February 11, 2014

Should cricket take a leaf out of rugby's book?

Cricket could do worse than take lessons from two other sports when it comes to distribution of revenues, growing the game, and drawing up fixture lists

In September 2011, New Zealand threatened to pull out of the 2015 Rugby World Cup unless the International Rugby Board (IRB) considered a financial model that would reimburse the sport's top nations for losses they incurred during a World Cup year. New Zealand rugby's boss, Steve Tew, explained his country, and other, mostly tier-one countries, incurred losses of up to US$13.2 million in a World Cup year because the international calendar was shortened and they were not allowed to associate with their own sponsors for the duration of the event.

"We cannot continue to sign for an event that costs us so much money," Tew said at the time. The IRB's initial response was defiance. Their CEO, Mike Miller, claimed the All Blacks could be replaced if they didn't make the trip - a statement as laughable as assuming world cricket could continue without India; so significant is New Zealand's presence and their market share.

New Zealand found allies in Australia and South Africa, who would also lose money and also threatened to pull out of the tournament. The southern hemisphere's big three knew that a World Cup would not be credible without them, and the IRB was forced to back-track.

It agreed to reimburse all ten tier-one countries almost $11.5 million each. The South African Rugby Union's press release explained this was with the aim to "promote stability for national unions". In addition to that, the four southern-hemisphere countries would share about $16.4 million for any further negative impact the tournament would have on their finances.

Sound familiar?

Cricket is not the only sport to be ruled by a triumvirate. Ironically, rugby - the game closest to cricket in terms of the number of countries that play at elite level - was also financially hamstrung by a trio of powerful countries.

But that is where the parallels end. Unlike cricket, apart from the concentration of power in the hands of three, rugby has a more even distribution of revenue, a greater appetite for growth, and a more systematic method of allocating fixtures among its members.

The IRB, which is based in Dublin, has 205 members on its books, compared to cricket's 106. While the ICC currently has a board of 16 members - a president, vice-president, CEO, the presidents of each of the ten Full Members and of three Associate members, the IRB's council has 27 members: a chairman, two seats for each of the eight founding countries - England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and France - and a seat each for Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan. The remaining six members come from rugby's six world regions, which are roughly in line with the six continents. This regional representation is something cricket does not have.

The council meets twice a year and formulates the IRB's overall strategy, makes policy decisions, admits or expels members, and selects the hosts of the World Cups. To pass a decision usually requires a simple majority of the council, but changes to the IRB bye-laws or the laws of the game need the votes of two-thirds of the council.

A ten-person Executive Committee is derived from the IRB's council. It consists of the IRB chairman and vice-chairman, the CEO, and seven other members, who are elected by the council. The ExCo is responsible for the management and operation of the IRB. The ICC's new ExCo, in contrast, will consist of just five members.

Outside the boardroom, the IRB also appears more willing than cricket to spread its resources. Members are divided into three tiers according to who they compete against. There are ten tier-one countries, eight in tier two, and the remainder are in tier three.

At the 2015 World Cup, the IRB will make a scheduling change so as to give the minnows a week's break between matches, rather than just the three days most of them have had at previous World Cups

The IRB's tier-one members are divided into six northern-hemisphere countries and four southern. The former compete in the Six Nations, and the latter in the Rugby Championship, both annual competitions. Three southern-hemisphere countries, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, are also involved in a separate company called SANZAR, which oversees the Super Rugby competition, played between franchises in the three countries.

These ten tier-one countries also play each other during the year, during two windows. Tours into the southern hemisphere take place around June, while visits to the northern hemisphere happen in November and December. Not all countries play each other every year but generally a tour consists of three matches against three countries.

In September 2012, the IRB announced a series of matches in the November block which increased the participation of tier-two and -three sides. The International Rugby Series was part of a plan to ensure the smaller countries, or "Strategic Investment Unions", such as Samoa, Romania, Uruguay and Portugal, are also in action and playing against tier-one countries.

The IRB illustrates its commitment to growing the game in different countries through its World Cup formula. The World Cup is a 20-team event in which countries are divided into four pools of five teams each. The quarter-finalists all automatically qualify for the next World Cup, but there are incentives for the other teams in each group too, because the ones that finish third also go through to the next tournament.

