Gunboat Diplomacy

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In the film A Death of a Gentleman, Gideon Haigh asked the pertinent question: “Does cricket make money in order to exist or is it now the case that it exists in order to make money?.” Now many of the followers of this blog are well aware that cricket has become more of a product than that a game anymore in the eyes of the administrators, who are each looking for their slice of the pie. It has been made mightily clear by those that are in power that this is about sustaining and growing the revenues of the most powerful nations and by setting up various new T20 leagues to try and cash in on the perceived popularity of T20 cricket. Mr. Graves and Mr. Harrison (or Laurel and Hardy as they are otherwise known) can bluster all they want about reaching a new demographic and increasing the exposure of the game, but we know it’s not really like that, it’s the cold hard cash from TV rights deals. Any fool can see through it, apart from the ones in the media, who are singing from their hymn sheet.

I bring this up, as there have been more rumblings from the ICC and in particular from the BCCI this week. Now I’m not a particular expert on this subject (and I hope Simon H amongst others will chime in), but the long and short of this appears to be the fact that the BCCI doesn’t particularly like the word democracy if it costs them money, despite a 13-1 vote in favour of the changes to redistribute revenue, and are now threatening to throw their toys out of the pram if they don’t get their way. Now who knows what is lurking at the back of the BCCI and who is calling the shots, but they have stubbornly refused to back down from the Big 3 carve up that alienated so many Full Time and Associate nations and basically gave them the keys to the castle, or $578million dollars until 2023. You see when money and lots of it is involved, certain boards suddenly don’t feel so passionate about growing the game anymore. To mitigate this, the ICC have offered them $400million dollars, which those at the top of the BCCI (and don’t be surprised if N Srinivasan is still hanging around) still feel is insufficient, they want the whole lot previously assigned to them (bear in mind that the combined revenue assigned to the Associates is around $238), many feel that this is more than generous. The BCCI however, believe that they have the ICC and the rest of the cricket playing nations by the proverbial testicles and they’re going to keep squeezing until someone blinks, with their first threat being to pull out of the Champions trophy. Now before I get angry messages saying that I hate India, I would hold Giles Clarke (who famously only looks after the interests of his board) and James Sutherland equally accountable for this mess. They were the ones that were greedy enough to sell the other nations down the river in order to secure their own financial futures and they were the ones that let the genie out of the bottle and allowed the BCCI to have whatever they wanted, whatever the cost, as long as they looked after CA and the ECB. I don’t envy Manohar one little bit in trying to get that genie back in the bottle.

So what can and should be done, the ICC can of course cave into the BCCI’s demands and reduce the income of those that need it most in the vain hope of keeping the BCCI happy and protecting the huge amount of revenue that India brings to the table. That is one option, but it is not my preferred one, I believe that now is the time to be radical and call their bluff. This is without doubt a risky move and will no doubt have a huge impact of the revenue of all nations in the short term, but surely it’s better to take that risk now and draw a line in the sand before the next negotiations where the BCCI will want more and more and will likely get it. I firmly believe that this can’t be kicked into the grass this time, the ICC should be a democratic organisation that acts upon the interest and votes of its’ members, not a totalitarian state at the behest of one uncontrollable beast. If India wants to pull out of the Champions Trophy because they haven’t got their own way, then let them. Stick a line in the sand, carry on with the tournament despite the loss of revenue, but then sue the BCCI afterwards for the loss of revenue. Again, if the BCCI threatens to withdraw from Test cricket, which is undoubtedly the next step, then again let them do so despite the loss of large television rights deals. All the other nations have a responsibility to each other to try and ensure each stays solvent and in relatively good shape during this period and it can be done, if all are bought into the concept.

After this is all done, then we should hit the BCCI where it hurts, by pulling all NOC’s for international players from the IPL and then withdrawing the TV hosting deals. This normally isn’t the sort of diplomacy that I would normally advocate, but I feel that the BCCI’s position on this leaves the rest of cricket with no other option. Sure, the IPL will still attract the T20 freelancers and there is a good chance that some high profile international players coming towards the end of their careers will also choose to forfeit playing for the country (ABDV and some of the West Indian squad come to mind), but I feel the majority won’t, Test cricket in the eyes of many is still the pinnacle. The IPL will still have their own high profile domestic players, but when you are scraping round the barrel for international has-beens and mercenaries, then it’s hardly going to offer the glitz and glamour that the Indian public have been used to and no doubt this will also hit the IPL’s sponsorship bottom line. In my opinion that is the only way to get India back to the negotiating table as a member of the ICC and not the dictator. Sure there’s a risk that certain members get itchy feet and crave for the BCCI’s money again, but without risk, there is no reward and I feel that on this occasion it could be worth it.

This all brings me back to Dmitri’s post from earlier on this week, I feel out of love with the game at the moment and want to hark back to the days when I knew nothing about the international cricket administration, when there was cricket on FTA and when the England team selection wasn’t based around people from the right type of family and was instead based on talent. I want to cozy back up to County Cricket again, like the old loveable pet that has always been there for you when you need it (I saw a great one day game between Somerset and Surrey today), but then I remember that the ECB is trying to destroy that too. It makes me angry, but also incredibly sad. Most of all, I would like to go back to a time when Cricket was a sport and not a product and when money wasn’t the single driver of every decision made with it.

Have an enjoyable Bank Holiday Weekend one and all.

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