POWER PLAY

Boards of India, Australia and England come up with a joint proposal for sharing cricket’s revenue pie

It is variously being described as an ambitious power-grab, or a long-term move to save the game (depending upon your point of view). There is however, no doubt that a proposal jointly floated by the boards of India, Australia and England seeking an overhaul of the International Cricket Council (ICC) has polarised opinion across the sport.

In essence, a “position paper” circulated recently, that was put together by a working group of the ICC’s finance and commercial affairs that will go before the ICC’s executive board at its quarterly meeting in Dubai on January 28 and 29, cedes enormous power to the three boards that drive a bulk of the revenues of cricket worldwide.

According to some estimates, as much as 80 per cent of the income the ICC derives from its various tournaments and other properties, comes from India alone. The other full members variously added between 0.5 and 5 per cent to the overall kitty.

The proposals also seek an end to the Future Tours Programme agreement and its replacement with bilateral pacts between member boards of the organisation, which further cuts into the ICC’s role and responsibility. This means that countries that draw bigger crowds at their games will be increasingly favoured over others that do not, and consequently, a lop-sided scheduling of bilateral series that could teams that are not too popular away from home territory. More importantly, on the cards is an ambitious redistribution of revenues based more upon where the money was generated from in the first place. At present, the cake is divided evenly among the ICC’s full members and by a reducing formula thereafter among the associates.

With finance being such a key sector in every professionally-run sports organisation’s aims and charter, what the paper suggests therefore is far greater control being handed over to India, Australia and England. Clearly, representatives of the three boards have been at work behind the scenes on the draft, which is a comprehensive one in as much as it covers virtually every area of the ICC’s activities.

Among other things, the proposal includes a two-tier Test structure with provision for promotion and relegation — with India, Australia and England permanently in the top deck; formation of a four-member executive with guaranteed seats for the BCCI, CA and ECB; and a revival of the biennial Champions Trophy limited overs tournament in place of the proposed World Test Championship.

Predictably, there has been a howl of protest from Cricket South Africa which has been left out of not only the top table but also from the revenue sharing model. Other boards, which do not have much to go by in terms of revenue generation have been largely muted in their reaction, while Pakistan has — on principle — objected to the proposed rearrangement.

That, however, may only be whistling into the wind. The ICC has all but accepted that in order to drive the game forward in an increasingly crowded entertainment market, innovations and changes will have to come about. Also, the current lopsided distribution of the revenue pie would have inevitably come up, with unhealthy results for the world body were say, the Indian board taken an unbending stand.

Be that as it may, it will be known in less than a fortnight which way this will go. The Indian board has, at its working committee meeting earlier in the week in Chennai, unanimously approved the draft proposal, saying, “The committee discussed at length the proposals of the ICC Working Group and felt that this proposal was in the interest of cricket at large,” in a statement.

Officebearers of the BCCI were also authorised “to enter into agreements with ICC for participating in the ICC events and host ICC events, subject to the proposal being approved in the ICC Board.”

CSA has argued the idea was “fundamentally flawed” and “in breach of the ICC constitution”, while on the other hand, New Zealand cricket has said it was wrong to jump to the conclusion that the proposal would be bad for cricket. So far, a once powerful board like the West Indies has maintained a studied silence on the matter which reports suggest Sri Lanka has fallen in line.

So while it almost represents a done deal as far as the ICC itself is concerned, what shape the new dispensation takes when it comes about remains to be seen. The “Big Three” though, will be the big winners, either way.

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