There has been much debate since the 1996 World Cup on the ICC’s role in global development. It was then that the ICC took the plunge into direct support and development pathways, leading to the surge in membership from around 40 to over 100, a proliferation of tournaments below test level and regional development officers drafting and implementing 5 year plans for each member. It was a brave new world and not without its challenges.
Some progress has been made over the last 5 years with the elevation of two new full members, the extension of T20I status for all and more fixtures for higher ranked associates in new tournament structures.
Some countries became very reliant on ICC support and funding, to the extent that the ICC became concerned about a culture of dependency and in recent years have opted for a lighter touch framework of support. The rationale for this change in emphasis is to enable countries to be more innovative and tailor development plans for their specific circumstances. The ICC also hope that countries will be more active in seeking other forms of support and funding, through government grants and commercial partnerships.
So what should the ICC focus on and how can it best target its development funding and support? Well, the initial emphasis must be on delivering the necessary reforms to ICC governance outlined in the Woolf report. Cricket has always been viewed as a private members club protecting the interests of the few over the needs of the many and it doesn’t compare well to other sports when it comes to open, inclusive decision making and a long term vision for growth. Some progress has been made over the last 5 years with the elevation of two new full members, the extension of T20I status for all and more fixtures for higher ranked Associates in new tournament structures. But the retention of the restrictive 10 team World Cup format is evidence that when it comes to decisions about money, the short term self interest of Full Members still holds sway.
We can only hope that the short termism is challenged from within and all countries endorse the view that growth will benefit all in the long term and is worth a small reduction in full member profits in the short term. Another example of how power politics constrains cricket’s potential is the fact that cricket isn’t an Olympic Sport. The fear that it will loosen the grip on the purse strings of the ICC is preventing emerging nations accessing government funding and getting a huge, potentially transformative boost in profile and recognition.
There are hundreds of volunteers or part paid development officers across the world who provide passionate advocacy and boundless energy to the Associate cause.
So further governance reform will lay the foundation for global development. But what should the level of direct support to emerging countries be? The interventionalist approach of 15 years ago was expensive and the ICC’s regional offices have been either removed or heavily streamlined after reductions in operational budgets. There was a legitimate concern about return on investment. But has the lighter touch model had the desired effect of removing constraints on innovation and getting member boards to take more ownership of their own destinies? Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, some Associate Members do not have the capacity, funding and skills to step into the breach left by the ICC. They may not have the funding for development teams or the skills to influence government and sponsors to invest in cricket’s potential. There are hundreds of volunteers or part paid development officers across the world who provide passionate advocacy and boundless energy to the Associate cause. They are the unsung heroes of the global game, without question. But cricket is a minority sport in many countries and expecting a few individuals to shoulder the pressure of taking cricket mainstream is unrealistic. There are some examples of full members in the region stepping in to help as guardians of regional development and this should happen a lot more.
So yes the ICC does have a role but there is more countries can do themselves even with the constraints on capability and funding they have. Regional development partnerships are crucial, to share best practice and make maximum use of the regional infrastructure. The Nordic countries have an excellent model for this. Countries also need to attract marketing and sponsorship expertise to secure additional funding and critical partnerships with local government, central government and other organisations. Some countries pay lip service to these disciplines and as a result don’t get very far. It needs more than good intentions and a few spare hours a week.
What has happened in the last decade is that many countries have taken a leap into the brave new world and are prospering with minimal ICC oversight. The right structure can help create a virtuous cycle. Other members who were perhaps overly reliant on ICC funding and support have really struggled. The issue is often one of scale, too small to be taken seriously by investors or to create permanent, professional development officers. For countries in this category Olympic recognition would be a godsend in accessing government support.
There is another model that could play an important role and that is cricket development consultants. These are experts that understand development challenges and what has worked and what hasn’t in a range of different countries and contexts. They can help member boards with targeted support where it is needed, providing some of the benefit of the old regional development officer structure but without the ongoing cost. An option to consider perhaps (but there are precious few Associate experts out there with practical experience).
Having started the race to a hundred members in the early part of this millennium the ICC is now targeting its development funding and focus on higher ranked Associates. People will have their own views on whether this is right or not. This means the lower ranked Associates (typically the former affiliates) have had a real struggle in recent years, not just to develop but to survive. I hope that they can access guidance they need to ensure a sustainable platform for growth, through investment and official recognition. If they can’t then the ICC do need to consider their duty of care, otherwise they risk cultivating fruit that then withers on the vine. Development support can’t just be focused on those markets with the biggest commercial potential.