ICC chairman Greg Barclay: 'I don't subscribe to the Big-Three concept at all, there's no big three to me'

The newly elected ICC chairman chats with ESPNcricinfo on topics ranging from the proposed Super Series to the future of Associates

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
Greg Barclay will be the new ICC chairman, Edinburgh, Scotland, July 1, 2016

Greg Barclay will be the new ICC chairman  •  Getty Images

Greg Barclay, the newly elected ICC chairman, discusses a range of topics about the game, from functionalities of the ICC to the proposed Super Series to future of Associate nations, in a chat with ESPNcricinfo.
It's been a long, laborious process to get here [with a new chairman in place six months after the last one stepped down] - how much of that do you think was Covid-19, and how much was the governance vagaries or dysfunction of the ICC?
A little bit the former and a lot more the latter I think would be the answer for that. It's been an incredibly protracted affair, but it has been exacerbated by Covid and I think we would have solved a lot of the underlying issues had we been able to get into a room in Dubai and together I think we would've thrashed that out. The fact we couldn't do that has just meant that it's unfortunately lingered and festered for far longer than it needed to, and it probably to be perfectly honest helped some of the agendas as well that we couldn't lock in and hone in on the issues and get them dealt with in person.
You've had a run-off for a chair position with so much implication at a time when there are decisions backing up, one after the other.
This whole thing came about with Shashank [Manohar]'s resignation and his fairly abrupt departure. I think the understanding or maybe the expectation was that we knew Shashank's term was coming to an end and he had certainly indicated that he wasn't going to seek a further term, but with Covid we thought he would stay until such time as we'd found a replacement for him, so that probably threw everyone to an extent when for his own reasons he left abruptly after his resignation. That then left us in a position where we actually struggled to get a process in place - we didn't even have candidates or a nomination or selection process. We just had to get a process to do that, and that took months.
I think it would be fair to say that there was a clash of agendas, which meant that it suited some directors not to get a decision. Behind that, to give it some context and be fair to them, we are trying to undertake a governance review at the moment, so a lot of them felt we should just leave things until such time as we had an outcome of that review process. The difficulty with that is we didn't know how long that would take, and of course whatever recommendations came to the board from that process may not have been adopted. So it was fraught to leave it totally reliant on the outcome of the review.
We eventually managed to get a process in place and from there it's not been the fastest but it's been done and dusted over probably a six-week period. Given we're not meeting in person, it's not the worst. It was the four or five months of vacuum as we debated how to get a process which has added to the angst. We didn't have any idea who the candidates would be, who would be nominated, who would agree to let their names go forward, so for me it's just been frustrating - it took so long, but I was never a candidate until such time as I was asked to put my name forward and got nominated, which has been over the last six weeks.
How are you going to balance the ICC chair and your role as chair of International Rugby League (IRL)?
Both the New Zealand Cricket (NZC) role [Barclay is the NZC chairman] and the IRL role will need to be changed. I come off the board of NZC and I will come out of the chair of the IRL. I haven't had any conversations with the ICC or the IRL as to what a transition might look like or whether the ICC would be comfortable with me staying on the board of the IRL, and no conversations with IRL as to whether they would be comfortable for me to work on that basis either. I do know that I will be the independent chair of the ICC and that will be it, both other roles will be dispensed with at the end of whatever transition we have.
The major underlying tension at the moment is two different worldviews about ICC events revenue, and how many events you can fit in around bilateral cricket?
I've been represented in a number of media places as prioritising bilateral cricket over ICC events, and that's not the case at all. What I always advocated for and will continue to advocate for is just the balancing of cricketing interests that need to go across that ICC calendar. My view, and talking from personal experience, the creation of the FTP [Future Tours Programme] was absolutely brilliant for New Zealand cricket, not only in that we were able to commercialise our events moving forward with some degree of certainty, but it's actually the lifeblood of what makes cricket work. It's what drives fan engagement, it's what drives development and development pathways, it's what gives players that playing experience, it's what drives your high-performance programmes. It's how at an elite level you continue to maintain and improve your elite teams. So bilateral cricket is the lifeblood of the game. If we were simply relying on world events then the game would be in dire straits. When you look at a number of those countries - Bangladesh, look at how they've improved - I would say their improvement has come about through their ability to play more cricket, more regularly against better opposition.
