In commissioning the Woolf Report, the ICC has put into the public domain a massive question about the future of the game of cricket. Can Cricket seriously become a global sport or is it destined to stay a private members’ club?
Cricket’s past shows it to be a game introduced by the British to its Commonwealth. Countries like the USA/Canada have not embraced it to the same degree asAustralia,South Africa,IndiaandWest Indies. Indians have taken the game to their heart. As the Indian economy rapidly expands, it is the preferences of Indian people which generate 60-80% of cricket’s global revenues.
Cricket is played at representative level by countries outside the Commonwealth. There are over 100 countries linked to the ICC. However, standards of cricket outside the top 8 countries are relatively poor.
For cricket to become a serious game globally, then there needs to be a support and player base of serious potential within a large number of countries. That potential has to be capable of producing a competitive game.
Woolf does not address whether this potential really exists. He states that the ICC has reached a stage in its development where it must focus on the global game not just on the Full Members. The “global game” is code for whether the ICC should have governance over how individual Full Members make decisions on cricket matches between Full Members and they spend money on cricket within their own body.
There is a majority view, but by no means unanimous that the ICC should be the authority to govern the game globally. To date, no conclusive discussions have been led by the ICC to agree its role among its Members.
The Woolf Report provides the backdrop for Members to decide whether to make permanent sacrifices to develop the game globally.
Various stakeholders’ views were considered by Woolf: the Member Boards; international players (past & present) and members of the press. Woolf didn’t see the need to seek any public opinion or to refer to any authoritative research on public opinion. He does however note that a recurring theme was a desire for greater dialogue between the ICC and the fans. Woolf notes the suggestion that there could be a Communications or Supporter’s Committee but does not consider the area any further.
The problems in the game are identified to stem from jealously guarding increasing global revenues. Without the paying spectator though, there would be no money to salivate over. Woolf occasionally mentions the public as stakeholders but no-where are the views of spectators properly considered. Woolf makes 65 recommendations and proposes 9 committees to report to a new ICC board. None of which are proposed to have any regard to the paying public at all.
It is a significant omission given the revolutionary changes the report proposes.
Do cricket fans want to see less cricket played amongst the Full Members and more cricket played between Associate Members and Full Members? Do fans want to see their cricket boards receive less money from International cricket matches in favour of this money going elsewhere?
Indian cricket fans generate most of the money. India has a stranglehold on cricket’s governance. Will this be given up for the rather intangible and uncertain aim for better development of the game globally?
The demanding standard of Test Cricket versus ODI or T20 cricket is such that increased globalisation is going to mean more ODI/T20 cricket. Less Test Cricket but of a higher quality is no bad thing. But how much less and how will this be arranged? Woolf wants to see Test Cricket preserved but does not make any formal recommendation that the preservation of Test matches should be a requirement for the ICC.
An independent ICC with a requirement in its constitution to promote and preserve Test match cricket whilst encouraging global participation through limited overs matches has to be a good thing. It would also be nice if the paying public were thought of too.