March 14, 2014

What do the ICC proposals mean for the Associates?

They essentially uphold the inequity in the treatment of the Associates when compared to the lowest-performing Full Members

Cricket outside the Test-playing world is in rude health but the ICC's proposals could stifle teams like Afghanistan © AFP

In its high-minded way, cricket's governing elite once took pride in its expansionary vision.

The Bodyline tour of 1932-33 was bookended by expeditions designed to spread cricket's word: en route Down Under, England stopped off in Ceylon, and the side returned home after two Tests in New Zealand. Patience was copious when New Zealand took 26 years to record their first Test win. Conferring Test status on Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and Bangladesh seemed to confirm the desire to expand the game.

As recently as 1998, the Champions Trophy was created to drive the expansion of the sport: half the profits from the tournament were explicitly allocated to develop cricket outside the Test world, and the first two tournaments were even held in Associate nations. This was, as Gideon Haigh has put it, cricket's dalliance with League of Nations idealism.

The fruits of it are now clear to see. Last month Ireland were disappointed to be held to 1-1 in a T20 series in the West Indies. A few days later, Afghanistan defeated Bangladesh in the Asia Cup: the subdued celebrations showed that this was no major upset. Cricket outside the Test-playing world has surely never been in ruder health.

There is much to be excited about. The new ICC structure gives, for the first time in cricket history, a transparent pathway to countries that aspire to gaining Test status. The winners of the next Intercontinental Cup will be given the chance to earn Test status if they defeat the lowest-ranked Test side in a playoff. Giles Clarke publicly said: "If Ireland do qualify for Test cricket, England will guarantee that we play them."

For Associates, one of the main tenets of the new ICC funding structure is that the best should get more of the gold. Funding would be diverted more aggressively to the top six sides, with half of all ICC funds for Associates and Affiliates going to these. On the surface this seems unobjectionable, and it will help Afghanistan and Ireland close the funding gap on Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.

Yet there is also a capricious nature to the distinction between the top six Associates and the rest, and the creation of a funding disparity analogous to that between English football's Premier League and its Championship. While Afghanistan and Ireland are indisputably the best Associates, the pecking order among the rest is unclear. Scotland were one of four qualifiers for next year's 50-over World Cup but missed out on the six qualifying spots for the first group stage of the World T20. Netherlands ended the World Cup qualification process as the ninth-placed side - and, by implication, the 19th-best ODI side in the world. Yet they beat England in the 2009 World T20, and have beaten Bangladesh in two of their past four internationals against them. Under the new world order, their cricket development would be toast - and the same goes for Kenya, World Cup semi-finalists only 11 years ago.

The refusal to countenance the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics, largely on the grounds that top teams could earn more by staging bilateral matches, is emblematic of small-minded thinking

If the new set of ICC rights is sold for $2.5 billion over eight years, as widely predicted, the total amount given to Associates and Affiliates will be $210 million. Had the rights gone for the same amount under the old formula, the Associates and Affiliates would have received a total of $425 million. The great losers are cricket's bottom 90 nations, who would receive $105 million - almost $200 million less than they would under the existing funding model and a cut in real terms on what they currently receive too.

While the 75-25 ratio in the allocation of ICC revenues between Full Members and the rest remains, this isn't the whole story. The new formula includes a very different definition of "contribution costs" (in practice, this means more money funnelled to the top three nations), while the rule under which 6% of ICC revenues is allocated to the Development Programme before the rest of the revenue is distributed will be done away with completely.

Effectively, cricket will be putting up the white flag on its ambitions of being a "global game", and marking the historical end point of its development just as the ICC's holistic aims of the 1990s are yielding results. Thereafter, cricket could only grow within the top 16 nations - an arbitrary number selected at a wholly arbitrary moment - and not outside of them. It amounts to a fatalistic, ahistorical approach. And, had it been implemented even ten years ago, cricket in Afghanistan and Ireland would have been stifled.

