Cricket grants slashed amid post-Olympic fervour
English cricket must endure a multi-million pound drop in funding from Sport England as Olympic sports, benefiting from the fervour of the London Olympics, have been the big winners in the award of grants for the next four years.
ECB officials expressed "delight" at an outcome which still leaves cricket as the fifth largest recipient of funding, behind cycling, football, netball and athletics.
But for all the relief in high places at Lord's cricket has suffered from a sizeable shift in grant aid to Olympic sports as the feel-good factor of London 2012 brings a major change in the funding landscape.
Cricket has been awarded £20m over four years - a drop of £15.2m - although the pill is sugared to a considerable degree by a further guaranteed £7.5m over three years made directly to the much-praised Chance to Shine programme, run by the Cricket Foundation, which seeks to regenerate cricket in state schools by fostering links with local clubs.
The scheme previously existed on an annual grant that would match its own fund raising pound for pound - equivalent to roughly £1.5m a year - but with charitable donations down 20% this year and one in six charities threatened by closure the grant offers much-needed stability.
Sport England has awarded a total of £493m from 2013-17, a rise of 12.5 which bucks the trend of Government austerity measures intended to reduce the national debt, a largesse which will not find favour with non-sport lovers and which goes a long way to explaining the ECB's relief.
Phil Smith, Sport England's director of sport, said: "Cricket has made good progress in the past 18 months and we are confident that it can build further momentum over the next four years. We are particularly interested in the progress made in women's cricket and the initiatives which focus on disabled participation. The sport has acknowledged the need to do more to help the South Asian communities who have strong cultural links to cricket get involved and we look forward to seeing growth in this area."
The ECB, fearful of an even tighter settlement, has agreed to fund its own development of women's and disability cricket, which has received praise from Sport England - but no funding.
Jennie Price, chief executive of Sport England said: "It looks like quite a big drop, but the ECB have decided to invest their own money into their women's and disability programmes and that is a good thing for a responsible governing body to do."
Nevertheless, the emphasis switches to those sports where Olympic medals. Sport England's media release boasted that its investment would "keep the inspiration of London 2012 alive and help fulfil Lord Coe's pledge that the Games would get more people - young and old, women and men - playing sport, a feat that no other host nation has ever managed to achieve."
The Minister for Sport, Hugh Robertson, proclaimed that the shift in funding would ensure "a lasting legacy" from the Olympics.
The major winners in Sport England's settlement are cycling, triathlon, netball and boxing, all of which gained rises of more than 25%, while rugby union, rugby league and tennis - which have been even more savagely hit - join cricket as other team sports which must plan on a tighter budget.
The ECB can congratulate itself that its commitment to increasing grassroots involvement has prevented it from suffering the treatment meted out to tennis, which will lose millions in funding unless participation levels increase.
Chance to Shine's emphasis - as far as Sport England's funding is concerned - will shift away from primary schools, where pupils have been most receptive, to secondary schools in a nationwide campaign to counter the drop-off in participation in sport particularly apparent among 14 to 16-yearolds.
At least 60 per cent of the investment announced today will support young people aged between 14 and 25.
The Cricket Foundation will deliver a cricket programme to more than 1,000 state schools through ECB's network of 38 county cricket boards. Creating strong links between community sports clubs and schools is the central focus and the charity plans a three-pronged approach: establishing satellite clubs in schools, embedding competition within them and providing training opportunities for young people.
Local cricket clubs will be invited to work closely with coaches, young people and teachers to set up a satellite cricket club on school sites. Pupils will be at the heart of decision making and shape how the school club is run. Activity at the club may range from extra-curricular coaching and forums to discuss club activity, to organising social events and ambassador visits.
As well as helping more young players move into their local cricket club, the satellite clubs aim to teach life skills such as leadership, teamwork and co-operation.
Competition is a key motivation for young people in secondary schools and the Cricket Foundation plans to expand its 'Chance to Compete' format; fast-moving eight-a-side matches played in less than an hour.
During the winter, schools will be supported to hold indoor soft-ball competitions in school sports halls and community centres, with the hardball equivalent played outside during the spring and summer terms. The new offer to secondary schools will increase competitive cricket opportunities by encouraging each to play a minimum of five competitive matches annually.
Wasim Khan, chief executive of Cricket Foundation said, "Sport England has been a key strategic partner for Chance to Shine over the past seven years. We are delighted that it will continue its investment in Chance to Shine and in the young people we reach for the next three years at least."
Since 2005, Chance to Shine claims to have brought cricket and its educational benefits to 6,591 state schools and 1.8m children at a cost of £15 per child.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo