Magnanimity of the rich: Cricket needs to take a leaf out of tennis’s book to maintain equilibrium

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April 26, 2020 3:40 AM

When the game returns, the struggling cricket boards will be dependent on three superpowers—India, England, Australia—for bailouts

Eden Gardens during the ICC T20 World Cup match between Bangladesh and New Zealand (Photo: Express Archive)Eden Gardens during the ICC T20 World Cup match between Bangladesh and New Zealand (Photo: Express Archive)

Tennis now has a ‘Big Three’ plan. Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic are teaming up to help fund lower-ranked players during Covid-19. Tennis, like other sports, is top-heavy. A lot of players, ranked 200 and below, are struggling to survive at the moment without a stable income. ATP and WTA tournaments are suspended. The ITF circuit has come to a standstill, and tennis being an expensive sport, the vast majority of players have been reeling under heavy financial burdens.

Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are trying to raise at least $3 million to fund the lower-ranked players. Taking a cue from their initiative, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) and the four Grand Slams decided to set up a fund to financially assist players during this period. The lower-rung in tennis is benefiting from the magnanimity of the rich.

Move to cricket, where a ‘Big Three’ redux appears likely in the post-Covid-19 world. Cricket, like all other sectors, is feeling the pinch of a global economic meltdown and without money smaller/ weaker nations are skating on thin ice. When the game returns, it would be a battle for survival for many cricket nations. Only India, England and Australia have the financial wherewithal to weather the storm.

Last week, during a conversation with The Indian Express, former International Cricket Council (ICC) and Cricket South Africa (CSA) chief executive Haroon Lorgat agreed that the cricketing world order would change after the pandemic. “No doubt the (cricketing) world order will change post-Covid-19. There’s enough evidence to suggest that what will follow the pandemic will be an economic recession that won’t be limited to any one country. Experts are forecasting a global recession. Just about everything will require some form of re-engineering and cricket will be no exception. Things won’t be the same. What I pray for is that the (cricket) leadership will consider and support everybody. It’s never been more poignant than now and clearly those who have will need to support those who have not. Otherwise the cricket world will downsize to a much smaller and much weaker world.”

The struggling cricket boards will have to be dependent on the game’s three superpowers—India to a large extent—for bailouts. This perfectly sets the stage for a ‘Big Three’ revival, to be led by India. Almost every country is reliant on playing against India to maximise revenue. And there’s a school of thought that the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) should set the new cricket world order on their own terms, for India contributes to more than 70% of the ICC’s revenue.

The erstwhile Big Three model in the ICC, introduced in 2014 for the 2015-2023 rights cycle, had approved a contribution-based revenue sharing system for the members of the global body. Accordingly, the BCCI’s revenue share was projected at $570 million. Then, in 2017, with Shashank Manohar as the independent ICC chair, the game’s governing body dismantled the ‘Big Three’ model and settled for a more equitable revenue distribution system. The BCCI’s revenue share was reduced by $170 million, much to the chagrin of an overwhelming majority of the Indian cricket board functionaries.

On the face of it, the equation is simple. India brings money to cricket, while others spend. So the BCCI is well within its rights to demand a larger share of the pie. The argument has logic. Then again, survival of the richest cannot be applicable to sport. Cricket already works in a lopsided environment. The gap between the rich and the poor is wide and post Covid-19 it will become even wider.

Cricket also has only a handful of nations to show for at the top level. Further, contraction will badly affect the sport. Without Kane Williamson’s New Zealand, cricket loses its dignity. Minus South Africa, it will be bereft of its cross-cultural presence. West Indies are the game’s joie de vivre. Without the Russells and the Pollards, cricket—also the BCCI’s most prized cash cow, the Indian Premier League (IPL)—will be poorer. Without Pakistan, the game will lose some finest talents like Babar Azam and Shaheen Afridi. Amid a flurry of academy products, Pakistan, their gully cricket to be precise, keep the game connected to its grassroots. Lorgat was spot on when he said: “The (cricket) world is a group of many nations, not just one or two countries. There’s no World Cup without various countries playing together.”

If eventually there is a ‘Big Three’ redux at the ICC and its financial model is altered, it will be imperative to hit on a structure that serves the interests of every cricket-playing nation, especially the weaker ones. As the world heads towards a great depression, cricket needs to take a leaf out of tennis’s book to maintain equilibrium.

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