Internet rights in their infancy - Michael Atherton
Mike Atherton, the former England captain, has called on cricket's most powerful nations to do more for the wellbeing of the weaker Test teams, including a more even distribution of the game's profits between the sides.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the ESPNcricinfo at 20 event in Brisbane on Tuesday night, where he was joined by former Australia captain Steve Waugh, commentator Jim Maxwell and Cricket New South Wales CEO Andrew Jones, Atherton raised the widening chasm between the richer and poorer countries as a major issue for the future of the sport. He highlighted the IPL as one example of the way teams like New Zealand and West Indies were disadvantaged.
"I think strategically it's the biggest issue that faces the game, really," Atherton said. "You've got four very strong nations [financially] in India, England, Australia and South Africa to a lesser extent, and then a lot of ailing nations. So you're getting a kind of two-tiered system at the moment, and the IPL particularly impacts upon New Zealand and West Indies, who can't quite pay their players the same amount.
"Their players are very interested in going and playing in the IPL, as we would all be. It doubly impacts upon the Caribbean because the whole season for the Caribbean is February, March, April, which is exactly the time for the IPL. It's in the long-term interests of England, India, Australia and South Africa to have eight strong nations rather than four.
"If you only have three or four strong nations, cricket is diminishing all the time and you get what's happening at the moment, with England playing Australia more often and playing India more often, and that fixture list diminishes. You can't call it the world game if only four nations play the game… It's in the long-term interests to make sure the other countries are strong."
While television rights are a major revenue source for the stronger boards and are therefore unlikely to be given up lightly, Atherton believed there was another possibility for a more even spread of profits. He used the example of the way Major League Baseball splits its broadcasting rights between teams, and said cricket might be able to use a similar system for internet rights.
"Internet rights are in their infancy," Atherton said. "What happens in baseball is there's a kind of organisation jointly owned by the clubs, and internet rights are pooled together and then the profits are spread out between all the clubs, the weak clubs and the strong clubs. They're trying to create a level playing field.
"I think something like that has to happen with cricket. You won't get India giving away their television rights, you won't get Australia giving away their television rights, but internet rights are in their infancy and something like that [may work]."
Atherton also countered a suggestion from Waugh that the IPL was good for some of the weaker boards, as it enabled players to earn more of a livelihood and reduced the pressure on the home boards to raise their pay.
"Does it take pressure off their boards or put pressure on their boards?" Atherton said. "We have a Test series in England usually in early May ... it's often a two-Test series against what you might call the less powerful nations, a New Zealand or West Indies at the moment.
"Consequently the players are either not available because they're in the IPL or they're coming back from the IPL the day before a game and therefore under-prepared or badly prepared for Test cricket. It impacts Tests negatively and puts pressure on boards, I would say."
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