Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Forget promotion-relegation, just expand Cricket World Cup

Like in North American sports, cricket will not agree to the promotion-relegation system because the stakeholders will not agree.
N Srinivasan, left, and David Richardson of the ICC will not heed UAE coach Aaqib Javed’s suggestion of introducing a promotion-relegation system. Mal Fairclough / AFP
N Srinivasan, left, and David Richardson of the ICC will not heed UAE coach Aaqib Javed’s suggestion of introducing a promotion-relegation system. Mal Fairclough / AFP

If North American sports are any indicator for promotion and relegation, that horse is in the barn under lock and key. Good luck getting it out.

That is not meant as a qualitative assessment of the system, by any means. Promotion and relegation would be a fantastic way to spice up the 162 games of a baseball season, for example.

It is just an acknowledgement that asking organisations to introduce risk where there is none for the sake of something like competitive justice is a non-starter.

Drinks Break podcast: ICC wrong to limit World Cup 2019 teams – Ep 5

The simplest reason promotion and relegation are not incorporated in North America is that they were not there from the start. The rock-hard reason they will not ever be incorporated is that to introduce the system requires concession.

Those in control of baseball, for instance, are the owners of the major-league teams. To introduce relegation would require, at least in part, a voluntary relinquishing of that control. People typically do not do that.

Would cricket World Cup qualification be better off adopting a pyramid structure like the one associate nations already play within?

It depends on who you ask.

Under such a system, England, knocked out in the 2015 group stage, would not be guaranteed a place at the 2019 World Cup. They would have to earn it.

For fans of genuinely competitive and meritocratic cricket, that is what is just. For people invested in the cricket World Cup as a money-making property, that is simply not going to happen.

Asking the ICC to risk an England-less World Cup is asking it to voluntarily risk a significantly less valuable World Cup. As my colleague Paul Radley puts it, “like trying to get turkeys to vote for Christmas”.

That is before you get to the fact that India, England and Australia functionally control the ICC. Or that smaller players like the West Indies probably like things the way they are, too.

The point is not that promotion and relegation would not make the World Cup better. It is that better can unfortunately be defined in multiple ways, and the powers that be get to choose which one they like best.

So is the World Cup doomed to being little more than an aggrandised Champions Trophy? There is still a window, albeit small, for the UAEs and Irelands and Afghanistans to sneak through.

The biggest problem with promotion and relegation is they are a solution to a problem that should not exist.

It is legitimising to the very notion that the World Cup should be contracted at all. England may be laughably disappointing, but they should be there.

The UAE and Ireland and Afghanistan, and the Netherlands and Nepal and Kenya, should be there, too. Make the World Cup 16 teams. Expand, do not contract.

That is one thing the cricket World Cup could learn from North American sports.

There may not be promotion and relegation, but the leagues there at least are already big and inclusive.


Follow our sports coverage on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Updated: March 23, 2015 04:00 AM