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Heart of glass
Self-interest could kill international cricket
The greed and self-interest that drive decisions in international cricket have been so well known for so long that we have largely become immune to them. A new broadcast cycle for the ICC’s one-day competitions is likely to be accompanied by a rejigging of the division of spoils among its members that will shift wealth even further towards the dominant nations, especially India. But because all will be better off, expect little dissent. Grubby, unfair, and likely only to further strengthen the IPL’s franchise owners.
The new arrangements, covering 2024-27, are reportedly going to see India enjoy $231 million of dividends each year from the ICC, 39% of the overall pot and more than five times England’s share. But the ECB won’t be too miffed, as this still ranks it second largest recipient and the overall growth in TV fees means its cash sum will rise even though its percentage take will fall, compared to the existing arrangements. Essentially, India will have at last won a bloody battle that it waged with the other leading countries and lost eight years ago. But losing then was still a victory at the expense of the smallest nations.
A few years back, Dave Richardson, then ICC chief executive, described cricket to me as essentially a founder members club which had taken a century to welcome just ten full members (since expanded to twelve). He cited only 1.5 million people playing cricket in the 95 associate member countries. “When we get to ten million, maybe we can justify more of an investment.”
At the time Richardson argued:
“If we were to give a weighting to what each country contributes, we should probably pay 75% to India.”
This is the mentality that grips the ICC, incorporated in the British Virgin Isles, domiciled in the United Arab Emirates since 2005, and emotionally rooted now in India not St John’s Wood. Not that control from Lord’s would likely be any better.
The ECB has just announced a roster of non-executive directors. Recently appointed chair, Richard Thompson, has his new board. It looks curiously under-powered, with at least one appointment sending eyebrows higher within sports governance circles. With so much to deal with domestically, coupled with the shift in power internationally, let’s hope Thompson has got board colleagues with the necessary calibre to share the burden of governance and allow him to stand up within the ICC for what’s right for the long term development of cricket globally.
And for clarity, that’s not about England but the long string of smaller cricket-playing nations.
Cricket may yet become basketball, a sport played globally but which is dominated by a single country franchise league, the NBA. Other leagues exist around the world. Some thrive. But ballers worldwide aspire to NBA riches and international competition is largely irrelevant outside the Olympics (and even this fails to attract all of the biggest US stars).
It is not hard to imagine a future in which the IPL simply is cricket, its owners dictating the scheduling of ICC World Cups whose profits are then disbursed around the world primarily to ensure a healthy conveyor belt of future talent for the IPL itself. Cross-holdings between the League’s franchises and teams in other lesser T20 competitions worldwide would cement the IPL’s effective control. And if test match cricket is your thing, just reflect that this version of the game barely makes a dollar for the ICC. So what price anyone in Dubai staking their career on defending it?
Read in detail about the ICC’s proposals on ESPNcricinfo here
Hanging on the telephone
MPs have just elected a new head of the Culture, Media & Sport Committee - Dame Caroline Dinenage. I’ve been grilled by this group three times. It veers from valuable crusader against corruption and malpractice to kangaroo court - often within minutes, usually when the politicians’ egos run amok.
I’ve one request for the new chair: keep all mobile phones on airplane mode. That will stop MPs tweeting self-congratulatory comments during the hearings (rude!) and exchanging WhatsApp messages with journalists who tell them what questions they should ask next. All in the interests of improving the workings of our democracy, you understand.
There is seemingly no solution to rugby’s shrinking Premiership. Ealing Trailfinders are again railing against the block on their promotion - their ground is deemed too small - but ringfencing seems the sensible option when most clubs’ finances are awash with red ink. One below-the-line comment from a reader in a national newspaper article about the issue did draw me up short though:
“Could a British league be the answer?”
Could it? With elite club rugby in Wales in an even worse state than that in England, why not as a first step explore inviting Cardiff, Dragons, Ospreys and Scarlets into the Premiership? Roll in the leading Scottish clubs too and you’d soon have a two-tier British league with promotion and relegation.
CVC might want to ginger up talks to bolster the hefty investment it has already sunk into the sport.
One way or another
If you’re planning to reset your body clock to watch the women’s football World Cup in Australia and New Zealand this summer, you might want to wait to see if FIFA resolves the stand-off over the value of the tournament’s broadcast rights. Currently there are no deals to show the matches live in a handful of major European countries, including England.
The broadcasters believe they are providing a public service to FIFA’s benefit and needn’t pay much for the privilege. Football’s ruling body believes millions of eyeballs must be reflected in contract values.
“To be very clear, it is our moral and legal obligation not to undersell.” FIFA president Gianni Infantino
Who will blink first, FIFA or the TV platforms? Who needs who more? Interest in women’s football in England wouldn’t have blossomed without the BBC’s all-in commitment. But dare the Beeb not screen this World Cup? And dare FIFA risk a blackout?
Unthinkable. So expect a deal that will allow both sides to claim victory and you to be sleep deprived this summer.
Fade away and radiate
France has pulled out of hosting the 2025 Rugby League World Cup. I assume they’d had sight of draft final accounts for last year’s edition in England. Too many empty seats there should have been an early warning sign for the French.
After Sport inc. last week, The Joy of Sport, an athletics insider messaged me a ‘This Is So Boooooring!’ GIF and told me “I don’t mind a bit of celebration but we read you for ‘bite and insight’.” One commentator then described me as ‘the devil’s advocate himself’ and ‘the new B2B agent provocateur in town.’ I’ll happily have the latter chiselled on my gravestone, thanks! And do feel free to celebrate when it is.