Whereto the ICC global development programme?
Changes in ICC funding policies are making life look bleak for many of the lower ranked ICC affiliate members. They are entering a period where aspiring to greater things in international cricket is becoming secondary to meaningless participation figures, and there seems to be little chance of any way back.
Annual funding for the lowest ranked ICC members is a paltry $10,000. Various rules and policies are making it increasingly hard for them to get themselves into a situation where they can increase that. The future is looking increasingly bleak for some of these countries, who have no official tournaments to take part in for the foreseeable future.
The method used to decide the amount of funding an ICC associate or affiliate member gets is a little complicated, but for most members it comes in two parts - a membership grant of $10,000 for affiliates and $70,000 for associates - plus a "scorecard grant". There are also high performance grants for the top teams, and various one off payments for qualifying for tournaments.
The "scorecard grant" sees each associate & affiliate member ranked in a number of categories, including performance in ICC tournaments, player numbers, number of grounds, number of umpires and number of employees. A weighted average of each ranking is then calculated to give an overall ranking, and the members are divided into groups that determine how much scorecard grant they get, with 24 teams (all affiliates) getting no scorecard grant, having being granted $5,000 in 2013.
Other than performance in ICC tournaments, all categories are self-reported. Whilst some checks are apparently made by ICC regional offices, some figures are thought to be a little suspect. A recent article on this website by Lazlo Smaracek made reference to the inflated - in one case at the request of the ICC region - participation figures, but another example is the 21 grounds with natural turf pitches claimed by the USA. The actual figure according to observers of US cricket is more like 15, with requests for USACA to locate the missing six going unanswered.
Using raw numbers brings its own problems. For example Mexico and the Czech Republic have similar senior participation numbers, and so are given the same ranking for that category. But the population of Mexico is over ten times the population of the Czech Republic, so one could argue that the Czechs are actually doing much better in terms of senior participation.
A reason given for the cut in teams participating in tournaments by the ICC is to ensure that teams concentrate more on development than on tournament participation, as there was a worry that teams were spending too high a proportion of their funding on tournament participation. If your response to that would be to question why the ICC would give funding to a member only to require them to essentially give some of it back in order to take part in tournaments, then you're not alone.
But given this shift in focus from performance to participation, performance in tournaments must make up quite a small part in the formula used to calculate the scorecard grant, right? Well no. It is in fact the highest weighted part of the formula, making up 33% of the calculation. It doesn't take a genius to realise that this means that all the teams culled from tournaments have no way to improve a ranking that contributes a third towards their scorecard grant.
This means that the only way these countries can move themselves up the scorecard ranking is to improve in the other categories. This system may encourage some boards to produce exaggerated, maybe even fraudulent, data in these categories, which could lead to a nonsensical situation in which members will try to outdo each other with ever more exaggerated data, especially when it comes to participation figures, which combined makes up 31% of the scorecard grant formula.
Such bad data is likely to lead to bad decision making. Money will be further diverted into these apparently successful participation schemes, and members may try to justify that extra money by producing higher participation numbers, and the effect could snowball from there.
The cull of teams taking part in tournaments could also have a further negative effect on funding thanks to one of the many hoops members have to jump through in order to even get their funding.
Some of the requirements are those you'd expect, such as a requirement to submit accurate and timely financial reports. Others are things that, whilst sensible, cost money to the member that could be better spent elsewhere. For example, all members are required to have a dedicated office with a fixed phone line, fax machine and e-mail address. Leaving aside the strange requirement to still require a fax machine this far into the 21st century, these all cost money that takes funds away from development just the same as participating in tournaments does.
Another requirement is that all members have to raise some of their own funds. The amount is required to be 10% of the scorecard & membership grants combined, with a minimum of $25,000 for associates and $2,500 for affiliates. The usual source of these self-raised funds tends to be sponsors or government funding.
But remember that some of these teams no longer take part in official tournaments. Whilst they may organise their own tournaments and bi-lateral matches, are these going to attract sponsorship and government support the same way that a tournament part of World Cup qualification would? I suspect not.
I mentioned earlier that some of the lower ranked members on the scorecard are facing a cut in funding in 2014. The five ICC regions can provide their own funding to members, with ICC Europe operating a "small grants" scheme whereby members can apply for up to two grants of up to $5,000 each as a boost to their funds.
Of course this extra possible funding comes with its own catch. For every small grant issued by ICC Europe, the member receiving it has to match it with 25% of this amount. Whilst a low ranked ICC Europe member theoretically has access to $20,000 of annual funding, they need to raise $5,000 of their own money to be able to get that full amount. And all this without the exposure to potential sponsors brought by participating in a World Cup qualifying tournament.
The way back into tournaments is unclear. The ICC has set a number of guidelines, but these are open to interpretation, such as the requirement for an "appropriate pathway from school to international cricket". What does such a pathway look like? And is the ICC confident that all the top ranked associates have one? Some members still taking part in tournaments have little to no schools cricket.
It's hard to disagree with an increased focus on development instead of concentrating most resources on playing in tournaments. All of us involved with associate and affiliate cricket in whatever way want to see more people given the opportunity to play this great sport. The question is whether the price for this should be exclusion from tournaments. For starters, some of the teams excluded from tournaments have better development records than some teams ranked high in their regions, such as the UAE, USA or Italy, all of whom took part in the recent World T20 Qualifier with almost no home-grown players.
It's unlikely that participation numbers are going to be effected by not having a national side playing in official tournaments that can lead to World Cups. But without that, there is little for the participants to aspire to, and the younger participants are likely to drift away from the game, especially given a corresponding - and more severe - cut in the teams participating in international under-age tournaments.
Perhaps this is my natural cynicism talking, but it's hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to actually get rid of members. The requirements and funding formula are such that some members are simply not going to be able to meet them and increase their funding. This could give the ICC the excuse they need to cut these members off entirely.
It is worth saying here that the development arm of the ICC is restricted from doing as much as they'd like thanks to the anachronistic structure of the ICC. The full members call the shots, and they don't see global development as being a priority. Never have the Woolf report recommendations for independent directors on the ICC board been more needed.
Back in 2011, over 90 ICC members took part in the qualification pathway for the 2012 World Twenty20. Around a third of those members now have no tournament to play for the foreseeable future. This should be seen as a failure for the ICC development program. Instead it will be ignored as the ICC seeks to have a large number of participants on a PowerPoint presentation, no matter how fictional that number may be. Cricket deserves better.