The controversial revamp of international cricket sought by the ‘Big Three’, India, England, Australia, finally came to pass at a hastily called International Cricket Council (ICC) board meeting in Singapore on Saturday. The three movers of the restructuring plan managed to garner eight out of the 10 member countries’ votes when South Africa changed its stance at the last minute. This greatly disappointed Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Zaka Ashraf because the opposition to the restructuring plan had been led by Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Pakistan and Sri Lanka decided to abstain rather than vote against the proposal at the end, perhaps with an eye to not missing out completely on whatever crumbs may be thrown their way in future. The opposing cricket boards have been supported throughout the cricket community by former players, officials, and even Lord Harry Woolf, author of a report that urged greater distribution of power at the ICC. The gist of the criticism centres on the alarming trend of letting commerce and money dictate matters rather than the spirit and overall interests of the sport. This trend of course is not confined to cricket. Sports’ once much lauded values of sportsmanship, healthy competition and respect for opponents have almost fallen by the wayside. This is not only a crisis of values, it is also the result of the dominant consideration of money.
The real bones of contention in the ICC’s restructuring plan centre around the distribution of revenues and the future of the tours programme. The ICC hitherto had a revenue distribution system that shared global revenues equitably amongst the 10 member countries so as not to disadvantage boards that could not pull in the same kind of revenues as cricket giant India (80 percent of global revenues because of a huge domestic market) and England and Australia. The vaguely worded formulation to replace this distribution system says revenues will be distributed according to countries’ ‘financial, sporting and historical contributions’ to the sport. The ‘financial’ part is easier to understand, since it is tangible and calculable, and may even be the real reason for the big three to have insisted on and lobbied for their proposals. It is not clear who will and on what criteria decide the ‘sporting’ and ‘historical’ contributions of all teams. These terms appear more as a sop to camouflage the money-driven plan rather than a serious attempt to lay down acceptable criteria for revenue distribution. Even more alarming, the ICC’s Future Tours Programme, designed to guarantee series for all Test teams, will be replaced by what has been called ‘a series of binding, bilateral agreements to be struck between members’. This may translate into the big three preferring to play each other more with an eye on the sponsorship possibilities and ticket gate rather than in the overall interests of the world game. If this triangular monopoly comes to pass, India could easily take away 80 percent of global revenues from cricket, leaving England and Australia too with a relatively smaller share, and the rest with any crumbs left over. Series planning too may disadvantage the other seven Test countries since the big three may not be amenable to series that their boards feel would not bring the same returns as series amongst themselves. This implies that a two-tier structure may be looming, with the big three in a privileged category and the rest left to fend for themselves. Pakistan in particular could be amongst the worst sufferers since teams have been unwilling to play on Pakistani soil because of security concerns stemming from the attack on the Sri Lankan team some years ago. ‘Home’ series offshore in the UAE cannot substitute, and India’s recent refusal to play Pakistan there highlights the dilemma. Without adequate exposure to competitive international cricket, Pakistan’s sport may face a bleak future. The sop the ICC has thrown to assuage the sting is the creation of a Test Cricket Fund to boost the other seven countries, but it is unclear where the money for this will come from, how much will be in this kitty, and how it will be distributed on what criteria. It may appear premature to declare the death of cricket as we have come to know it in recent times. But certainly the reservations and criticisms of knowledgeable stakeholders of the game have weight and their alarmist prognoses may not be too far off the mark. *