A set of peculiar unforeseen events has put the continued pre-eminence of BCCI in serious doubt. Even if the devastating effects of the summer of 2020 are tided over within three to four months, it is unlikely that cricket will come out unscathed from the after-effects of the Corona pandemic.
Of course, the tenacity and depth of each and every sport will be tested after the virus has put world sports individually and collectively in a shambles. This is after claiming thousands of lives and wrecking the 2020 sporting season beyond recognition.
In India, in particular, the intriguing question is whether cricket as we know it, can pull through one of its most vexing times in history. It, like every major sport in the world, was forced to hit the pause button without ever knowing when they could ease into play mode again.
Make no mistake, the threat to Indian and world cricket is manifold. The shrinking world economy with genuine fears of an economic recession will hit all major world sports. The worrying part is that they would all simultaneously compete for a share of the diminishing pie as soon as this Coronavirus peters out and the sporting season limps back to life.
This collective resurgence is the first real threat to revenue and thereby survival, for cricket. There are others, but we’ll look at them in a while.
The enormity of the blow to the sports calendar thus far is in itself staggering:
- Summer Olympics, scheduled to be staged in Japan from July has been postponed by a year.
- NBA season has been suspended
- Football’s Premier League in on hold as are other leagues
- ATP and WTA have cancelled the entire spring-summer clay-court season. This includes the French Open, a Grand Slam event, which has been moved optimistically from 24 May to 20 September.
- Wimbledon, scheduled from 29 June, says it will consult with government and health officials before reaching a decision “on playing, postponing or cancelling the 2020 Championships”..
- The first seven legs of F1 races have been cancelled. The season might start with the eighth leg in Canada on June 28. But that’s an extremely optimistic estimate.
- British Grand Prix officials have stated that they need a minimum of 12 weeks to get things ready for the Silverstone event in (17-19) July. But it is highly unlikely that they would be able to get down to brass tacks by 20 April, considering the virus’ on-going trail of destruction in England and Europe.
- Golf too has been severely hit. The Augusta Masters was postponed to a later date, and will probably be held in Fall. Many other tournaments have been cancelled or put on hold.
- PGA said its leadership was in close coordination, ‘evaluating plans on an ongoing basis with the health and well-being of all involved as the highest priority’ and details of new dates for tournaments will be disclosed as and when they are made.
Cricket too has had it calendar ripped apart. BCCI’s money-spinner IPL will not be staged this summer, though officials said they’d take a call after 15 April. Australian, South African, Kiwi seasons had to be abandoned midway while the start of the English season (April to Sept) is in great doubt.
Consequently the revenues of all the primary cricket countries — India, England and Australia, would have taken a massive hit and this will adversely impact the promotion of the game.
BCCI’s biggest drag could still be the induction of associations of the north east as full members. These states contribute nothing to the coffers, but have now been armed with a vote and the right to share the board’s limited revenue.
This massive drain at this unfortunate juncture would hugely affect the development of cricket, particularly at the juniors and women’s levels.
Another massive outflow of funds for BCCI and its affiliate associations is the CoA-granted astronomical raise in salaries of CEO, paid administrators, players, coaches, trainers, physios, umpires, selectors, match referees and others. This happened at the national level, state level, NCA, state academies, etc. Sure they all made hay when the going was good. But what about these troubled times?
In Australia, Rugby Australia CEO Raelene Castle set the tone for cutbacks when she said she would take a 50 percent pay cut before warning players, administrators and others that they would have to take ‘significant cuts’ for the organisation to stay ‘financially viable in the short term’.
BCCI, which was hit hard by the lack of infrastructure development during the Lodha reforms- CoA days, cannot afford another roll back on development activities so soon. That would seriously impact the promotion of the game.
One way for BCCI to cut back on overheads would be for Saba Karim and company to be smart about scheduling events so that there is minimal expenditure on boarding, lodging and travel. And that’s just a start.
Even as BCCI tightens its belt, it needs to ensure that its cash cow, IPL, gets off the ground at the earliest. Perhaps the window that permitted state leagues like KPL, TNPL, etc to be staged during August- September is an opportunity. Else an October-November schedule if the World T20 in Australia is postponed.
Even the ICC Test Championship needs to be put on hold. Instead of uninteresting Australia vs Bangladesh and England vs Sri Lanka, West Indies or even vs Pakistan matches, the ‘Big Three’ must junk the schedule for the moment and stage high-profile matches among themselves in a manner that they would lift value of telecast, sponsorship and public interest with worthwhile content.
Surely if the Olympics can be postponed, ICC’s schedule too could be suspended for the greater good of the game. Only if the ‘Big Three’ are in a healthy financial state can world cricket tide over the current crises. So every effort must be made to boost their engagements, over T20, ODI and if necessary, even Tests.
May be even the Lodha-reforms could be kept in suspension for three to five years so that the best and most experienced administrators can pilot state associations and BCCI through this tough time. Currently, it is not just office-bearers, even committee members of all state associations are inexperienced and ill-equipped to handle what is quickly turning out to be Indian cricket’s biggest crisis ever.
And desperate situations call for desperate measures. Surely the government (besieged with plethora of gargantuan problems) and Supreme Court will step in to save the sport in the country. Else doomsday for cricket is not all that far away.
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