cricket Association, who offered no official comment but did say that the vetting of media personnel is more diligent than that of tourists and can take up to two months. It assured the ICC that "Graham Morris wasn't singled out." The CCA also said that visa applications for the media will be relaxed in time for the Olympics.
Speed and the former Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan - appointed by the Asian Cricket Council to chair a 'Committee to Evaluate China' - visited Beijing in mid-September. There they announced that the ICC and ACC had granted the CCA £200,000.
Syed Ahraful Huq, chief executive of the ACC, said during Speed's visit: "The potential benefits and commercial revenues from (China's) presence in the cricket world are enormous. As soon as China breaks through, I foresee the total global revenues for cricket increasing by 30 or 40%."
Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and AfricaFeeds: Martin Williamson
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.