November 14, 2007

ICC Intercontinental Cup

ICC must go on funding cricket's expansion

Martin Williamson

Tony Cozier is, rightly, one of the most respected journalists in the game. His work to cover and promote cricket in the Caribbean has been unstinting for almost four decades. And yet even the best writers have off days, and his attack on the way that the ICC funds the Intercontinental Cup, the first-class competition for the Associates, is one of those.

Cozier's outburst in his Caribbean-syndicated column at the weekend in effect concluded that rather than waste money on Associate tournaments it would be better spent on aiding West Indies, a “well-established member with a great tradition presently fallen on hard times”.

Cozier attacked the ICC for doling out "heaven knows how much cash every year" to run the Intercontinental Cup. The overall annual cost of the tournament is actually around $400,000 on top of which the participants contribute another $120,000 between them. For that, the leading eight Associate countries get to play in a prestigious (for them) competition, to meet a variety of opponents across the world and to improve.

Yes, it has its faults and there are mismatches, but the same could be said for any competition or series involving the Full Members. When was the last time Bangladesh or Zimbabwe or, dare it be said, West Indies played in a gripping contest as opposed to occasional one-off successes. As seen at the World Cup, the gulf between the have and have-nots on the field may be large but it is nothing like as vast as the chasm between their respective funding.

The leading Associates survive on grants of under half a million dollars a year; some, such as Kenya and Scotland, earn more through winning tournaments such as the World Cricket League which entitles them to ICC World Twenty20 participation money. The Full Members receive twenty times more. Zimbabwe, for example, coined in almost $11 million from the World Cup, and yet they struggle to hold their own with several Associates. What is more, the Full Members almost all have bloated payrolls; the Associates rely almost entirely on goodwill of hard-working administrators who often end up digging deep into their own pockets to keep things ticking over.

What Cozier seems to overlook is that the ICC should not be about looking after the big boys and forget the rest, although as the major boards become more money-obsessed by the month it may go that way. It has a responsibility to nurture and support the game in areas away from the traditional bedrocks. That is done through a myriad of tournaments, coaching clinics and advice. The total sum spent on Associates is under 25% of the ICC's overall budget. To scrap that would be akin to pulling up the drawbridge, hoping that the game survives among the existing ten Full Members, and hang the rest. No other sport would consider such a short-sighted policy, and neither should cricket.

Then there is the additional income that Full Members can earn through the very fact they play each other so often. Sponsorship and TV deals bring in tens of millions on top of the ICC funding. Although the WICB has never revealed the value of the original deal with Digicel, it is believed to be worth more than $20 million for five years. The England board's four-year TV deal with BSkyB was worth in excess of $400 million, the Indian board's own deals even more. They should be awash with cash.

Associates cannot attract funding worth even 5% of that as they play precious few big matches, a fact not helped by the continuing reluctance of most Full Members to play them. The big boys prefer to pack their schedules with ever longer one-day series against the same old - more lucrative - opposition. Television and sponsorship deals for Associates, if they ever get them, are for peanuts.

Cozier also argues that the Intercontinental Cup is not worthwhile as sides cannot always field their full sides as players cannot get time off work. It is a problem, and one everyone is aware of. But that ignores the fact that the bulk of players are prepared to make remarkable sacrifices to represent their countries. With more funding, and not with less, those players can be rewarded for their cricket skills and so availability will improve. As an aside, it is worth remembering West Indies couldn't find 15 players to represent their A team in Zimbabwe last July.

To argue that the woes of the West Indies could be cured by diverting cash from Associates to the Caribbean simply doesn't add up. Those who have witnessed the antics of a succession of West Indies boards might counter that to pour money into the region would be akin to chucking it onto a bonfire. In the last decade the WICB has run up debts running into tens of millions of dollars. It has failed to handle sponsors or players remotely adequately and needed the income from a (poorly run) World Cup to bail it out. That the game in the Caribbean is in need of help is beyond question. But it is in even more need of some broad-minded and competent leadership. Julian Hunte, the new WICB chairman, might be such a man but he has a daunting job ahead of him.

This is not a call for more money to be poured into Associate cricket, but there has to be some kind of reality check before those looking to establish and build the game are asked to tighten their belts even more because a Full Member is down to its last few dozen administrators.

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Martin Williamson is executive editor of ESPNcricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

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Posted by john boon on (November 15, 2007, 1:52 GMT)

Andy, of course chucking teams in at the deep end achieves nothing- that is what the intercontinental cup is all about! But to chastise the ICC for the efforts the are putting into development is ridiculous. The real issue is the millions of unaccounted dollars that have gone not even into players hands in Zimbabwe but straight into administrators pockets. anyway, if the ICC continues to tap into new markets, that is the best way to keep the game relevant. after all, if cricket were to catch on in china or the USA, then we would have another India in terms of revenue.

Posted by Andy Plowright on (November 14, 2007, 15:27 GMT)

I agree with much of what Cozier has written. We have consistently seen in sport that chucking teams into one-off big events does very little to raise standards in itself. The Kenyans for instance have stagnated since their World Cup highs. Bangladesh are still massively inconsistent. Real strength at international level comes through strength in domestic cricket, precisely what many in the West Indies have been decrying. We've seen in rugby that Argentina can now be ranked in the top echelon of international sides. Many of their players play in European leagues. Rugby in Argentina has been improved despite a lack of professional game and rugby as a whole has improved for that country.

I lived in Toronto for three years and inspected at first hand the cricketing resources there. Useless and inadequate springs to mind. Most village sides in my home county of Wiltshire have better facilities available to them than the Canadian national squad. There were few grass pitches. Sunnybrook Park is listed on Cricinfo and is pretty awful. When you have facilities like that, what's the point of sending that team overseas to compete in competitions? The money would be far better spent establishing cricket centres of excellence in Toronto and in Vancouver. I saw kids playing cricket in schools in Toronto and there is a real desire for cricket out there. Without good facilities that can be used in both summer and winter, that talent will never develop. A full-time coach at both centres would help players maintain and improve technique during the long Canadian winter.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Martin Williamson
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.

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