It is anticipated the awaited ICEC report will be critical of socioeconomic inclusion in cricket as well as its ethnic and gender diversity
The lack of diversity in cricket is a factor of socioeconomic inequalities in access to cricket
That is primarily resulting from the diminishing visibility of cricket in state schools:
- Impingement of national curriculum and teacher workloads/productivity drive on discretionary school activity
- The growing range of competing sports, activities and Young People’s interests
- Perception that cricket is far more time consuming than other sports and considered ‘boring’ by kids
- Lack of teacher awareness, interest and capability to deliver cricket (particularly in larger primary school classes)
- Lack of school playing space and equipment (for traditional set up)
- Professionalisation of PE in secondary schools with demise of non-PE staff cricket support
- The challenge of cricket as a GSCE Sport discipline – regarded as a hard option
Clubs have picked up the slack to some extent and it is far more common for clubs to start junior cricket at ages 5-8 than in the past, a shift that predated ECB All Stars and national programmes in most clubs
Previously Young People would join clubs typically at ages 10-13 to hone capabilities developed in school and/or casual play with mates and already knowing what cricket looked like
Yes, many clubs could be unwelcoming or daunting to those from lower socioeconomic groups or outside established school relationships.
But that cultural exclusivity is a much reduced phenomenon in recent years – Young People, any Young People, are a valuable commodity for clubs
There are far more Young People of all ages playing now in most clubs with junior programmes than 20 or 30 years ago. Ashes 2005 and parallel development of Clubmark was a watershed
And the diversity – ethnic probably and gender certainly – is much greater but socioeconomic diversity may well be in decline
But it is not broad enough – in enough clubs – to generate the levels of awareness/access in the wider school population to drive interest/passion beyond those able/keen to play and with access to clubs with junior programmes
That is those who may go on to replace the aging community of cricket fans, buy test match tickets, pay Sky subscriptions, join county clubs or provide volunteer support at clubs. Cricket’s demographic time bomb
The loss of Free-To-Air (FTA) TV coverage of cricket is a factor in Young People awareness of the game but it’s probable that Young People are more inclined to become committed through play than through watching
Doubtful that given the change in Young Peoples’ TV viewing/patterns – far more fragmented across far more channels – that FTA cricket will drive mass visibility that may have been true in past, even if the main FTA mass channels wanted to put cricket back on.
Clubs need the active support of schools to continue growth, expand provision and raise the awareness of cricket opportunities with the widest range and Young People. And that is problematic
Schools focus tends to be sporadic and short-term, making planning and logistics difficult
Clubs generally do not have the coaching capacity to support school activity during daytime and commitment to after-school or weekend activity requires longer-term resource planning
Even clubs with established school relationships will experience ebbs and flows; it is often dependent on the personal commitment of the head and/or one or two teachers which is prone to personnel change
Cricket in state secondary schools where not currently played is almost certainly a dead duck; at least in terms of traditional formats on grass surfaces
Although the success of Dave Fulton-inspired Canterbury Academy shows state non-selective schools can compete with selective and private sector schools with the will, commitment and some resources
And Darren Talbot’s successful development of state school based academies in Tooting and Chessington, shows that an alternative ‘Pathways’ model is possible
Most club-school relationships are at primary level – extending the lead in time and investment required for payback; Young People and families joining clubs and going on to play open age cricket
Chance or Shine (C2S) and the growth of County Board coaching teams to deliver in recent years has been positive in introducing taster cricket to schools
But taster activity is nowhere near enough. The co-ordination between C2S, County Boards and Clubs is seemingly not a priority, possibly due to resourcing of administration back up. Long-term change through creation of a ‘conveyor belt’ from school to clubs is essential and currently wholly inadequate
And the scale is nowhere near enough required. Total C2S annual budget of £5m is paltry by comparison with FA/Football Foundation investment in school/club junior football
The ECB annual investment of £2.5m in C2S is pathetic and needs to be at least 3 or 4 times that to leverage additional private sponsorship.
Especially as C2S funding, supplemented by other charitable/social fundraising, is intended to replace ECB funding in the ‘privatisation’ of County Boards over time.
ECB has failed to meet commitment to spending 30% of net broadcast revenues in grassroots sport in each of the last two years – the only major sports governing body – and the recently extended Sky contract is worth a reported £880 million.
Yet cricket has an opportunity:
Ashes 2005, Word Cup wins and Bazball has shown that cricket can grab the back pages and occasional front pages in national consciousness – maybe more for teachers than Young People but that’s important.
A lot of media influencers, celebrities and policy makers love cricket but where is the effort to redress recent damage to the game’s reputation? Where is the All-Party Parliamentary Cricket Group like football, tennis and golf? Where is the encouragement to clubs to engage (more) with the local MP and other opinion formers and showcase good works?
The profusion of digital channels and platforms, as well as creating the problem of fragmentation, are opportunities for delivering exciting ‘packaged’ live and not-so-live cricket cheaply
Cricket with its complexities and varied formats could feed a growing ESports market; potential new channels to increase passion amongst those less interested/able in physical sport
Despite the competition in sports and pastimes, few other sports are investing significantly in school delivery, providing space for well funded cricket response to the growing hegemony of football.
Lesson plans, teacher training, cricket focused multisports, quick game formats and big group activities, development of softball and tapeball products, packaged and deliverable GCSE Cricket modules, Just In Time Just Enough delivery methods, and rewarding of teacher ‘champions’ are critical factors.
80% of primary school teachers – the ones required to deliver curriculum PE – are women and the higher profile of womens’ cricket needs to be leveraged more effectively in this target market
Potential to tap into extended school sport premium – typically annual £25k for each primary school – is an opportunity.
Cricket MUST take on school sport private franchises; the generally poor quality delivery by unqualified ‘activators’ is damaging for sport and cricket in particular. ECB should lobby for schools/government/OFSTED quality assurance in use of SSP
But clubs have to step up, too, to support setting up of conveyor belt.
With 20,000 primary schools and, maybe, 3,000 clubs capable of supporting junior cricket, only clubs can provide capacity on the ground.
Clubs will need to absorb relationships with more schools and potentially outside traditional catchment areas. Clubs operating in hubs or CBs need to co-ordinate in areas where high school, low club density, especially where economically disadvantaged
A clear unarguable business case for attracting even more Young People is recognized by many clubs but needs to be made for all clubs with existing junior provision and for clubs where low/no provision but potential to develop.
That wider business case MUST include the rewards from supporting game-wide growth and non-club benefits to cricket more widely
A club focus on a broader market of diverse abilities – requiring a diversity of products, approaches, and business models – will be a challenge for the traditional focus on elite Young People cricket and the Development Pathways.
Opportunity to harness Asian-heritage based club giving greater geographic spread and to further work in integrating in CB/ECB structures
Specific focus – special task force – for black and African-Caribbean-heritage communities building on ACE in club programmes
That will need RESOURCING! Regeneration and growth of extended Clubmark as catalyst for renewed effort with long-term strategic focus – 10-20 years not present 4-5 year ECB strategic cycles – based on clubs with verified long-term viability and leadership outlook.
©John Swannick 2023