"I would hate to see Full Members not able to play bilateral cricket, because their cricket will suffer. They've got to have the ability and the opportunity to compete against other countries."
I certainly hope the likes of Ireland and Afghanistan will show a similar level of improvement when they've got an opportunity to play against the better cricketing nations and, as we go down the tree, I'd like to think some of the Associates will be afforded the same opportunity but I accept that the ICC runs really good world events. The men's and women's events, you look at the women's T20 World Cup [earlier this year], it was an incredible tournament with an amazing final. The men's ODI World Cup [in 2019], you couldn't look away. They're amazing events, very well followed and with an ever-increasing audience sitting in behind them.
I'm delighted with the way the women's game has really rocketed ahead in terms of those ICC events. They're massively important and, from my point of view, it is a delicate eco-system that we need to ensure we get a good balance in. We need to ensure there's plenty of bilateral cricket that's affordable for the members, it's got context, it's competitive, all the rest of it, but it's an opportunity for countries to develop their cricket and drive their programmes, versus having [only] good, well-supported, vibrant world events. They fit together, they're not mutually exclusive, one need not take precedence over the other.
Then working around that, you've got Associates, qualifying cricket, you've got women's cricket around that should have equal billing with men's cricket. So that's got to be factored in as well, and then of course we've got the domestic leagues, some of them hugely influential on cricket. The IPL, the Big Bash and so it goes on. They need to be put in there and, of course, I don't think we've put enough thought into cricket and cricketing outcomes, particularly from the players' point of view. The players can't play all this cricket, just from a health, safety and welfare point of view, it's just not sustainable. So we've got to work around that. We've got our best athletes in positions where they're able to give their best for their countries in world events, and also make a living out of the game. So there is a heck of a lot to balance, and we've got to be really careful as to how we construct our annual calendar, so all these issues are taken into account. So it's not just a case of building a world events programme and saying 'hey there it is, everything needs to fit', we need to get it all together into a dynamic model so that we get optimum cricketing outcomes.
That sounds as though the package of events that was out to market earlier this year is not necessarily the final model for what we'll see from 2023 to 2031?
No. We haven't really built the calendar of events. There's a lot of conjecture around whether it should be eight events, seven events, six events or whatever. I honestly don't have a preference. What I want to ensure is that whatever we do end up with gives us optimum cricketing outcomes. I know a lot of the emphasis has appeared to be on commercial outcomes and this view that eight events will give the ICC more money. That may be the case, I'm not sure, I haven't seen any information come in around the broadcasters or sponsors or what they would prefer. I wouldn't know their preferences in terms of size, scale, venues and that sort of thing either. But, by the same token, we need to ensure there are opportunities for as many cricketers and cricketing countries as we can around those world events anyway. I don't know what it looks like until such time as we've gone ahead and started to build it and tested the market and talked to all of the various parties, including the players, to make sure we can make this work. What you may be looking at is not necessarily what we're going to end up with.
Something else that was thrown out there some time ago by the BCCI was the idea for a Super Series between India, England, Australia and one invited nation every year. Those sorts of proposals appeared to come up in response to the idea that a Champions Trophy-style tournament might come back?
No work has been done around that. It may have been talked about as a concept. But all I'd emphasise is by the time we've created an FTP with all the bilateral arrangements in place, in conjunction with the world events calendar, I would like to think all the countries who are party to those arrangements will honour their commitments. So I'm not quite sure where that would fit in or how that would come about. If there's more time to let members create more bilateral arrangements between themselves, that's really the right of the individual members, but let's start at the beginning and build something workable that we all understand and satisfies as many members needs as we possibly can, along with all the other stakeholders including, first and foremost, the players. Remembering as well that for bilateral cricket the sovereign rights are held by member countries, they're not the ICC's rights.
Underneath that is a debate about what will bring in more money overall, the ICC rights package or the development of bilateral leagues that have only just started?
I think one of the things that has clouded the conversation or the issue to date is a lot of it has been around the commercial outcomes, whereas I want to say let's have a look at the cricketing outcomes here. I accept that some bilateral cricket is expensive for member countries and doesn't necessarily drive outcomes from a commercial point of view. But I would hate to see Full Members not able to play or not in a position to play bilateral cricket, because their cricket will suffer. They've got to have the ability and the opportunity to compete against other countries. Men's and women's cricket will not progress if countries move into silos and are relying on their players participating in domestic leagues or in world events.
