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Excerpts from the show
Subash Jayaraman: You were the founder of the United States Youth Cricket Association in 2010 and now you have become the chief executive of the American Cricket Federation, which is competing with the ICC-approved USACA (USA Cricket Association). Why would you join an unrecognised body like the ACF rather than USACA?
Jamie Harrison: Well, it is because I believe in the future of American cricket, not the past, or even the present state of American cricket. I was born and raised here, so I take a long-term view of the United States. I didn't just arrive here earlier this year to run a business proposition. My dream is to see United States become a cricket-playing nation. Earlier this year, the USYCA had the opportunity to affiliate with either the USACA or the ACF, and in a resounding vote we chose to affiliate with the ACF, because we saw the future of the United States for cricket as being more properly represented by the ACF than by USACA.
SJ: But as long as there is the USACA and them holding the ICC's approval as the cricket body in United States, ACF cannot provide that one thing any player in United States would want, which is national representation.
JH: I look at all the players in the United States. We are talking about tens and thousands of people who are playing cricket in the United States and suffering under USACA. Of these tens and thousands, how many are legitimately candidates to play in an international tournament? Maybe a couple dozen? So I would be completely misguided if I place my allegiance with the organisation of the couple of dozens to the detriment of the tens of thousands.
Let USACA and the ICC do their peripheral international thing. It is completely irrelevant and has nothing to do with charting a future so that America becomes a cricket-playing nation. That is what the ACF is concerned about. The ICC can keep USACA afloat indefinitely, I suppose. You can have a brain-dead patient and keep the machines on and keep the chest going up and down for as long as you want. And US$300,000 is the price tag, from what I understand, for keeping this particular patient's chest moving up and down. As long as the ICC wants to shove all those $300,000 into that pit, I guess that is their choice. But we have work to do.
SJ: In the short term you are not that interested in national representation. But is that your long-term goal, at least?
JH: It is our hope that one day the ICC will choose to become involved again in American cricket. As far as I am concerned now, the ICC is not involved in American cricket. In my mind, the litmus test for how much they care for American cricket is their support for USACA. I hope that one day the ICC has a change of heart and says: "We would really like to see the United States become a real cricket market, instead of just a colony for us to market our Full Member products in." But I can't control that. My concern is American cricket.
In the deposition that USACA had to deal with in the Kenwyn Williams suit, they were only able to name nine leagues that supported the dismissal of Kenwyn Williams. Out of those nine leagues, there were a couple of leagues dubious about whether they were actually in the USACA fold or not. I think there are over 50 hard-ball leagues in the United States, so there are a slim minority of leagues that are affiliated with the USACA. I would argue that in the United States recreational cricket, which is largely tennis-ball cricket, is probably three or four times the size in measuring participation as hard-ball cricket. We don't discount those people at the ACF.
Even if you could fix USACA overnight, there are still $2m that the association is saddled with, and from what I understand there is no source of income coming in soon to be eating into that debt. I have heard a lot of talk that they have got committees and studies about reforms. I always say, "Beware of the regime under siege who cries reform." Any reform that leaves the same people in power when it is over with can't be considered a real reform.
SJ: Would you be open to the idea of ACF taking over or merging both the bodies together?
JH: Under no circumstances. Structurally, USACA is deficient. You have an organisation which is $2m in debt. Why would I do that? I would rather have our organisation, which is $0 in debt and has all of the things that I was just wishing for USACA to have.
SJ: I play in a league in Washington DC area that is a part of the ACF, so technically you are my chief executive as well. There are voices in some quarters that say you, coming from a volunteer grassroots organisation, can provide a great face to ACF, and that could be the reason why you were made the chief executive.
JH: I think I am the chief executive for a number of different reasons. One, I think it is because I am a national-born American. I am a bridge between the cricket that is in the United States, which is 99.99% folks that were born and raised in the cricket-playing nations, and cricket where we want it to be, which is [for it to be] equally popular among the people born in the United States.
Two, I think my track record with USYCA is demonstrative. We started USYCA with not a nickel of ICC money, or anybody's money. We built from nothing a fairly impressive organisation that has done a lot of really good things. And, all on the back of donations from people. We had a sponsorship from Reebok, but it was a brief sponsorship, only a few thousand dollars. Almost all of our money has been cheques written by individuals and charitable foundations.
Anybody who claims that the United States needs to have the ICC to be successful is cracked. No other American sport sat around waiting for an international federation to hand-feed it money and support before it became popular. American sports grew well by themselves. America is the richest country in the world. We have 15 million kids in this country under the age of 18. If we could get 1% of them playing cricket it could be a comparable number to just any other Full Member nation. We have parents who are willing to spend lots of money to give their kids coaching and things like that. We have all the pre-requisite material to make the United States a great cricket-playing nation without the ICC.
If you want to make that argument that ACF is trying to ride on USYCA's coat tails, I don't necessarily think that is a bad thing to do. As a leader, you want to look around and identify things that work and then emulate those things. If you want to say that the ACF leadership looked to the USYCA and said, "Give us some of that", then that is not a bad thing. USACA looked at the USYCA and said, "You should want to submit to us and be a part of our operation", which is a completely different way of approaching USYCA. So give ACF credit for recognising success and recognising a formula that works.
