TORONTO, June 21: Canada, which had declared cricket as its national game way back in 1867 but later lost it to baseball and ice hockey, rehabilitated the sport on Friday.

Canadian Sports Minister Helena Guergis announced federal funding for the promotion of the sport across the country. “The government of Canada welcomes Cricket Canada (national governing body) to the list of sports that are eligible to receive funding,” she said while unveiling a new uniform for the national team at a formal ceremony at Cricket Canada offices.

Guergis said it was “an exciting day for Cricket Canada as a national sports organization to have the opportunity to be recognized by the federal government.”

The minister assured Cricket Canada that her government was now committed to promoting the sport in the region. “We look forward to supporting future initiatives (by Cricket Canada),” she said.

Cricket Canada, which banks on the ICC for funding, received a token amount of $77,000 from the federal government for 2007-2008. But with Friday’s announcement by the sports minister, government funding may go up considerably.

“Thankfully, our efforts are paying off. We have worked hard to qualify for government recognition and funding,” Cricket Canada president Banwarilal (Ben) Sennik said.

Sennik said there were 40,000 cricketers across Canada as schools and other organisations have initiated programmes for promotion of cricket.

Atul Ahuja, the young CEO of Cricket Canada, added, “With Friday’s recognition of cricket by the government, Canada has broken a psychological barrier. The amount does not matter. It is the government’s recognition that matters. Cricket is now set for exponential growth our country.”

“The money coming from the government will be allocated to Cricket Canada’ high-performance (HP) and long-term athlete development (LTAD) programmes for promotion of cricket.”

The jazzy steel grey cricket uniform unveiled on Friday includes flashes of red and yellow. “The steel grey part is symbolic of our steely determination to succeed at the international level. The flashes of red and yellow reflect our national colours and resolve to win,” said Ahuja.

With the International Cricket Council listing Canada as ‘a priority’ nation and pumping money into promotion of the sport, cricket has got a big boost in this North American nation.

The large population of immigrants from cricket-playing parts of the world — India, Pakistan and the Caribbean — has added to the popularity of the sport at the grassroots.

This summer Canada plays the visiting West Indies, Bermuda and Scotland before it heads for Ireland for Twenty20 World Cup qualifiers. Curiously, Canadians say their three-day match against the US in New York from Sept 25 to 27 in 1844 was the first Test match in cricket history — not the 1877 Melbourne match between England and Australia.

—Agencies

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