The numbers of people participating in formal cricket competitions across 27 European countries has increased by 100 per cent in the past five years, according to recent research figures released by the ICC European Development Program.

Europe's 27 Associate and Affiliate Members now have a combined total of 83,000 participants involved in formal cricket programs - double the 41,500 recorded when the regional research figures were first collected in 2002.

More than 50,000 of these participants are children who take part in cricket through youth initiatives in schools and clubs throughout the continent. In 2002 this figure stood at 21,700, clearly indicating an increase in popularity of cricket in schools. Indeed, in many areas it has even become part of the curriculum.

A further 14,000 juniors play the sport as part of organised league and cup competitions, a figure which has increased by 70 per cent in the last five years.

The number of adults playing has also risen from 11,595 in 2002 to 18,985 in 2006. These senior players make up more than 1,260 teams regularly competing in local, regional, and national leagues.

'The findings of this research are a ringing endorsement of the ICC Regional Development Program,' said Richard Holdsworth, the ICC Regional Development Manager - Europe.

'We are delighted with how the popularity of cricket has been growing across the continent and we are determined to keep promoting the game in our 27 members in order to make sure that trend continues,' said Mr Holdsworth.

'It's a great encouragement for all the people who are involved in developing cricket here and a measure of the hard work put in at grass-roots level by thousands of paid and - more often - unpaid enthusiasts from all corners of Europe,' he said.

Participation numbers within the 10 Associate countries have more than doubled over the past four years from 32,276 in 2002 to 65,454 in 2006. A proportionally larger increase can be seen in the Affiliate countries where participants have more than tripled from 5,292 in 2002 to 17,659 in 2006, showing that cricket is spreading far and wide.

The increase in the popularity of the game is also reflected in the increase in the number of people involved at a coaching, officiating and administrative level.

The European Associate and Affiliate members now have more than 1,800 qualified coaches in the game, a figure which increased by 18 per cent in just 12 months. This rise is largely due to the coaching courses run by the ICC Europe Development Program in conjunction with the England and Wales Cricket Board.

The number of qualified umpires has more than doubled from 508 to 1,146 in the past five years, with a 28 per cent rise in 2006, suggesting that the increase is not letting up, and with the introduction of new elite umpire and referee panels this year, it is hoped that even more officials will be brought to the game.

A total of 68 part-time or full-time employees now work for the 27 Associate and Affiliate Members' boards, almost double the figure of 37 back in 2002. These include both administrative staff and development officers, enabling countries to deliver the correct administrative procedures to adhere with ICC and government protocols, while continuing to spread and develop the game.

The figures show that Scotland is Europe's most active member with 21,150 participants in total. This number has more than doubled over the past five years from 9,649 in 2002 to 21,250 in 2006. Junior playing numbers have also shot up from 1,300 to 3,400 and junior involvement has risen from 6,200 to 13,800.

This increased activity at the grass-roots level has been reflected in the Scotland's recent success at international level. In 2005 the national team won the ICC Trophy in 2005 and more recently finished runners-up in the ICC World Cricket League Division 1 in Kenya, qualifying them for a place in the inaugural ICC Twenty20 World Championships to be held in South Africa later this year.

Ireland is another member who on recent successes, including a whitewash at all age groups in the 2006 ICC European Championships and recent success at the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup, has grown in strength and depth.

Although it has considerably lower participation numbers than Scotland, 12,202 (a figure which has actually decreased from 12,550 in 2005) its administrative set up has improved significantly.

In 2002 the Irish Cricket Union had just two full-time administrative staff, but now, thanks to an increase in ICC funding and money from other avenues such as sponsorship, the Irish Sports Council and the Northern Ireland Sport Council, the ICU employs five full-time and three part-time staff.

The success of the Irish national sides on the regional and global scale, is perhaps a direct result of this, and illustrates one of the objectives from the ICC Strategic Plan 2006-2010 in motion; that of shifting focus from expanding the game to the far reaches of the globe, to improving the quantity and quality of cricket played within its current members.

The ICC Development Program in Europe has now been running for ten years and is funded by the ICC with contributions from the ECB and MCC. The aim of the program is to develop, promote and grow the game in the non-test playing countries particularly at youth level.

ICC has commissioned research into the growth of the game since 2002 in all its Associate and Affiliate member countries, which provide specific details on participation numbers, education and governance. From this quantitative data ICC is able to measure growth of the game.