x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Money talks for ICC but where is the quality?

Poor handling of scandals, crowded calendars and meaningless tournaments. The governing body is making a mess of it.

The New South Wales Blues did exceedingly well to win the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 trophy in Hyderabad last year. But the question is, was anyone watching?
The New South Wales Blues did exceedingly well to win the inaugural Champions League Twenty20 trophy in Hyderabad last year. But the question is, was anyone watching?

A trivia question for the more astute and historically aware sports fans among us: what do the New South Wales Blues, the Australian cricket team, have in common with Real Madrid, the Spanish football giants? The answer, as all us anoraks know, is that they are both the first winners of the Champions League in their respective sports. In Real's case it was the old European Cup and their achievements in the 1950s, with wins inspired initially by the legendary Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano and in latter years by the great Hungarian Ferenc Puskas, are the stuff of sporting folklore. On the other hand, only the most ardent trivia buff outside Sydney would know (or care) about the NSW Blues.

The indifference of cricket fans towards the ongoing Champions League Twenty20, the second running of this ill-thought out and ill-fated tournament, should give administrators pause for thought - if they had any time to spare after dealing with their latest self-created crisis. World cricket is indeed in crisis and, contrary to the current tabloid frenzy, this crisis is not one of integrity. Despite what some of the more rabid sections of the media will have us believe, ours is not a fundamentally corrupt sport where every major game and many players have sold out to nefarious and mysterious Indian betting syndicates - at least, there are no confirmed reports or evidence to indicate that.

What we have instead is a crisis of management and of PR, where for far too long cricket administrators the world over have chosen the easier option of kowtowing to sponsors, advertisers and the media. The game's global governing body, the International Cricket Council (ICC), has a long-standing reputation for being inept and even unprofessional. From poorly organised world cups to fixture congestion, there is a long-running litany of player and fan complaints against the administrators.

The ICC's role has come in for criticism on a series of important issues, including umpiring blunders, sponsorship issues, use of technology, scheduling and format of ICC tournaments, windows in the calendar for domestic leagues, covert marketing, and, of course, match-fixing over the past 10 years. Its cruellest detractors joke that "whatever the controversy, the ICC can be reliably expected to mishandle it".

While that is probably a somewhat unfair generalisation, the ICC's handling of the match-fixing issue has not covered it in glory. The specialist and high-powered ICC body tasked with monitoring such matters, the Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, seems to have achieved very little in its decade-long high-profile and costly existence. The latest example of ICC's sub-optimal management of the whole issue was its ham-fisted press release on Saturday, issued without consultation in order to appear in charge of the news cycle.

Aimed at appeasing the media and burnishing its damaged reputation, the press release has done neither. Instead, it has confirmed tabloid media speculation about something untoward having happened at The Oval one-day match between England and Pakistan on Friday, a match that was one of the more memorable one-day encounters of recent memory. The ICC seems to have reached and announced a preliminary conclusion without investigating the matter. Not surprisingly, scathing denunciations of the ICC's pre-emptive disclosures have already been issued by the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and the Pakistan Cricket Board.

Given all this excitement, it is to be expected that the ongoing Champions League T20 has barely registered on the consciousness of many cricket followers. The competition is of course yet another manifestation of administrators' greed, and their penchant for creating ever-more meaningless competitions and fixtures, chasing the last available advertising dollar to the exclusion of all else. While some have faded since the arrival of Twenty20 cricket, others have mushroomed, among them franchised domestic leagues such as the Indian Premier League and the Champions League, which have official sanction but are nothing more than glorified slog-fests. The razzmatazz and the glamour quotient in some of these so-called cricket contests would shame the World Wrestling Entertainment franchises.

The cricketing public's indifference towards the Champions League is also partially because the tournament is a misnomer; the current and the last world champions of this format, England and Pakistan respectively, are both not represented this year, while some of the weaker international T20 teams, for instance India, are over-represented. The public disinterest notwithstanding, the cricket administrators plough on, adding more and more cricket on to the calendar in search of every available advertising or sponsorship dollar. It would appear that cricket has sold its soul for money. It no longer is the "gentlemen's game", though some would question if it ever was.

Never before have television companies and money-men ruled the roost as is now the case. All national boards are culpable to some extent in this, as all are responsible for governing the game. Who can forget the ECB's fawning behaviour towards one Allen Stanford? Once lauded as the saviour of English cricket, the Texan is currently incarcerated in a Federal penitentiary in the US and is under investigation by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for one of the biggest frauds of this era.

Contrary to some of the more self-righteous howls of indignation, no one then is innocent, and meaningful reform would require a concerted effort by all. The sporting history aficionados can meanwhile hope that these matters are addressed before Trinidad & Tobago, the losing finalists in the inaugural Champions League, meet the fate of Stade Reims - a team that narrowly lost to Real Madrid in 1956 and is now languishing as a footnote to history.

Yasser Alvi is a cricket writer at PakPassion.net @Email:sports@thenational.ae