"It’s not good enough for cricket to simply hold its ground -- it must move forward." That was Ehsan Mani’s message to the cricket world in his first speech as ICC president at its business forum meeting at Lord’s on June 19. Mani spoke to Outlook moments after his inauguration:
Congratulations on your appointment as president. How do you feel?
It is a great honour for me. It is also a great honour for Pakistan. It recognizes the contribution that Pakistan has made to the cricket community over the years.
You take over when the going is not smooth for the cricket community with respect to issues such as the refusal by Indian players to sign certain clauses in the World Cup contract and the question of political and security-driven boycotts of the Zimbabwe and Pakistan tours. Is there going to be a change in ICC policies with regard to these issues?
There are always challenges in cricket. That is part and parcel of the game. When Malcolm Gray took over the ICC had to tackle the challenge of corruption that had crept into the game. When Mr Dalmiya took over before that in 1997, the ICC only existed on paper. It had no financial resource, didn’t have the muscle to become a global body.
Today, the challenges are different. There are no immediate solutions to these problems you mentioned, specially the contracts issue. Decisions that have tested the unity of the ICC and its members have been taken. But, that does not mean that we cannot find a solution acceptable to the member countries and in the larger interests of the game and commensurate with the vision that all member countries have as part of the ICC.
With regard to Zimbabwe, the ICC’s position is very clear. We are here to run the game and promote it. We do not get involved in political decisions of countries. Only governments and politicians take political decisions. Pakistan has had a problem over the last two years and cricket has suffered there. Virtually no cricket has been played there over the last two years and this, as you know, is because of the geo-political problems caused by events following September 11. That has subsided now. Now, Pakistan is going to host three tours. Bangladesh, South Africa, and after New Zealand finish touring India they play five matches in Pakistan. That is excellent for Pakistan cricket.
What about the issue of compensation for the lost tours that the Pakistan Cricket Board is taking up with the ICC?
The best compensation anyone can get is to start playing cricket again. As far as financial compensation is concerned, the executive board of the ICC is clear on this. The ICC does not have any money of its own. Everything that the ICC gets is earmarked for different things. Money goes into two main streams -- development of the game and money back to the members who develop the game in their own countries.
What the board decided was that in the case of specific need of a country, the ICC would act as a lender of last resort. If a country is threatened with bankruptcy, then the other members are willing to put money into the ICC to assist the fellow member. Pakistan has been offered that assistance, and the PCB has thanked the members for their gesture and said it does not need the money at this stage. The PCB has suffered incredible losses because of the cancelled tours by Australia, New Zealand, West Indies and specifically India.
Let me branch off to a point you raised just now -- that the ICC has no money of its own. It is six years now since the ICC became a modern, global, corporatised institution. Don’t you think that it is time something is done to change this scenario?
$550 million passed through the ICC between 2000 and 2007. We at the ICC are not here to create a big financial empire. We create wealth for the members. Every penny that the ICC raises goes back into cricket. $100 million of the $ 550 million -- the money we raise through the Champions Trophy -- will go directly into development of the game in the affiliate and associate member countries.
The money that we get from the World Cup -- the best part of the $450 million -- will go into the full member and associate member countries for development of the game. If cricket is to survive it has to compete with other sports. In the sub-continent, cricket has no competition. So, the development priorities are different. In these countries, what we lack are top infrastructure facilities -- high-performance coaching centers, academies. Therefore, in our countries, the thrust of development is looking at the infrastructural gains.
But, in England, and in some other countries, cricket is competing with other sports such as football and rugby. If you look at the Sunday Times on a good day, you’ll find cricket on page 20 of the sports section. This tells you something. What the England and Wales Cricket Board has to do is to go out and attract the young kids who go into other sport.
Are you hinting about the Twenty20 Cup?
Among other things, yes. It is a brilliant move. It means that cricket is forward looking.
You talk about cricket competing with other sports. When you compare the structural relationship of the ICC with full member countries, specially with relation to revenue generation and distribution, to that of FIFA’s relationship with its member associations, the major difference is FIFA’s structures are very centralized.
You have to look at the structure of the ICC now and where it stands in the cycle of development. Ten years from now it will be a different game. Ten years ago, the ICC used to run on a budget of less than 100,000 pounds a year. Today’s operating budget is over $30 million. There was no central body, the MCC used to run the ICC.
What is important today is the way the ICC is structured in terms of the executive board -- that lays down the policies -- and how it operates. The commercial office of the ICC in Monaco is its only management body that implements policies laid down by the executive board -- one member from the ten full member countries and three directors representing three associate countries. So, it is the member countries that lay down the policies. In the long run, I am very clear that members will have to yield more power on a variety of issues to the central body. It has to happen. Only then can the ICC go forward.
Do you see that happening in your tenure?
