Who owns cricket?

Updated Jan 21 2014

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The proposed restructuring of the ICC is done foremost for the three boards, and the real “stakeholders” like the fans are worth nada. -Photo by AP
The proposed restructuring of the ICC is done foremost for the three boards, and the real “stakeholders” like the fans are worth nada. -Photo by AP

It was clear when Niranjan Shah, the BCCI vice-president said that India couldn’t give a flying toss about international cricket. "Like in baseball, America is not worried whether any other country is playing or not," he told James Astill, the writer of The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India. It was clearer when it was announced that every major ICC event from 2015 to 2023 would be held in England, Australia and India. And it is clearest now, after the ICC F&CA Commercial Rights Working Group Position Paper has been leaked. It is a confirmation of all the fears of cricket fans from within, and especially outside, the three countries that run world cricket, and plan to do so for the foreseeable future. The hullabaloo over it seems a little odd considering how much of the control has been ceded to the BCCI, CA and ECB over the past ten years, but it’s the formalization of it that rankles. It’s a bit like the justice system in Pakistan; everyone is aware of how crooked and power-friendly it is, but it is one thing to own it informally and another to legislate for it such a way that your owning of it is legal.

For those unaware, a draft of this paper was uncovered by Osman Samiuddin and Sharda Ugra last week. This paper underlines a possible vision for the future of international cricket administration, and it is a future that should scare even the casual fan. The draft, a 21-page document in pure management-speak and filled with org-charts, reads like the sort of thing delusional MBAs with no love for the game would write.

The reasoning that the paper provides for its existence is that the cricket boards have to be removed from the clutches of the International Cricket Council (ICC) – it’s a reasoning based on everything but the facts. It follows that up with details on how it plans to provide a better cricket world – and the fact that this is “better” (at least in the short term) for only three countries, or rather three boards, within the ICC makes it clear who is behind it. It talks about “better” redistribution of ICC revenues, by which it means that the richest countries should get the most money, as they produce the most too. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer; unfettered capitalism, always an anathema to sport, is what they are planning to institutionalise.

But it’s not just the money that should be with them, the paper argues, but the power too. One proposal in the paper is for the establishment of an ‘Executive Committee’ within the ICC. This ExCo would consist of one nominated member for a one-year period from the remaining seven countries, and three permanent members from India, Australia and England. Thus it would be the cricket equivalent of the UN Security Council with three members being more equal than others. The paper defines all this as “Meritocracy not just Membership” – you can do so much when you are the one creating the definition of meritocracy. Add all this to the proposal to cancel the ICC Test Championship and the Future Tours Program, and you have the complete picture. We can finally live in the world where the big three countries only play each other, stopping only for their domestic T20 leagues, while the plebs can fight each other for what little scraps “trickle down”. It’s the way it’s supposed to be I guess.

And it does all this while trying to maintain a level of “goodness” and ticking off all the clichés. It is said that the proposal is about “ensuring that Test Cricket remains the primary form of the game while World Cup cricket remains the key generator of finances for the ICC and a number of members.” It’s almost as if the drafters got the memo on what to include to make it seem like they actually care about and follow the game. The paper talks about “improved governance and effective and efficient management” but hardly about one facet: the word “fans” is used once in 21 pages. This restructuring of the ICC is done foremost for the three boards, and the real “stakeholders” (a word that is quite frankly abused in the paper) like the fans are worth nada.

The fact that the paper has been leaked is worthy of debate and conspiracy theorizing in itself. The best case scenario is that there are people within the ICC who are concerned by the apartheid-isation of cricket, and journalists who are willing to uncover such stories. The worst case scenario is that this was deliberately leaked and a modified form of this paper will be approved based on the reactions. What seems an inevitability is that we are finally going to institutionalize the divide that exists within the Full Member Nations and create a three or four-tier body. The Pakistan Cricket Board has already expressed its apprehension "over the direction world cricket is taking” following these revelations.

All of this, though, is presumptuous, from the drafters that is. Over the past thirty years we’ve seen the rise of the “Asian Bloc” (and the accompanying dread by tweed wearing old white men), followed by India becoming too big and shedding the rest of the members off that bloc. This all seems purely logical in hindsight that the country with two-third of cricket’s market and finances was going to rule the roost eventually, but maybe twenty years from now cricket no longer is the most popular sport in India. Perhaps, a plethora of T20 will saturate a market that will move towards other ventures – perhaps it’ll join the rest of Asia in being a football dominated country. So to create a system for the 2015-2023 period to ensure that the rich get richer is a bit odd, considering that they might not be the three biggest markets by the time 2023 comes around. But for now, they and their two minions are running the joint; and they are planning to formalise it. The only thing that can stop them would be the other seven standing up. If only they had the cojones to do it.