"The threat which cup competitions represented to the exclusivity of the game was widely understood. Participation in a knock-out cup meant that a club could no longer choose its opponents and the prospect of defeat to ostensibly lesser teams helped to animate the socially exclusive clubs' opposition to cup ties".
That quote could almost be about modern day international cricket. The Future Tours Programme has essentially been scrapped, replaced by a series of bilateral agreements in which the top teams choose their own opponents. We do have cup competitions, but they are formatted to heavily favour the top teams, with encounters with "lesser teams" reduced, as in the World Twenty20, or eliminated completely, as in the Champions Trophy or as in Test cricket.
It is in fact a quote from "Rugby's Great Split: Class, Culture and the Origins of Rugby League Football" by rugby historian Tony Collins, and refers to rugby in Yorkshire in the 1880s. Socially exclusive (i.e. middle/upper class) clubs tended to avoid playing against "working class" sides in fear of losing to the "ostensibly lesser teams" referred to in the quote. For reasons far too complicated to go into here, the friction between the working class and middle/upper class clubs eventually led to most clubs in the north of England breaking away and forming the Northern Rugby Union in 1895, and the split eventually gave rise to the two separate, but similar, sports of Rugby Union and Rugby League.
So what does this have to do with cricket? Well, in this writer's opinion, recent developments with the ICC should be laying the groundwork for a similar split to take place. The "big three" reforms have sent out a clear message to the "lesser" associate and affiliate members that they're not really welcome. The question is whether the associate and affiliate members are paying attention – or if they even care.
A recent article on Cricinfo by Daniel Brettig said that new ICC chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan is encouraging associates and affiliates to "devote time to tending their own backyards and trying to grow the game domestically, rather than devoting all available money and energy to top-line qualification for overseas tournaments". The message here is clear – don't come and stink up our tournaments, don't ask for money to fund your own, just play domestically and nothing else.
Some may say that is a harsh interpretation, but we can also judge the ICC by their deeds as well as their words.
In recent years the ICC has cut the number of teams in the World Cup from 16, to 14 and from 2019, to ten, meaning that associates are no longer guaranteed places in the World Cup from 2019 onwards.
The World Twenty20 has, on paper, been increased from 12 teams to 16, but the top 8 ranked full members (associates can't qualify through the rankings) are seeded in to a "Super 10" stage, with the associates and the other two full members put into a so-called first-round, which basically serves as another qualifier. The ICC then scheduled – and had arranged for the broadcasting of – warm-up matches for the big teams against the "first round", which predictably enough were followed more closely by the media than the actual tournament games.
Outside of the main global tournaments, the Intercontinental Cup has been changed from a tournament lasting two years and played every two years to a tournament played over three years followed by a year break. This has had the effect of halving the number of Intercontinental Cup matches played by the top associates over each four year period.
ODIs against full members for those top associates are also being cut. In 2006, the first year that associates had ODI status, there were 20 ODIs for associates against full members. So far in 2014 – which like 2006 is the year before a World Cup – there have been 7 ODIs (plus 2 T20Is outside of the World T20) with only another four scheduled for the rest of the year.
Below the top associate members, the situation gets even worse. The World Cricket League has been reduced from eight divisions to six. Fifty over cricket has been abandoned in four of the five ICC development regions, with Twenty20 cricket being the sole international cricket for many. The impact this could have on the techniques of players cannot be overstated.
Participation in regional tournaments has, as reported previously on CricketEurope, been drastically cut. Over 90 of the ICC's associate and affiliate members had the opportunity to qualify for the 2012 World Twenty20. More than a third of those won't have the chance to qualify for the 2016 tournament. The cuts in youth tournaments at regional level are even more drastic.
The pattern here is clear – a consistent reduction in opportunities for associate and affiliate sides over the last four years or so. Despite this, the ICC is actually claiming that they are increasing those opportunities. There is the vague promise of a pathway to Test cricket, but details on what form this pathway will take are rather conspicuous by their absence, and won't be of immediate interest to most in any case.
One superb development opportunity would be to get cricket into the Olympics. The ICC has rejected this after a report that made it abundantly clear that as the full members weren't interested, there was no point.
It included a variety of excuses, including the ECB's laughable claim that an Olympic cricket tournament would cause the cancellation of four Test matches of the seven in the English home season. This is demonstrably false as the Champions Trophy – which lasts longer than the Olympic Games – took place (in England, no less) without a similar impact on the calendar in 2013. The new ICC president is also baffled by the concept of a cricket tournament that lasts less than a fortnight.
The transformative impact on associates and affiliates that cricket being in the Olympic Games will have is significant. Many countries will only provide government funding to Olympic sports, and in some cases that could be quite substantial. Countries that currently get something of a pittance from the ICC – less than $50,000 for most members – could find themselves getting astronomical sums from their governments.
Funding could be tens – possibly hundreds – of times what they get from the ICC. The financial dependence that some associates have on the ICC would vanish overnight. But maybe that's the point – if almost all of your money comes from one organisation, you're not going to do much to rock the boat.
It should be clear to all observers that the ICC is moving away from an expansionist vision to a reductionist one. Associate and affiliate members are a hindrance to what seems to now be the primary goal of the ICC – making money for the full members, in particular the "big three", and especially the BCCI. A sport truly interested in development would be diverting a significant proportion of revenues from global events into development. Cricket is doing the opposite.
So, like those northern English rugby clubs in 1895, I believe it is time for the associate and affiliate members of the ICC to realise that they're never going to be given a fair deal by the ICC, and to break away and form a rival governing body for cricket.
It would of course be very hard going for the first decade or so at least. But long term, the associates and affiliates would be better off founding a new governing body. One dedicated to equality on and off the playing field. One not beholden to antiquated notions of "full membership" and "Test status". One committed to developing the game globally and not just lining the pockets of its largest member.
Such a new governing body would be free to attempt to join the Olympics and gain access to those new revenue streams mentioned earlier. It would be free to promote the game more effectively in new territories. It would be free to design new structures for the international game to try and bring in more fans, and to encourage more players to aim for the highest level for their own countries, rather than having to change their allegiance.
I'll admit that it's a rather hopeful vision of the future. I'll also admit that it's highly unlikely to happen. Bizarrely enough, many associates and affiliates seem (publicly at least) happy with the current situation. They voted for the constitutional aspects of the big three's reforms. Some of them are publicly congratulating Srinivasan on his appointment as ICC chairman, despite him being on record as saying in the past that his role as an ICC director was to represent the BCCI only, and not cricket in general. Maybe they've been convinced that he's changed after he attended an associate members meeting during the annual conference week in Melbourne.
The associate and affiliate members attitude is perhaps best summed up by one unnamed representative of an associate member who was quoted by Cricinfo as saying "we will be better off even if the governance model is unethical".
That quote sums up so much that is wrong with cricket today. Who cares about ethics if we're making more money? Cricket has perhaps got the administration it deserves. A breakaway is definitely needed. But it's not going to happen so long as the game – at all levels – is run by people with a complete lack of vision and a lack of interest in what is fair and what is right.