An additional step has also been taken to ensure the smaller teams have better chances against the big boys. At the 2015 World Cup, the IRB will make a scheduling change so as to give the minnows a week's break between matches, rather than just the three days most of them have had at previous World Cups. While the high-profile teams tended to play on weekends only, the little guys played mid-week and on the weekend, which, many said, affected their performance.

While rugby has shown more willingness to expand than cricket, ultimately football remains the most global game. Barriers to entry are lower than in other sports, which has allowed it to maintain a certain equality in areas like membership and fixtures - if not money.

FIFA has 209 members but there is a significant difference in the way it is organised when compared to cricket and rugby. Every member has a vote on the FIFA Congress, football's parliament, "regardless of size or footballing strength". The Congress meets once every year and discusses amendments to statutes, approves the financials, elects a president (every four years), and admits or expels members. In order to make changes to statutes, FIFA requires a three-quarter majority.

Other decision-making is left in the hands of the Executive Committee, which meets twice a year. This body consists of the FIFA president, eight vice-presidents from different regions, and 16 elected members from the Congress. The representation is not equal across the world's territories. Europe has two vice-presidents and five members on the ExCo, Africa and Asia have a vice-president and three members each, South America and North and Central America have a vice-president and two members, and Oceania only has one vice-president. There is also a separate vice-president for the English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh football associations.

Although FIFA's governance structure sounds the most democratic of the lot, it is open to alliances forming, cliques voting in a certain way (Africa is well-known for supporting president Sepp Blatter as a bloc, for example), and was recently shrouded in controversy over votes for the 2022 World Cup. Two ExCo members were suspended for three years over allegations of corruption when it emerged they were willing to accept money in order to influence the ballot.

Power lines at FIFA can be murky but fixture allocation is not. FIFA's calendar is decided on years in advance and usually for a significant period of time. The current cycle runs from August 2008 to the end of 2014. The schedule works on a two-year basis, in the course of which all FIFA members play 19 matches each. The dates set aside include seven blocks of double dates - in which two games can be played in the time allotted - and five single days.

Recently FIFA reworked its calendar to lessen the load on players slightly. The 2014-18 version makes provision for nine double dates every two years, which means every team plays 18 matches. This does not include fixtures in a World Cup or a continental tournament such as the European Championship.

On the days FIFA has identified as international windows, clubs are obliged to release players to represent their countries. Players must be released for nine days, from the Monday of one week to the Wednesday of the next. With cricket's new structure likely to see more players from England, in particular, play in the IPL, something like the FIFA approach could be a lesson to cricket.

Currently the IPL overlaps with various other international fixtures, particularly ones involving England, which means players could be unavailable for either club or country, thus lessening the value of both sets of games. Should the ICC, like FIFA, make it obligatory for clubs (or countries) to release players at certain times and have a standard number of matches each international team should play, they could ensure the club-versus-country debate does not become another cricketing headache. As we have discovered, they have enough of those already.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steven on February 12, 2014, 23:27 GMT

    The true power of the IRB comes from the 6 nations competition, as they dominate the voting in the IRB. They block vote, much like the asian nations have block voted in the ICC. The best way for non rugby fans to understand how the All Blacks dominate rugby is think of them as the West Indies were in the 1980's. Good enough to draw a crowd no matter where they played

  • Reg on February 12, 2014, 22:39 GMT

    I should also point out that while the GAME of rugby is in great heart here in provincial NZ, regional rugby FINANCES appear to be precarious: a couple of years ago the Marlborough Regional Council had to buy the main local rugby ground to bail out the regional RFU. It's a worry - well it would be if I didn't prefer football. And yes, just in case you've forgotten, we were indeed the ONLY unbeaten side at the last Football World Cup.

    But there is a serious message here. I believe the genuine global appeal of football (soccer if you must) depends in large part on the opportunities for low-ranked teams to excel- 78th ranked NZ at FWC 2010 is a fine e.g., Denmark at EURO 1992 another. They didn't even qualify for the finals & were drafted in when civil war ruled Yugoslavia out, but the Danes won!

    In this respect cricket is MUCH more like football than rugby, the current NZ India series making the point. When trying to bring our game to the world we should look to FIFA, not the IRB.

