Pragmatism, but not good governance
Russell Degnan

It is difficult to know how to assess what will be the true motivations and effect of the ICC governance reforms. Srinivasan and the BCCI are almost admirably direct: they expected more money to guarantee their future participation in ICC events, and they got what they wanted. There has been no hiding from this fact by anyone party to it; both Wally Edwards and Giles Clarke highlight the threat that India would withdraw from ICC tournaments in interviews, and argue that it isn't a risk they are willing to take.

Srinivasan, for his part, has no issue stating that his aim has been to further the interests of the BCCI, regardless of what is best for world cricket:

"During my tenure at ICC, I have at all times, furthered the interests of BCCI. My crowning achievement has been to effect a re-structuring of the ICC and a re-working of the financial distribution model to reflect India's contribution to the economics of world Cricket. As a result, BCCI now stands to receive 21.6% of the top line of the media rights and sponsorship income of ICC, for ICC events between 2015-23. Further, it has been agreed that even in the subsequent cycle, 2023-31, BCCI cannot get anything lower."

The motivations of Wally Edwards and Giles Clarke are harder to assess though. Their belief in the worth of the actions taken seems genuine; a pragmatic need to ensure India was onside coupled with a belief that cricket will be better placed with a change in the constitution and the introduction of the test fund. Whether a substantial amount of coin is sufficient to stop the BCCI from being "unhappy", given they already had de-facto control over board decisions remains to be seen. Their junior partners seem to believe they are now on the "inside", from which we might conclude that by sidelining BCCI's lackeys on the board in favour of a smaller executive council they believe they can influence decision making in their favour.

At least in some respects they may be correct; but in many other respects this is no great boon. In both mens' case, the evidence points to a singular lack of vision and a limited understanding of modern sports administration. They've been elevated to their position because of their connections and time spent in the sport. Given a forum to demonstrate their capacity to lead, we are left with platitudes, statements inconsistent with action and a clear lack of expertise.

The title of Clarke's piece in this year's Wisden - "Our vision for a better game" - doesn't live up to its billing. It is a facile and banal piece, pre-occupied with the finances of the ICC administration and the injustice of cricket administrators being held up to public scrutiny. Decisions have been made; but Clarke sees no need to justify their worthiness. They need to be judged though, because they are often inadequate to the goals they set themselves, the product of a system that resists both scrutiny and outside expertise.

A classic example concerns Clarke's comments on digital streaming. Stating that internet piracy was cricket's biggest threat was laughable, but his lack of knowledge is damning. As Mike Jakeman relates in a Radio Cricket interview, Clarke had no knowledge of a major revenue stream of American sports. The ICC, even after some success streaming cricket at associate level, still failed to provide that service for the Women's WT20, and the ECB failed to provide similar coverage for the Women's Ashes. Apportioning some of their ICC windfall to professionalising the women's game in their own nations is great for those athletes, but their inability to market and promote the matches they play is an ongoing failure.

Other aspects of Clarke's Wisden article are more cynically put forward. After discussing the excessive "cost" of ICC administration, under which he tables the staging of tournaments for affiliate and associate members and the regional development programs, he goes on:

"But a disproportionate amount of money was being spent - wasted, some might argue - on costs, rather than being used to develop and promote cricket in the membership."

Yet under the terms of the new agreement, the test nations must be "hired out" to the ICC as a "cost", creatively allocating a billion dollars to the test nations (three in particular). The ICC development arm is being scaled back for cost-cutting, and the member dividend that goes to the developing members of the ICC left at the current level regardless of the revenue increase. For Clarke, like Srinivasan, the "membership" means his own board.

Similarly, there is a marked aversion to dependence on the ICC. Regardless that collective fixturing and sale of tv rights is a cornerstone of successful sports leagues, cricket's boards are expected to grow their own revenue:

"There is an argument that there was no need for change, that cricket was working fine, that the previous model was fair and sustainable. The finances of the majority of nations suggested otherwise; and most members were dependent on visits from India and England."

But as the statements of the three hold-outs - Sri Lanka, South Africa and Pakistan - following their capitulation make clear, the reduction in relative importance of a central source of revenue untied to the scheduling whims of the BCCI has made them more, not less, dependent. Or to quote Wally Edwards

"And in reality it's not a lot of money. The most important money is: "Does India tour you?" We all know that."

No-one with any knowledge of cricket's financial structure had proclaimed it sustainable. And it is no more sustainable for the reforms that have been made, which merely entrenched the two most undesirable elements of that system: the dependence on bilateral tours from certain nations that entail the need for an touring program designed purely to make money; and the inability of that program to accommodate growth in the number of nations playing test cricket.

Either Clarke and Edwards know this, but are happy to keep the other full members under a yoke of financial dependence so as to control the sport; or they are delusional. If Edwards comments are any indication he might be suffering from the latter. Contained with an extended discussion of the need to use "market forces" to encourage weaker teams to improve was this comment on India:

"Look at India, in 1980 - where were they? And they won a World Cup in 1983, cricket took off in that country and they've been fairly well run. A lot of people criticise BCCI but look what they've achieved, and not one dollar of ICC money has been required to do that. If Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, West Indies and a few others could take a leaf out of their book, cricket would be better off. We want ten or 12 or 15 nations being competitive."