What we do need to address - and being from New Zealand it's an issue we had due to the tyranny of distance and the scale of our business - is the ability to afford to play or host a lot of our bilateral arrangements. We do need to address that - I'm acutely aware some countries cannot afford to really meet their commitments. There are a number of levers that I guess could be pulled, from a pooling of some rights or a common repository for some commercial opportunities, right through to lessening the Test cricket commitments of some countries; a whole lot of things that could and should be looked at. I think the ICC can play quite a role in that, both from a facilitation point of view and a support perspective.
I know when I first joined the ICC we had a Test cricket fund that was made available to a limited number of smaller Full Members to help fund some of their international programmes, and it helped us immensely, because we funded some of our tours through that period, and that helped with our cricket and our players. Looking at countries like Sri Lanka and West Indies, maybe a specialist fund could be something we go back and have a look at.
Overarching all of this is sitting down and the first thing we need to do is get the ICC strategy very clear, so we understand what it is we're trying to achieve, how that helps global cricket, how it supports members' interests. We're through a strategic planning exercise, but it's been two or three years and we need to get that closed out so it is quite clear what we're doing. Then we can make some decisions based on our strategy. That can be as simple as if we have more money, do we want to invest more to grow the game, and if we do that what does it look like. Are we looking to grow cricket in the USA, what does that look like. That might mean we need to accept some of our world events need to be hosted in places like that, where it can be showcased and used as a platform to grow the game. But that will mean the revenue generated off that might be less than what the members ideally would want. So a lot of decisions, but it needs to be driven by a strategic approach.
So coming from New Zealand you'd like to think you have empathy for a range of different countries, but you also think the ICC needs a more cohesive direction after a lot of chopping and changing over the last few years?
That's dead right. I do come from one of the smaller Full Members. As a kid growing up, New Zealand was still only being afforded basically friendly matches against Australia, we were playing the equivalent of three-day Test matches until the 1970s. We didn't play a full Test match against Australia until the mid-1970s, we didn't beat anyone until 1978, pretty much 50 years after we played our first Test match. We didn't win in England for nearly another 10 years after that [1986], so it's been a long, slow evolution for New Zealand cricket, and I think that's one of the things some of the members need to understand as well.
"India are a slightly different case, they're a huge cricketing force, we need to have them in the tent and with 1.3 billion people and the stuff they do around cricket, I think we just need to address some of their issues differently."
Looking at Ireland or Afghanistan, you don't necessarily need to be playing Test cricket in a hurry, or playing a lot of Test cricket in a hurry. Concentrate on the more affordable short forms of the game, use that as an opportunity to drive your domestic structures and get a better domestic programme, which will help bring more players into the game and strengthen your teams, but accept that that's going to take a period of time. I think I am empathetic to a lot of the issues that impact those smaller Full Members, but also I do think we need to be conscious of potential growth among other members as well. I don't want to end up in a position where there's only three or four teams that are going to win a men's or women's World Cup. It'd be great to think there are 12 or 15 teams that will be competitive. But to do that we've got to accept some of those Associates will need some help and support to grow into highly competitive Full Members, just like Sri Lanka did, like Bangladesh have, and Ireland and Afghanistan hopefully will go on a similar journey.
That's a good segue to Imran Khwaja, being from Singapore and a long-time representative of the Associates. You've just had a run-off against each other [for the ICC chairmanship] but how important is it to work closely with him?
There's no denying Imran is a stalwart supporter of the Associates; he's been at the ICC and on the ICC Board for a long period of time. That's a good thing and I hope that he stays involved and maintains his passion and continues to fight the good fight for the Associates - they need to be represented and there is massive cricketing potential out there among those countries. With a bit of help, eight or 10 of them could be competitive amongst the Full Member group. So let's keep on doing that, let alone the potential growth that's out there in countries that really haven't been tapped at this stage, whether that's in Europe or the Americas or other parts of Asia. He's got a vital role to play, he's got my 100% support and encouragement around that. Sure, we ran off against each other, that's just the way a democratic process works, but I've got a huge amount of respect for him. I just hope he keeps going.
