Enough is enough

The ECB and its chief executive should know they’re in trouble when that hitherto bastion of the cricket establishment, Wisden Almanack, includes this excoriating attack in the 2022 edition published today. 

In detailing the litany of woes from Ashes to Rafiq and beyond, this paragraph quoting editor Lawrence Booth is the final thrust:

“The ethics of the bonus scandal were as bad as the optics. But there was an exit strategy, if only Harrison would recognise it: the bonus should either be returned, allowing the ECB to re-employ some of the staff whose work still had to be done, or used to broaden the game’s diversity. If, by now, he has resigned or refused the money, we applaud. If not, there is still time to undo at least part of the damage.”

From a club perspective it is the most telling.  The majority of those redundancies were amongst the most club-facing people in the ECB.  Now you may say that we haven’t noticed the difference.  That clubs have developed in recent years despite, not because of, ECB support activities.  That more money is seemingly being thrown around more generously to more clubs now than ever before.

And all of those things have a degree of truth in them.  But that’s not the fault of those ECB people working or, more likely, had worked with clubs.  They operated within parameters set for them, and then made redundant, by people who have shown they couldn’t give two hoots about the recreational game……… until it matters to them.  By that I mean Lawrence Booth’s targets and those brought in to run Participation & Growth as an adjunct of The Hundred marketing and public affairs strategy.

Make hay while the money is being scattered around because it will not last.  I used the phrase ‘helicopter money’ as that is a legitimate but largely discredited tool to boost ailing economies by getting money quickly to people who will spend it.   It was last used by Haile Selassie, personally handing out wads of devalued bank notes from the back of his vintage open-top Rolls Royce in downtown Addis, in the 1970s.  That didn’t end well either.

The county boards had their funding guaranteed for three years from last year.  And that includes the c£150k a year each county has been given for the County Grants Fund.  But, after that, things are much less certain. The clue is in the creeping ‘privatisation’ of the county board structures with many converting to charitable foundations or setting up charitable fundraising arms. 

The ‘Partnerships’ thing is about finding money from different sources.  So if your club gets funding from the local authority or local community or charitable funders, expect to be competing with your county board or ‘foundation’ in future.  And the county golf days, music events, and other fundraising – which you may think cut across your own activities – to become more frequent.  Or increasingly centralised county and ‘franchised’ area junior coaching activities under the guise of ‘Pathways’ or Chance to Shine drawing kids away from your own programmes.

But not giving two hoots doesn’t prevent the current ECB governance grab that is happening in our domain.  If you are not familiar with the ECB’s General Conduct Regulations then you need to be.  I know this has been a hobbyhorse in recent weeks but you really do need to take notice because even if you’re not an ECB Premier League club, it may well be coming to you this year and certainly by 2023.  Pressure is already being mounted in briefing calls to county boards and non-Premier leagues to ‘voluntarily’ impose on clubs in 2022. 

It is not just about on and off-field behaviour.  It is not just on the back of the Rafiq affair and the reputational risks for the ECB inherent in a largely unregulated clubs network.  Although they have gone into meltdown over a widely reported incident involving two Leicestershire clubs and a league official recently.   It’s about how far can ECB impose its authority over the club game.  The answer right now, and they know it, is not very far.   Unless you are taking their money. 

Remember the Covid ‘guidance’ to clubs while ECB negotiated with government on conditions?  They were rattled by the sounds of mutiny coming from clubs growing impatient with progress in getting back on the field.  They realised their position to deliver on any agreement with government – and pursuit of any subsequent bailout that might ultimately be required to keep the professional game afloat – could be undermined by ostensibly independent clubs and leagues doing their own thing. 

So there you have it.  The anonymous “sources close to……..” in the clubs article in the upcoming May edition of The Cricketer is me.  Not that should be a surprise as I have had two articles published in my name in recent months, as Facilitator of the Network, inferring much the same.   

That The Cricketer leads the charge on ECB shortcomings, under its newly refreshed editorial and commentary team, should have been more of a shock than that of Wisden, given its heritage as the most establishment of cricket organs.  But would founder Plum Warner be turning in his grave?  He may feel that the cricket establishment had already been deposed, in its control of the game, by reward-driven marketing men.

And I feel no need to apologise.  Judging by the responses to the members’ survey as people sign up to our Members’ Portal, you overwhelmingly wish we would take a harder stance as ‘critical friend’ to ECB or even to represent the club game more vigorously.  But the Network was never set up to take on these roles.  It was set up as a community of practice so club officers could share knowledge and learning for mutual benefit and collective advancement.  Independently, by me, as I felt someone should and, as was patently obvious through numerous discussions, the ECB just wasn’t interested. 

As I have always been at pains to point out to the many in ECB and county boards I have engaged with over the years, we are not 1,000+ seething malcontents hiding behind our website firewall or closely scrutinised access to the LinkedIn group.  Far from it, in fact, as we have worked productively for the benefit of clubs on projects with ECB including with some of the people made redundant.  We have held past webinars with others including then head of Participation & Growth, Matt Dwyer. Some of them are now involved in the Network because they have gone back to working in their original club roles or feature in our recent events because they are now working with other relevant agencies or have valuable insights to offer.

But enough is enough. It pains me to say this as someone who has previously both valued and defended the ECB and tried to promote some of the many good things done by people who genuinely cared.  But the ECB is no longer fit for purpose if its purpose includes development of the club game.   On this I stand full square with Wisden Almanack and The Cricketer

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