SJ: But there were comments from the ICC's global manager, Tim Anderson, that we understand that there are a few problems with the United States cricket association, but that USACA is putting in place changes that are required for progress. There were statements from Darren Beazley, the CEO of USACA, as well to that effect. Are you betting on the fact that they won't be successful?
JH: For Tim Anderson to say that USACA is going in the right direction now after 50 years of train wreck was laughable. But that is not surprising. The ICC is a conglomerate of ten Full Member nations who govern according to their own best interest. And rule one for Full Member nations is that you don't mess with national governing bodies of cricketing countries no matter what they are. Look at Zimbabwe. That is a wonderful example of what the ICC will tolerate from a Full Member nation's governing body.
Twice the ICC has suspended USACA, but if you look back at the history it is not because of bad governance, or failing to promote cricket in the United States, or all of the stuff that killed the market now. The reason they suspended USACA was because of the confusion about legitimate claims to being the country's national governing body. There was a challenge from another group in the 2000s that also produced a national cricket team and they both had competing claims. That was one suspension. It was more technicalities than actual deficiencies that have caused them to be suspended. They are not really worried about USACA doing the right thing by the American people. They are not really worried about how USACA governs in the United States. Only that USACA is recognised as the national governing body by the United States. What I am telling you is that USACA's claim to even that is a shame at this point.
SJ: You made a statement to ESPNcricinfo's George Dobell that USACA's membership to the ICC should be revoked.
JH: No, I didn't say that. I said that the United States should withdraw from the ICC. Right now, ICC participation for the United States is a zero-sum game. They give us $300,000 a year and none of that makes it to the grassroots. There is not a cricket pitch or net or even a cricket bat held in someone's hand today that you can say is because of our relationship with the ICC. What I said to George Dobell is that because of that zero-sum game that ends up being a huge distraction from our domestic cricket, where our focus needs to be, we should just withdraw from the ICC.
SJ: So would you like the ICC to actually take away USACA's membership?
JH:> We think the right course of action for the ICC is to not recognise USACA as the national governing body of American cricket. Understand also, there is no legal national governing body of American cricket. By USA law, the only legitimate national governing bodies are those designated so by the United States Olympic Committee. That is as per the Amateur Athletics Act of 1977. The catch with that is that you can't be recognised by the USOC as a national governing body if your sport is not a part of the Olympic programme, which the ICC is determined not to make it.
SJ: Why don't you tell us what are the things that you are going to get done in the immediate/near future, and where would you like the ACF to be headed?
JH: The first thing that we need to focus on is building up our clubs and leagues - domestic cricket. We need to make our clubs successful. We see ourselves as a foundation or support upon which everyone else can build successfully. We are only as successful as our member organisations. So our job is to go to each of our member leagues, be they hard ball or tennis ball, or whatever, and ask, "What do you need from us? How can we help you be successful?" Whether it is building a youth programme, getting a pitch built, whatever it is that the league/club needs for the moment.
We don't have a one-size-fits-all programme that we are going to jam down your throat and say that you are going to be a part of this to be a part of us.
Another aspect that we are beginning to hammer out the details of is for leagues to compete in a programme against teams of other leagues in a way that is very low-cost. The USACA idea was a crazy, expensive premier T20 league broadcast to India at $40m a franchise with expensive overseas players and very few home-grown Americans involved. And, of course, it collapsed and died. We want to involve players who are here playing club cricket in the United States, to have leagues playing in competition against each other for a national title over the course of the entire spring and summer, culminating in the fall. Almost like Major League Baseball. Starting at a low scale, that is doable. We just want more people to play cricket.
SJ: You are going to need money to fund all these plans. Where does the ACF go for that?
JH: We have member dues, we are looking for sponsorships, we do all the normal stuff. If four years ago I had said that I am going to start an organisation that is going to give 1500 cricket sets to American schools and doesn't ask for a nickel back, would anybody believe me? They told me in 2010 that I was nuts. Yet we have done it. We still have in a warehouse in Kansas another 500 sets waiting to go out. We are now building pitches with our own nickel. If you have the right people in the right organisations doing it for the right reasons, all these things are possible.
We created a constitution and by-laws that are full of checks and balances and term limits and ways to keep the abuses that we have seen elsewhere from creeping up. We know that we are going to grow and expand and eventually big money is going to be involved. Big money can bring out the worst in people, power can bring out the worst in people. The good news is that we are prepared for that. Our governance structure, our constitution, is designed to make sure that things stay on the open arm.
I am in it for the long haul. I figured that I have a good 30 years left in me of fighting this good fight. So no matter if we have one league as a member or a million leagues as members, my approach is going to be the same.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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Subash's introduction to cricket began with enduring sledging from his brothers during their many backyard cricket sessions. His fascination with the game took hold in 1983, but mostly it was the cricket commentary over All India Radio, about the water-tight front-foot defence of Gavaskar that did it. @thecricketcouch