What about the fact you're coming in from the point of view that you had India, England and Australia supportive of your candidacy, and with some fairly recent history with the "Big Three" that means there's relationships and trust you need to build across the board apart from those nations?
Without a doubt. A lot of the media has touted the "Big Three" concept, but I don't subscribe to it at all. There is no big three to me, they're just members of the ICC. Sure they're really important members, they help drive a lot of cricketing outcomes, and to have them as hosts of events or as cricketing opponents is hugely beneficial. But they are individual members of the ICC, so they're just as important but no more so than anyone else. I wasn't at the ICC when the big three resolutions were put in place, but while that changed the funding model, there were also some good things that came out of that, members got certainty around their playing arrangements and certainty around their funding.
While it was an inequitable split, New Zealand and other members were still better off than what we had been previously. But I think what was done under Shashank once he got [the ICC chairmanship] - they rolled back the resolutions and lessened the influence of those three countries - was absolutely the right thing. Now there has been no concept of big three for the last four years or so, and I know for a fact that England and Australia are very much of that view. They get the same amount of [ICC events] money as everyone else and that's never really been an issue. India are a slightly different case, they're a huge cricketing force, we need to have them in the tent and with 1.3 billion people and the stuff they do around cricket, I think we just need to address some of their issues differently. There are a lot of positives to come out of what they do as well as any perceived negatives.
You mentioned hosting global events outside Australia, England or India. That's one of the most concrete reminders of 2014 and the "Big Three", but you've got an open mind to change that?
Absolutely and I think on two fronts. One is where and how we host events. A major reason for doing that is if we want to grow the game, whether it's in Asia or the Americas, but the USA being the logical place to start. Maybe we need to look at hosting a world event, maybe a co-host between the West Indies and the USA. But we do need to have a good look at the outcomes we're trying to drive here. Those world events are an integral part of decision making.
The second thing is while from a revenue point of view we need to accept those countries have to be there or thereabouts in hosting a certain event, maybe the way that events are funded and the way revenue is dealt with can be done differently as well. So it doesn't necessarily stand to reason that a country hosting an event keeps the amount of revenue they do. Maybe there's different ways of approaching the commercial properties that emanate from an event. I just think we need to be open-minded, look strategically at what we want to do, and move forward to see what's workable.
Another element you bring to the table is a strong working relationship with the New Zealand players' association - there's probably not a better board-players relationship anywhere else in the world. Do you hope to improve things on this front at a global level in a landscape where not every country actually has a players' association?
I am very aware of the rights and the needs of the players. You don't have a game without the players and I want them to be able to perform at the best of their abilities. So we need to have strong, vibrant, competitive cricket. We won't drive ongoing fan engagement unless that is the case. Whatever we can do to ensure our athletes are well looked after, well prepared, well educated around what it takes to be a professional athlete - and that's equally applicable to some of the emerging countries and to the women's game as it moves, hopefully quickly, into a fully professional era. For me, the role of the players' association is hugely important and very beneficial to that. I accept that some countries don't see the need for them, but my personal experience is that they've been a real positive for the game and the players. We've had an incredibly good relationship with our players' association. It has its positive tensions without a doubt, but by and large it has been to the benefit of both sides. It's moved us ahead in leaps and bounds in terms of our contribution to the game.
Lastly, what are a couple of the things you think most need to change at the ICC, having observed its functioning from the board table for a number of years prior to winning the chair?
Getting the board to focus on a simple, workable strategy that can be implemented is going to be paramount. That will have the benefit of giving us a clear direction ahead, but it will mean that the directors all need to fall in together in the same direction, and I think that will shake out a lot of the perceived issues that we have around the board. That's my overriding observation that I want the directors to understand where we're going and what the ICC is trying to achieve. I also think that at an individual level, each director has something to contribute and I want to understand where they see their contribution as being, so we can actually make use of the best skills we've got around the boardroom table. I don't know that we've necessarily leveraged the abilities of the board as best we can, so that's one of the things I'll be looking to try and address fairly early on.
Then sitting in behind that, I do think the role of the board of governance needs to work in a complementary manner with the role of management, and I want to get that governance-management relationship on a pretty even keel so everyone understands what they're doing and we're all working for a common purpose. I think there's just a little bit of practical work to be done around that to get the roles and responsibilities clear and understood.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig