Major Associates back Woolf report recommendations
In the aftermath of the fairly radical Woolf report on independent governance for the ICC, one group of cricketing nations has indicated that it wants its recommendations implemented. Some of the leading Associate countries would like the Woolf recommendations - about a clear pathway to Full Member status, a fairer financial model with funds distributed on a "needs" basis and the adoption of best governance practices - followed through by the ruling body.
Of these, leading Associates believe the recommendation that Full Member status need not be restricted only to Test playing nations will be key to their game development and financial growth.
A handful of the Full Members have already commented publicly on the report, which has called for sweeping changes in the administration of cricket and the functioning of the ICC. The BCCI's working committee rejected the key recommendations concerning the restructuring of the ICC, but Cricket Australia and the PCB have been more measured in their comments, saying that it would be wrong to reject the report out of hand and that the ICC executive board should seek a consensus among cricket boards before deciding whether to implement it or not.
Bangladesh was the last country to be granted Full Member status back in 2000. More recently, Ireland have pushed their claim to be elevated from the ranks of the Associate Members, sending a letter to the ICC stating their intentions in 2009. However, the lack of a transparent set of conditions for qualification as a Full Member has stymied their ambitions. The Woolf report has recommended that two new Full Members be inducted in 2013, but the Associates are still unclear about the criteria for promotion. "All the Associate countries want to know are the steps so everyone is clear about what they have to do," Roddy Smith, Cricket Scotland's chief executive, told ESPNcricinfo. "At the moment there is a very clear step between being an Affiliate Member and being an Associate member. There is no real clear step between being an Associate and being a Full Member."
At present, all 10 current Full Members are also Test-playing nations, but the report recommends Test status should not be a necessary condition to becoming a Full Member, a suggestion that has the backing of the Associates. "It [Test status] seems an artificial way of stifling the development of the game across the world," Tom Sears, the chief executive of Cricket Kenya, said. "With three formats of the game, you can be a little bit more fluid with that. Obviously, we saw Zimbabwe not competing recently in Test cricket for a number of years. So I don't think it is any pre-condition that you have to pay Test cricket."
A road map to Full Member status is considered crucial to the continued development of cricket in the Associate countries, as is the access to the Future Tours Programme, because the opportunity to compete at the highest level would not only attract more young athletes to the sport, but also funnel investment into the game through sponsorships and matches against the leading countries. In addition, more games against the Full Members would mean the Associates would be battle-hardened ahead of the ICC's global events.
"As we saw in the last World Cup in 2011, we [Kenya] suffered from chronic lack of exposure to playing the leading nations," Sears said. "We were found very wanting. So we need to play more of the leading countries on a regular basis to expose our players and to develop our game."
Smith suggested that the process could start by having the Associates play some of the lower ranked Full Members on a more regular basis so that they have a consistent benchmark against which to judge their standard of cricket rather than playing a global event once every four years.
"That in our view is the key," Smith said. "To me, it is not so much playing against each other - those games are fantastic and we want them and are a real boost to our countries - but the real challenge for the Associate countries is closing the gap between ourselves and the lower-ranked Full Members."
The Associates also backed the recommendation that the ICC should distribute funds to Members on a needs basis as opposed to an automatic entitlement. Currently, 75% of the net profits go back to the Full Members evenly. The report recommended the abandonment of fixed percentages of revenue being given to Full Members and suggested the ICC distribute revenues strictly on a needs basis.
Such a change, according to the report, would eradicate a "culture of entitlement" currently demonstrated by the Full Members. Opening up the funding system would also give the Associates the resources to invest in developing the game beyond their national sides.
Sears said Kenya's entire budget for the year is roughly $1.5 million for a country with 40 million people. In comparison, the English county of Leicestershire, with a population of about 648,700, had revenues of more than £3m for the last financial year and posted a profit of £294,000. The ECB has also invested heavily in recent times, sanctioning £30 million to help improve facilities and invest in club cricket in 2008.
Cricket Canada president Ranjit Saini said in a statement that under the existing system, they are unable to invest in grassroots development of any kind. "In our particular case being a cold weather country, we are forced to undertake major overseas tours for preparations towards any major qualifiers, like the upcoming World Twenty20 Qualifier. In the process much of our funding disappears in the cost of travel and accommodation for our team. We would expect that a need-basis system will likely deal with this issue and create an equal competitive environment."
Such a move could theoretically also benefit India, which is currently responsible for somewhere between 60 to 80% of the cricket's revenues, and has a large pool of domestic players and a significant number of international stadiums. India would then be entitled to a larger percentage of money from the ICC than a country such as New Zealand.
The parts of the Woolf report that are likely to be the most contentious are those that cover governance. It starts by recommending a restructuring of the ICC's executive board to make it more independent and less dominated by the bigger countries and also recommends a re-examination of the rights and benefits of the current Full Member nations, calling for measures to increase transparency in dealings by the ICC and its members.
According to the Associates, a more inclusive and transparent governing body is necessary given the growth of the game over the last decade. "The sport should be run, governed, managed for 105 countries and not just on 10, which I think was a theme that Lord Woolf came back to time and time again," Warren Deutrom, Cricket Ireland's chief executive said. "It now needs to be recognised as a global sport. The mechanisms and structures that have governed the sport since its inception would not appear have been made if not redundant, now need examination, following the growth in the sport, particularly in the last 10 years in terms of the number of countries that play and also the amount of commercial activity that is involved in the game now."
Deutrom believes the game's governing body needs to adopt "more meritocratic principles" and said the "higher-ranked countries shouldn't have a forever unchallenged status simply by virtue of being Test countries".
Another of Lord Woof's recommendations was adopting the principles of one country, one vote, but Smith wasn't sure that was necessarily the right approach. "India, for example, should have a stronger voice at the ICC than a small Affiliate country with 500 players," he said. "There has to be a balance. There has to be respect made and recognition that some countries in world cricket are far stronger than others."
What was most important, all the Associate countries agreed, was that the system governing the game should be based on merit. "The key point in the Woolf report is it bases itself on meritocratic principles," Smith said. "It does talk about governance principles that are held in business and sporting organisations. If that is implemented, then I don't think the Associates could ask for any more."
Tariq Engineer is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo