Cricket explores all options to secure short term future in Coronavirus shadow
The world of sport is still coming to grips with the void created by the unprecedented situation created by the Corona Virus Crisis of 2020. While international events and league across the globe have been either postponed indefinitely or cancelled, those running sport have also had to think about what the future might hold.
There is an eagerness in the sporting community for normalcy to return, but even the most optimistic concede that this challenge will take some time to overcome. Aside from the obvious health concerns — and authorities are being guided by the top medical professionals around the world in this regard — there is the effect this extended enforced hiatus will have on sporting economies.
The International Cricket Council, the apex governing body of the game, is set to address these challenges through a meeting of the chief executives of various national boards. In the normal course this meeting could have been held at the ICC’s offices in Dubai, but for now this will have to be an online gathering.
Manu Sawhney, the chief executive of the ICC, did not underestimate the scale of the job on hand. “This meeting is the first step of a collective process as we assess the impact of this ongoing global pandemic and work together so the sport can emerge from it in a strong position. We need to share knowledge and start to build a deep understanding of what it will take to resume international cricket,” said Sawhney. “The scale of this task should not be underestimated and will encompass myriad factors until the public health situation has improved to a point that it is safe for our players, our employees, our fans, and in a way that will not impact the public health situation adversely. Countries will start to reopen at different stages and in different ways and we will need to respect that and have a holistic view of this to enable us to take well-informed decisions that mitigate the various risks as much as possible.”
The first task at hand was to look at the feasibility of the conduct of the men’s Twenty20 World Cup, a flagship event, scheduled to take place in Australia in October and November. As things stand, the tournament has not been postponed, but with each passing week, it became more and more difficult to envisage a situation in which the event was held as planned.
“In relation to ICC events,” said Sawhney, “including the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, we will continue to take advice from experts and authorities, including the Australian government. We will utilise all of the data and information available to us to ensure we can take responsible decisions around all competitions at an appropriate time that are in the best interests of our sport.”
For the time being the ICC will not be reaching for the panic button. This is simply because the current broadcast rights circle stretches from 2015 to 2023, and even in the event of postponements, it should be possible to complete all scheduled events within that timeframe. This ensures that the ICC is not yet directly impacted by the lack of international cricket being played.
What it also does is provide a bit of cushion —albeit not a whole lot — to the member boards. In the 2015-2023 cycle, India’s share comes to $405 million ($293 million plus a one-time sum added later). England and Australia will get approximately board $143 million. The figure is about $132 million for the rest of the full member countries, other than Zimbabwe, which gets $94 million. For 93 associate nations, the total sum allocated is $280 million, to be distributed according to requirements.
But, while the global body may be well placed to absorb the current hit, individual national bodies are in a different position, given that revenues from leagues and bilateral series have been badly hit. The first national board to publicly outline the problems it is facing is Cricket Australia. It is worth looking at their issues, as CA are one of the best run national boards, and others are likely to have to answer the same questions sooner rather than later.
Kevin Roberts, CA CEO, addressed a range of issues, key among them being India’s planned tour of Australia for a full series at the end of 2020, following the T20 World Cup. “We’ll explore all viable options, many of which wouldn’t have been contemplated until now. We are in a different world where all of a sudden we’re being grateful for what we have rather than lament about things that we don’t,” said Roberts. “Fortunately we have a bit of time to work through the different scenarios for the India series but we aren’t ruling out any possibility for that at this point in time.”
While the eagerness to get the game back under way, especially for a lucrative series such as India-Australia, was obvious, Roberts re-iterated the key concerns. “Just like both of our nations play five-Test series against England. So it’s something that we’re both committed to in the future. But the big question is whether or not we can bring that in before the next Futures Tours Programmes cycle in 2023,” said Roberts. “We don’t know what realistic prospect there is of that next season but certainly with the changing landscape and an ever-changing one that’s moving every single day, we won’t rule out the possibility of that till we get closer to the time.”
Only a week ago, Roberts confirmed to the media that the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on global markets has already led to a AUD 20 million setback for CA. “In a pre-Coronavirus world, we were already projecting that our cash and investments would reduce to about 40 million dollars, at the start of September this year. And that they would bounce back very quickly by the start of the Indian Test series to about a 100 million dollars, which is approximately about the level of cash and investments that we had at the end of March.
“So 20 million would take us from a low-point of 40 million dollars in cash and investments and any further shocks would take us far lower than that. And then, if you contemplate the prospect of the international season in particular being affected, we have an issue of hundreds of millions of dollars on our hands. So, it’s very important that we try and plan proactively for that,” he said.
Roberts revealed that austerity measures had saved CA AUD 3 million. “The pain our people are enduring who are being stood down from next week onwards is part of the motivation for us to navigate this situation as best we can. We didn’t start with the stand downs, what we started with was acknowledgement that most activities in cricket needed to pause as a result of the emerging situation, and when you pause those activities you have a lot of people who were previously working on those activities who aren’t required to work on them anymore.
“That’s an unfortunate reality of the situation. I feel desperately for each and every one of them and I hate the fact we had to move to that after all of the fantastic progress we’ve made as an organisation and our culture,” he said. Roberts also added that CA hadn’t overreacted while taking some of their seemingly drastic calls.
“We’re dealing with a situation that’s hitting us unfortunately at the low point of our cash cycle over four years. We reach a point in early September where if there’s more shocks as we’ve had over the last month or more, where our reserves are very thin and in fact effectively we’d chart a path to zero if we didn’t take drastic action.
“If we weren’t doing that, we would be managing this situation by looking in the rear vision mirror and that’s not what we’re charged to do. We’re charged to manage the situation that we’re presented with, and that which we see in the future, so we’re looking forward and taking those actions as we’re required to,” he said.
Roberts cast his eye on hosting the T20 World Cup and was clear that every effort was still being made to see if it was feasible to hold the event as scheduled. “What we are very conscious of is our responsibility on behalf of international cricket to do everything possible to stage the event. Because we might not generate financial returns from that event, but the bigger returns from the broadcast rights around the event that are generated by the ICC are very important to all of our counterparts around the cricket world. So it’s incumbent on us to do everything possible to stage and host the T20 World Cup.”