As a history of Indian cricket's emergence as a financial power it is sorely lacking. No doubt the BCCI made some good decisions, but they did so in the context of the world's second largest nation opening its economy to the market, and the phenomenal growth across all sports of television income from the mid-90s onwards. But that growth is constrained by the local market; and the local market can basically be defined as GDP x Size of Cricket Watching Population. For the other full members to grow their financial bases (and both population and wealth are a significant factor in their long-term competitive ability), then they need to either increase their GDP (which is somewhat outside the remit of a cricket board), or they need to increase their base of support. In a few places this is feasible - South Africa for instance - but by and large, in the full members there is no growth to be had.

Moreover, none of the other full members have particularly strong economies - lacking either population, wealth of both. The Nominal GDP of each of the big-3: UK $2.5b, India $1.8b, Australia $1.6b. Of the other 7 full members combined: $1.1 billion. There is no untapped local market they can grow to match the big-3: if retaining players, financial stability and dependence is a problem with the bilateral touring structure, it will remain a problem until it is changed.

Similarly, there are few candidates to match the big-3 outside the existing full members. Each of them occupies a place in the world's dozen largest economies. Cricket is unlikely to ever occupy a central place in well developed industrial economies of comparable size. It is another sign of Clarke's myopia that he rejects the two exceptions as "pie in the sky": China continues to grow but already has a GDP larger than every full member combined; and the USA, with a population some 80 times larger than New Zealand, is twice as large again. Even a small segment of those markets is significant because cricket's economy is so small. To reject them is to reject a third of the world's economic potential. Similarly, there is ample potential for growth in the larger associates to push them into the same realm as the smaller full members, even while cricket remains a minority sport in those nations; and for other associates such as Ireland, Scotland, Nepal or Afghanistan to peak at or around that same level.

But to achieve that a fundamental point needs to be grasped. Not by the big-3, but by the other full members: the problems that afflict them are the same as those at associate level. The "Irish Question" is also the "New Zealand Question": what to do with a financial light-weight that is intermittently competitive with the biggest teams. The smaller full members are as financially unstable now as they've ever been; they might have a "legally binding" future tours program, but it will leave them no better off a decade from now. There are better ways to guarantee their financial survival; methods that work in other sports, for teams in big markets and small; and which permit growth and expansion within those sports. That method is to band together: sell their tv rights collectively, and market a competitive structure in a way that lifts their profile as part of a collective, not as individual brands. Unfortunately cricket has moved further away from this model; the short and pointless bilateral tours that numb the mind and spirit remain; while associate nations have been offered a mere fig-leaf in the form of a playoff every two years.

Both Edwards and Clarke lamented the failure to find an adequate model for the test championship. But in this, as with many aspects of ICC governance, their primary failure is not to achieve the impossible, but to generate ideas from interested parties. There are many models bandied about for the restructuring of test cricket, the creation of more context to the benefit of the smaller full members, and the incorporation of the associate members. A body interested in good governance would release a working paper, invite comment and bring in expertise. They'd move from that to a model that worked, that could be justified, and that had some measure of acceptance by those who make comment on these things. Clarke's attitude to external comment on his reforms is telling:

"As so often in cricket administration, these [meetings] were widely - perhaps deliberately - misinterpreted. We had to harden ourselves against uninformed and biased comment to deliver our vision for a better and more financially secure cricketing world."

The failings of the ICC at governance are only partly the result of ineptitude and internal politics. They are also a symptom of insularity and arrogance. The ICC creates reports and discuss matters across a range of areas - most with no bearing on commercial operations. Yet they continually refuse to release reports that might justify their decisions, if they release details of decisions at all. They are (rightly) criticised for their poor governance, as they continue to lag behind what fans expect from the body governing their sport. The ICC - and certainly Giles Clarke - don't believe they are accountable to the fans of the sport, or the players; they are, to use his words "a member's organisation" that cares only for its (full) members. But if the bulk of those members are represented by people with no competence at their position then they will invariably make bad choices, selfish choices that ultimately hurt them too.

The success of the big-3 in taking over control of the ICC (and bleeding its finances) is as much a story of the other full members inability and unwillingness to recognise the ICC as the governing body of cricket, and to cede their independence for the greater good. Their partial removal from the decision making process is perhaps a step in the right direction, as (probably) is greater influence on decision-making for the big-3. But the records to date of those now at the fore is unpromising. The reforms made have not addressed any of the governance problems identified two and a half years ago. Nor is there any prospect of them being. It may not matter: cricket has pottered along for decades with a failing financial system and poorly constructed fixturing. The only difference now is that people are starting to notice.

Idle Summers 18th April, 2014 05:01:29   [#] 

Comments

Pragmatism, but not good governance
A precise and wholly accurate piece Russell. Perhaps you could send me some direct contact info to my email address as would like to discuss a project at some point.
Peter Frawley  20th April, 2014 21:33:37  

Pragmatism, but not good governance
Thanks Peter, for some reason your email didn't save against the comment. Please email me at deggles @ csoft.net though and I'll get back to you.
Russ  21st April, 2014 21:23:02