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Cricket news - ICC meeting a mixed bag for Associates

Cricket's omission at the previous Asian Games in Jakarta last year was a blow to a number of Asian Associates.

The recently concluded ICC meetings in Dubai delivered few surprises, and beyond the announcement of dates and venues for the men's and women's T20 WC Qualifiers little concrete news of immediate relevance outside the Full Member ambit. Beyond the press release, however, there were hints of developments giving cause for both optimism and apprehension for its 93 Associate members.

Venues announced for T20 WC Qualifiers

The confirmation that the men's T20 Global Qualifier has been awarded to the UAE was largely expected, with few other contenders capable of hosting a 14-team tournament in October. It will be the fourth edition of the tournament to be hosted in the Emirates, and run from October 11 to November 3 this year - four days longer than the previous edition co-hosted by Ireland and Scotland in 2015. Scotland meanwhile was awarded the women's Qualifier, an 8-team affair lasting as many days, starting August 31 and concluding on September 7.

Said scheduling announcement was not the only, nor even the most remarkable, tournament news to emerge this week however, with sources at Cricket Kenya reporting that a rumoured event later this month would indeed be going ahead, with Oman, Hong Kong and Nepal heading to Nairobi to join the hosts as well as development sides from South Africa, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, to contest a T20 tournament starting from March 22. Pakistan and India were also understood to be sending sides, though current political circumstances have thrown their participation into doubt.

Cricket makes a comeback at the 2022 Asian Games

But by a distance the week's most significant news came from the Olympic Council of Asia, which confirmed on Tuesday that cricket would be making a comeback at the Asian Games for the 2022 edition, to be held at Hangzhou, China. Cricket's omission at the previous Games in Jakarta last year was a blow to a number of Asian Associates, most notably Hong Kong, whose state funding is in part tied to its inclusion. Its return will be welcome news for a board in reported financial difficulties, and the news that at least some events will be open to participants from Oceania means its inclusion may well be welcomed further afield.

The wider Associate world will welcome the news regardless, insofar as inclusion in the Asian Games bodes well for a potential bid to include cricket in the Olympics. The possibility of an Olympic return was again mooted in Dubai, potentially as early as the 2028 Games in Los Angeles, which would fit well with the ICC's long-standing American ambitions. Whilst the ECB have in the past been the staunchest opponents of Olympic Cricket, the English board's stance has soften since the departure of Giles Clarke, with the reluctance of the BCCI now the principle obstacle.

While the potential growth in cricket's global audience that Olympic participation could generate is undoubtedly an attractive prospect for the BCCI - who retain in the IPL the games' most valuable commercial property - the Indian board remains wary of subjecting itself to the oversight of the Indian Olympic Association or to give up its status as a private charitable body in favour of registration as a National Sports Federation. Not unrelated is the board's difficult relationship with the World Anti-Doping Agency, which was again raised in Dubai in the context of a potential Olympic bid. The BCCI have repeatedly questioned both the competence and the authority of India's WADA-recognised National Anti-Doping Agency over its players, and raised specific concerns over the regime's stringent whereabouts clause and its implications for both privacy and security.

Whilst there is little indication of any imminent resolution to the impasse, the ICC reiterated that it remained "committed to working in partnership with the BCCI, WADA and the India NADA to resolve the outstanding issues as a matter of urgency." Though perhaps not the most confidence-inspiring declaration, those hoping for an end to cricket's 120-year absence from the Olympics can at least draw some encouragement from the prospects' repeated inclusion on ICC agendas.

ICC working group to address proliferation of T20 Leagues

Rather more concerning for Associate boards, however, was a less-remarked-upon development at the CEO's meeting, namely the establishment of a working group aimed at addressing the proliferation of franchise T20 Leagues with a view to taking a stricter stance on sanctioning such competitions and potentially limiting player participation to a given number of leagues.

The former would have no effect on competitions hosted in Full Member countries, where the ICC have no direct role in the approval process, but could potentially affect new or existing leagues in Associate nations such as the Hong Kong Blitz, Canada's Global T20, or potentially even the collaborative European League which Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands are expected to formally announce this month.

Likewise limiting players to a maximum of two or three leagues would have little effect on the IPL, which will doubtless remain the overseas league of choice, and indeed the initiative rather smacks of oligopoly - with the ICC co-opted to defend a cartel of established Full Member leagues from competition while newcomers struggle to attract marquee talent. Yet if the prospect of such restriction on players plying their trade across the world hangs as a cloud over the dedicated T20 mercenary corps and entrepreneurial Associate boards alike, it arguably boasts a brilliant silver lining both for players currently on the fringes of the lucrative T20 circuit and for those fans who bemoan the monotony of a T20 franchise calendar of competitions that seem to feature the same names in different arrangements.

Whatever the intention behind the proposed participation cap (and one suspects pious cant about player burn-out or the primacy of the international game to be second-order motivations at best) there is every chance that such regulation may benefit players, fans and even the money-men in the long term. If it leads (whether by accident or design) to more players getting a shot at the T20 big-time, and to more diversity and differentiation between competitions, then franchise cricket may yet provide the game with the sort of meritocratic and democratising impulse that it has thus far failed to deliver.

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