Yes. It will happen. In fact, it happens every day. This is the first time that the ICC has run a World Cup called the ICC World Cup. This shows that the members have the confidence in the ICC to be prepared to take part. You ought to gain respect if you have to win power, and it shows that the ICC has gained the respect and trust of members.
Let me bring up another analogy with the FIFA. In their international programme, the member associations of FIFA own television rights only for the friendlies and a few other tournaments, and not for the World Cup or Confederation Cup qualifiers. Considering that the ICC has a World Test and one-day championship in place now, do you think that it is time television rights for every Test and one-day series that is part of this programme be owned by the ICC?
The FIFA has got 200 or more countries playing football. The ICC has 89 members, only 10 of them play at the highest level. The structure and needs of cricket are different. At the same time, at the ICC, we are constantly looking at the way Test and one-day cricket is structured in terms of where the ownership should lie and whether it should be programmed centrally.
On whether or not ICC should own all Test and one-day cricket, we are of the opinion that the ICC ought to leave behind money to countries to run their own cricket. Imagine India without any money at the board level! It may change in the future. Every country has its own rights and we don’t want to step on those. At the same time, the partnership that the ICC has with the Global Cricket Corporation has added real value for members. The 1999 World Cup gave $51 million to the members to share. This year, we have given over $193 million to the members.
Last year, in the board meeting of the ICC Development International at Monaco, there was a commercial presentation by Major League Baseball. This is clearly an indication of cricket trying to get into new markets and structure itself on successful global governing bodies of sport.
Yes, we are looking at the structures of other governing bodies of sport with an open mind. We have to take cricket to new areas and new markets like the United States. We are working very hard to stage World Cup matches there in 2007. If we don’t do it, cricket will get blocked out in the United States. Just the sports revenue market of the US is $100 billion a year.
The ICC is talking about raising $ 550 million over seven years. That puts intoperspective the gap we have in this area. The game needs money to move forward, for development, to set up proper structures for the ICC and its members. We are not in a position to just play cricket and say that we are not interested about the money.
More than money, there is the larger issue of rational and modern structures coming into conflict with traditional beliefs. In the process of the ICC becoming a modern rational governing body, there is also the problem of conflict with the huge cultural investment in cricket, which dates back to the 1860s and 1870s. How are you planning to cope with this?
We have to move out of the colonial origins of cricket as a game that came from England and took strong roots in the erstwhile colonies. The fact that we have 89 members in the ICC is indication of that we are moving out.
Also, if you look at the full member countries of the ICC, you see such a diversity of cultures, traditions and beliefs. We have to move forward respecting all these cultures. The important thing is to get kids attracted to any one form of the game, which will inevitably generate interest in the traditional structures of the game as well. I am happy that the ECB has taken the initiative in this direction by starting the Twenty20 Cup. Australia and New Zealand have also experimented with a two-innings version of limited overs cricket.
There are cultural diversities within the full member countries as well. Countries such as South Africa and England are doing well to provide access to youth from underprivileged cultural and economic backgrounds. Others such as India, Australia and New Zealand do not seem to have done enough to provide access to Dalits, tribals, Aborigines and Maoris. Is the ICC planning to do anything about this?
This is part of the development of the game. These communities have not traditionally played cricket. They have played sport such as football, Australian Rules Football and Rugby. If social opportunities for these communities are increased, more and more members of these communities can look to cricket as a career. Part of the ICC's development programme talks about taking the game to underprivileged communities in countries which have traditionally got access to cricket at the highest level.
With regard to the possible resumption of cricket ties between India and Pakistan, and knowing that the Indian Government will zero in on cricket as the first casualty in the event of anything tragic happening in bilateral relations between the two countries, does the ICC still intend to pursue its non-interventionist policy?
We cannot force any government to play cricket with any other country. What is important here is that the cricket boards of India and Pakistan are in favour of playing cricket.
Can the ICC and BCCI work towards a non-representative Indian team playing cricket against Pakistan in such an eventuality? Almost like the British athletes participating in the 1980 Moscow Olympics under the Olympic flag following the official British boycott of the event.
There is a difference between the two situations. In 1980, the British Government announced that it would not be sending a representative team to the Olympics and advised its athletes not to participate in the Olympics due to political differences that Britain and the United States had with the Soviet Union. The British Government, however, did not prohibit its sportspersons to travel to the Soviet Union. The Indian Government prohibits cricketers to go to Pakistan and play cricket, and in this situation, the ICC cannot do anything.
The most recent entrant to Test Cricket, Bangladesh, has been a disappointment. What does the ICC propose to do?
The performance of Bangladesh has been disappointing. The ICC will work very closely with the Bangladesh Cricket Board and the Asian Cricket Council over the next two years to assist in the development of the game. This involves setting up of a high performance training centre, running specialist coaching camps and appointment of an international coach for the Bangladesh under-19 team. Over the next two years, there may also be a reduction in the amount of international cricket Bangladesh will be playing, particularly outside that country.
(The author does research at the Warwick Centre for the Study of Sport, UK)
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