  • suresh kumar on February 12, 2014, 12:13 GMT

    many people missing main point here of why indian people loving ipl, india has 23 recognized regional language for each of the state excluding 5 or 6 hindi speaking state with atleast 5 crore in each ipl team state. IPL gives each state to represent their identity atleast in name unlike national team. So people luv ipl.

  • Reg on February 12, 2014, 8:57 GMT

    As Richard Barnes says, rugby matches are not as evenly spread as the article suggests. Truth is, this reflects the strengths of the sides. All Blacks probably play Scotland & Ireland (SERIOUSLY important sides in world rugby) about once a year each on average. Scotland once got a draw with us. Ireland haven't managed that yet, but a regional team once beat us & the Irish are still writing plays about the event. Lamentably, kiwis only write plays & ballets about rugby when we loose, cheat, or kill on the field! Even so, world rugby is much the richer for having those teams involved.

    It was disappointing, to say the least, when the idea of tiers in cricket was first under discussion, to read many posts, apparently very largely from Indian fans, who think that test cricket would be improved without NZ or the Windies making the place look untidy. This is particularly so when, as several posts here explain, the wealth of Indian cricket depends so much on visiting teams & stars.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 8:03 GMT

    This is very similar to the Super 15 scenario. In that case South Africa brings in the majority of the revenue (by far) but the money is evenly split between the three countries involved (NZ, Aus and SA). However, because the All Blacks are the best team on the planet (sadly) and have been for a quite some time, a WC without them would be a farce. A cricket WC without India will be just fine from a playing perspective, maybe not financially.

    Most boards in the IRB are financially stable, not great but stable, in other words, they doing better than Sri Lanka, Pakistan, WI, NZ etc in cricketing terms. The ARU (Australian Rugby Union) has problems financially and that is because, unlike their cricket board, they face massive competition from Rugby League which many players and spectators prefer to Rugby Union.

    I have no problem with India wanting more revenue, if you contribute the most you should get a fair share, but I don't agree with the 'big three' running the game.

  • Bludging on February 12, 2014, 3:01 GMT

    If India was excluded from World cricket we would just return to what we had until a decade ago when they started pushing and shoving with more one dayer tournaments and this 20 over madness.

    Some of the top players in the leading countries will be maybe up to a million dollars worse off, but they are already on multiple millions now so they could afford a couple less Ferrari per year or a luxury house.

    Might actually force players to play more.

  • jayasekera on February 12, 2014, 2:54 GMT

    To compare All Blacks and India is pure fallacy. All lacks win almost all their matches when on tour. India win zilch when on tour.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 2:40 GMT

    Disappointing article! Always looked forward to reading your articles Ms. Moonda, but I'm afraid this one is fundamentally wrong.

    Cricket is played in 3 formats, heavily dependent on the conditions it is played, income generation is heavily skewed, only 13 players compete in any given moment which makes for an uneven distribution of the pressure of the moment, which is why upsets are more common in cricket.

    Also, a world-cup without India will practically won't cover the cost of its production

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 2:11 GMT

    The Wallabies will only play 14 games this calendar year.The Baggy Greens will play 3 Test Matches and 3 T20'S in South Africa alone.You can play cricket most of the week for months on end.You can only play 1 game of rugby a week.Plus the club structure in rugby was what the authorities worked on 20 years compared to cricket which is something they have gotten around to mending in the last few years.The I.P.L. though has the potential to become as big as any sports league in the world.It could model itself on Major League Baseball with 162 games a year-playoffs of 7 games each etc..Financial logic says this is only a matter of time....if they can keep a lid on the corruption.

  • Dummy4 on February 12, 2014, 0:49 GMT

    Before everybody gets too excited at how wonderful rugby is, let me mention that since readmission, the Springboks have played against the Wallabies and All Blacks fifty times each, against Ireland eleven times. Let us consider that Ireland, in rugby terms, are probably ranked/sized about where WI/NZ/SL are in cricket terms. If this new restructured ICC deal resulted in WI/NZ/SL playing 11 Tests against Australia for every 50 Tests that Aus played against England and India, would people be happy that the game was now much more "inclusive" and that the new schedule was much better than the old FTP?

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