Is cricket fit to be an Olympic sport?
In 2000, the ICC adopted a bold policy of expanding its membership, with the overt intention of achieving recognition as an International Federation by the International Olympic Committee.
At that time it had some 54 members, with new Affiliates being admitted at the rate of about three per year. But in the peak years 2000-2002 no fewer than 28 countries were granted Affiliate membership, from Costa Rica to the Cook Islands, from Norway to St Helena.
The rate of growth tailed off somewhat after that, but between 2003 and 2008 a further 19 new Affiliates were admitted, getting the total membership up to 104. With the inclusion of the Seychelles this year, that became 105: ten Full members, 34 Associates, and 61 Affiliates.
It was a remarkable achievement, and it had the desired effect on the IOC: in 2007 the ICC was granted provisional recognition for a period of two years, and this became permanent on 11 February 2010. The way now lies open, in theory at least, for cricket to be included in the programme of the Olympic Games, though not before 2020. ‘Twenty20 in 2020’ is a slogan that one sometimes hears echoing down cricket’s corridors of power.
Recent developments, however, necessarily raise the question whether the global expansion of cricket has not been a massive sham, a smoke-and-mirrors operation designed to fool the Olympic movement into believing that the ICC is a genuinely global organisation.
With more than half the total membership, the 61 Affiliates have almost no democratic rights within the ICC constitution: they are allowed to send five representatives to the annual conference, where they can safely be ignored by the 44 Full and Associate members – especially the former. A similar disability applies to the Associates, who are granted three representatives on the Executive Board and its key committees, where they are heavily outnumbered by the ten Full members.
Defenders of this constitutional structure would doubtless point out that since it is the Full members who bring in 99.9% of cricket’s income this is no more than fair, and that hierarchies of membership exist in other world governing bodies as well. Furthermore, the IOC’s rules regarding International Federations give each governing body autonomy over its internal arrangements.
Nevertheless, there is no question but that the inequities in the ICC’s structure are extreme. Consider for a moment the constitution of the International Rugby Board, the governing body of a sport which has many historical similarities to cricket. Its Council has 28 members, two representatives from each of the eight ‘Foundation members’, one from each of four second-ranked nations (Argentina, Canada, Italy and Japan), one from each of the six regional associations, and the two elected Officers.
On this body, ‘the ultimate and supreme legislative authority’ in rugby union, therefore, the smaller and less powerful members constitute more than 35% of the membership, while on the ICC Executive Board the three Associate representatives constitute less than 20%. And in rugby there is also a biennial General Assembly, where all 95 member countries have the right to vote on recommendations to the Council.
If anyone can find an IOC-recognised International Federation which is more discriminatory in its membership structure than the ICC, I would be extremely interested to hear about it.
This set-up was, perhaps, just about defensible as long as the Full members who wield all the real power used their domination of the organisation in the interests of the development of the sport as a whole – at least to some degree. Whatever criticisms one may have had of ICC policy in particular areas, such as the inequitable distribution of funding between the various regions, or its handling of particular crises, such as the Hair affair, that has been more or less true over the past decade.
But the current proposals for the restructuring of international cricket appear to violate that fragile balance so fundamentally that one can only agree with England-captain-turned-journalist Michael Atherton in his view that the ICC is no longer ‘fit for purpose’.
The lust for easy wealth and the corruption which are, alas, endemic in too much of the cricketing world now threaten to poison the sport irremediably, and the evident determination of those with the power to do so to ride roughshod over the needs and interests of the many means that, unless the Executive Board moves decisively at its meeting on 11-12 October to guarantee the continued success of its Global Development and High Performance programmes, by rejecting the absurd proposal to cut the World Cup to ten participants, confirming the continuation of the World Cricket League, and placing a strong obligation on the Full members to arrange fixtures against the Associate members with ODI status, it may be time for the IOC to reconsider its recognition of the ICC as an International Federation under the Olympic Charter.