As ever in ICC matters, confusion reigns supreme. There are now suggestions that the initial proposal might change, with more funds being channelled to the seventh-, eighth-, ninth- and tenth-best Associates. Given how competitive the top echelons of the Associate world are, this would seem to be a more sagacious approach than that initially outlined. But it would necessitate either freeing up funds from the highest-performing Associates - so exacerbating the funding gap between these and the Full Members - or further limiting the funding given to international cricket's small fry, and reducing the chances of cricket taking hold in unlikely outposts, as it has in Afghanistan, Nepal and Papua New Guinea in recent years.

Uncertainty prevails, with the Dutch and Kenyan cricket boards among those declining to comment until they receive "formal notification from the ICC"; sources say it may not be until May that there's clarity on the exact repercussions for Associates.

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On closer inspection, the implications of the proposals aren't as good for the top Associates as supposed. At the time Warren Deutrom, the CEO of Cricket Ireland, described the pathway to Test status as "much further forward in terms of the timing of structural progress than we would have imagined". But how many fixtures a new Test team would get remains unclear, especially with the Future Tours Programme now consigned to history. Bangladesh, after all, have played only 82 Tests in the 14 years since they were awarded Test status.

Under the new proposals, leading Associates would expect to receive around $2.2 million a year. As things stand, Ireland receive a similar amount, though the exact annual figure varies depending on performance-related grants and participation fees. In addition to basic funding, Ireland receives $500,000 a year in Targeted Assistance and Performance Programme (TAPP) funding, $1 million in Cricket World Cup funding every four years, and $250,000 for qualifying for each World T20. These figures could all suffer under the new world order.

The future of the TAPP programme is unclear. From 2019, the 50-over World Cup will be limited to a ten-team affair, making it unlikely that both Afghanistan and Ireland will qualify and receive the $1 million participation fee. After 2016, the World T20 will switch from being staged every two years to every four, costing the top Associates $250,000 every four years.

Much more importantly, the new tournament structures limit the ability of the top Associates to generate the sponsorship to be self-sufficient: would-be sponsors of Afghanistan and Ireland want to be connected to a side that defeats established nations at world tournaments. But with the World T20 every four years and the World Cup being reduced to ten teams, the chances for Associates to make a wave on the international stage are actually diminishing.

Two years ago, the MCC World Cricket Committee recommended that non-Test-playing countries should be encouraged to host the World T20 to boost cricket's profile in these countries. Instead, the hosting of world tournaments is being limited to the self-proclaimed Big Three, with no regard for cricket's outposts: while England allowed Ireland, Netherlands and Scotland to host matches in the 1999 World Cup, it has not done the same for the 2019 World Cup.

Meanwhile the refusal to countenance the inclusion of cricket in the Olympics, largely on the grounds that top teams could earn more by staging bilateral matches, is also emblematic of small-minded thinking. Olympic status offers Associates the chance to engage new fans, sponsors and even players, and best of all, to open up government funding that is available for Olympic sports: a chance for the ICC to facilitate the expansion of cricket without footing the bill.

Given their treatment under the status quo, Afghanistan and Ireland may feel marginally better off under the new proposals. Yet unless the absence of guaranteed fixtures for Associates against Full Members is reversed, they will still be dependent upon scraps - and prevented from developing the regular scheduling necessary to entice broadcasters and be more economically self-sufficient.

The new world order risks entrenching the fundamental inequity in the treatment of the leading Associates and the worst- performing Full Members. Even if Afghanistan defeated Zimbabwe in the Test playoff and in every ODI between the sides, they would still receive around $20 million every eight years - while Zimbabwe, regardless of performance, would receive over $70 million. There is no sign of how this could ever change: the new ICC plans don't even contain a token mention of how any new country could obtain Full Member status.

For all the ICC's lofty rhetoric about "meritocracy" and expanding the game, a profound funding gap, unrelated to performance, would remain at the heart of international cricket. But it's not only Afghanistan and Ireland who should feel aggrieved: the 90 lowest-ranked cricketing nations, who carry with them cricket's dreams of becoming a genuinely global game, have cause for profound despair.

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