USA town hall meeting receives high praise
Saturday's ICC town hall in Chicago has received high praise from many of those in attendance at the day-long affair aimed at developing a strategy to take USA cricket forward in the wake of the USACA's suspension by the ICC.
"I think this meeting achieved what it had in mind from the organizers and from the expectations of the attendees," former USA player Usman Shuja, a member of the ICC's seven-man local advisory group in the USA, told ESPNcricinfo. "It was a very constructive and necessary meeting. It was excellent and we could not ask for anything more from a process-launch perspective.
"What was positive was the ICC's commitment, from community engagement, a real desire to listen to the people who came out, and at the end of the day getting a consensus of different stakeholders to agree on something that is universally for the good of US cricket. It was extremely encouraging and served its purpose of clearing the air. Overall it was a good first step but there's still a long way to go."
Tim Anderson, the ICC head of global development , was also very optimistic about the outcomes from both the Saturday town hall as well as a seven-hour meeting on Sunday that was held between the local advisory group and ICC officials. Anderson described Saturday as "tremendous" for USA cricket.
"People were largely focusing on the future and solutions as opposed to maybe the past and why things had become the way that they had become," Anderson said. "It was a really mature attitude and there was an understanding after David Richardson spoke about the process that the ICC was taking with USACA - it was a very factual analysis of what had happened and where things currently stood - but at the same time most of the day was spent talking about future strategy and what were the important things that needed to be focused on moving forward."
A discussion about the way forward, rather than the past, may have been facilitated in part by the USACA board's conspicuous absence at the town hall, an indication that they are defiantly digging their heels in to defend their position rather than engage with the ICC and other local stakeholders to be a part of the solutions to fix USA cricket. Anderson confirmed that though there were several USACA member league administrators in attendance, no one showed up from the 11-man executive board, including Central East representative and former USACA president Masood Chik Syed, who is based in Chicago.
"They were invited to attend," Anderson said. "They decided not to. That's their choice." According to several sources, the USACA's absence was a result of a decision to boycott the town hall meeting, though USACA officials did not respond when asked to confirm or deny this by ESPNcricinfo.
In contrast, the entire nine-man executive board of the American Cricket Federation (ACF) was in attendance at the meeting, as well as Cricket Council USA chief executive Mahammad Qureshi and other CCUSA staff. Former ACF chief executive Jamie Harrison was also one to give the meeting high marks.
"Affiliations and past conflicts were put aside for the good of cricket," Harrison said. "It was as close to a display of an administrative spirit of cricket as one could imagine. This is especially significant when one considers the potentially divisive issues that the group was asked to discuss, issues that have crippled the development of cricket in America for decades. Opinions were frankly offered and debated, but always in a spirit of mutual respect and cooperation."
The day featured several discussions from various speakers, starting with ICC chief executive David Richardson. Shuja said that the "most impactful" speaker was Dan Migala, co-founder of Property Consulting Group. PCG has a large presence in sports marketing around the major USA sports leagues, but Migala has also had a heavy influence in cricket by working on projects with Cricket Australia, most significantly with the Big Bash League. His understanding of cricket and how it can fit into the US sports landscape as a thriving business struck a chord with those listening.
"A lot of the people who were at the town hall meeting who are heavily involved in USA cricket in their respective regions are so passionate about cricket that sometimes their reasons behind decision-making can become too emotional," Shuja said.
"What was great about Dan Migala is that his presentation provided a very rational set of guidelines for what has been proven to be successful in cricket, both in the USA and elsewhere, and areas where cricket in the USA is ahead of other sports. When people heard the way he laid these things out, I think it made a lot of sense for everyone and they could envision progress."
In line with Migala's insights, Shuja also commended the survey that the ICC sent out to stakeholders to complete ahead of the meeting. Respondents were asked to prioritize key issues in USA cricket, and the results of the survey made for solid discussion platforms during the town hall.
"One person might think one thing, another person might feel another way," Shuja said. "But it's always interesting to look at the data, especially when you put it directly in front of folks. It helped with the debates and it was a great way to have a debate. So from that standpoint it was a very good approach that the ICC took. Sunday we spent a lot of time reflecting on what people had to say and prioritizing feedback from people. Now it's about how we achieve a strategy."
Anderson said that based on the survey results, most of the time on Sunday was spent discussing youth and women's development as the cornerstones of the strategy moving forward. Out of the 85 people in attendance, less than 10% were female and Anderson said it was a reflection of the current state of the women's game in USA. Even the men in attendance rallied behind the discussion points offered by the women who were there.
"There's a major gap in the USA cricket system around youth development and women's development and that the community at large needed to concentrated more attention in that area," Anderson said. "That was a really honest appraisal and a really mature conversation about both of those points, as well as attracting a broader spectrum of the American public to cricket, both in terms of participation but also in terms of fan engagement. There was some discussion about high performance and obviously that's an important area too."
As for what the exact strategy will be going forward, Anderson said that Migala will be working alongside the local advisory group and the ICC over the next several months to formulate it. More town hall meetings may also be organised around November in different cities.
"The resourcing, administration and governance of it, we see that as a secondary point," Anderson said. "Get the strategy agreed and then we'll look at the way that its implemented but it is a strategy for USA cricket.
"Although the ICC is going have a role in helping it become implemented, ultimately it will be the USA cricket community and the governing body of USA cricket that will be responsible for making those things happen, hence the reason why we're talking to everybody throughout this process to make sure they agree and share in the information that's going to be put forward in the strategy in the first place."
Peter Della Penna is ESPNcricinfo's USA correspondent. @PeterDellaPenna