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Cricket news - Cricket Ireland hopeful of ICC aid in road to recovery

Smaller countries such as Ireland and Afghanistan could get sidelined by the bigger Test teams once cricket resumes.

Smaller countries such as Ireland and Afghanistan could get sidelined by the bigger Test teams once cricket resumes.

Warren Deutrom, the chief executive of Cricket Ireland, considers himself an optimistic man. But like many other cricket administrators, his optimism is being tested by Covid-19. It's certainly not easy to remain positive when facing a 40% hit to turnover because of the pandemic, exacerbating what was already a difficult financial landscape.

Cricket Ireland are used to financial hardship, of course. Deutrom says it has been an "uphill struggle" since Ireland received Full Member status in 2017 for the twin reasons that they receive a disproportionately low sum from the ICC compared to other Full Members and that they lack a permanent ground which means significant sums must be spent on staging international cricket. When you throw in the financial effects of Covid-19, Irish cricket is in a precarious position.

Does Deutrom think Cricket Ireland could go out of business? "To say there is no risk would be clearly foolish," he tells Cricbuzz. "However, I always remain positive. I strongly believe that the fundamentals of our organisation and our business, the fundamentals of Irish cricket, remain strong. Like any other business, we have challenges to get through but I am confident we will do so.

"But we can't do it without firm action and intervention from both ICC and our governments to help us get through this extremely tough period and then also to ensure that they can continue to invest in infrastructure to help us remain competitive."

The ICC have yet to make a decision about the level of payments Full Members will receive from July. If the T20 WC, set for October, is pushed back as expected, the ICC's cash flow will be impacted and, as a result, it is likely the distributions to Cricket Ireland, and other boards, will be reduced. However, Deutrom hopes that the ICC looks at individual countries on their merits rather than imposing a blanket reduction.

"We hope that ICC might look at specific cases of hardship to ensure that members can remain as going concerns," he says. "We feel the risk of us slipping backwards is very, very significant if we can't remain competitive. An organisation of our size, to take a 40% hit when we were already very lean, I think is a significant case that we hope the ICC will be understanding about. That's a case we are continuing to press."

Cricket Ireland are also continuing to press their case for increased funding from the ICC more generally. Deutrom has said previously that the current amount Cricket Ireland receive from the ICC, understood to be about US$ 5 million per year, is short of what they had expected as a Full Member. By way of comparison, under the current rights cycle, which runs until 2023, they will receive less than half the money that Zimbabwe gets.

"We understand that we came into Full Membership in the middle of a broadcast rights cycle, in the middle of a commercial cycle, but we have made very, very plain at the ICC Board table that we need to be appropriated funded as a full member by the time the next rights cycle comes along," Deutrom says. "Otherwise the gap between the well funded full members and the lower ranked full members are only going to grow and grow."

That financial reality meant that Cricket Ireland were having to make difficult decisions about how much international cricket they could afford to play even before Covid-19 struck. A T20I series against Afghanistan set for August was cancelled and a Test against Bangladesh was changed to a T20I, both for financial reasons. "These are decisions we do not, in any way shape or form, relish having to make," Deutrom says.

Then, as a result of Covid-19, Bangladesh, New Zealand and Pakistan all postponed their tours, leaving Ireland without any home international cricket this summer. Deutrom is heartened, however, by the commitment from the three boards to try and reschedule the postponed fixtures. He does accept, though, that there is a risk the bigger Test nations, also struggling financially, could prioritise lucrative bi-lateral series against each other when a revised schedule is drawn up following Covid-19, leaving smaller countries such as Ireland and Afghanistan fighting for scraps.

The added context of the World Test Championship and the Cricket World Cup Super League should help in that regard, meaning scheduling decisions are not simply made on a bi-lateral basis. But even if Ireland do get a fair share of fixtures in a rescheduled calendar, it is not certain that all of them will be played. "I certainly shall not be naive and suggest that difficult decisions may not have to be made so that we can afford the fixture list that is presented to us," Deutrom says.

The major reason Cricket Ireland have to make such decisions is the cost associated with hosting international cricket. They don't have a permanent stadium which meets ICC requirements so they have to pump in "hundreds of thousands of Euro", according to Deutrom, to create "pop-up" stadiums each time they host international games.

"In 2018 when we hosted Pakistan and India, we had 30,000 people coming to watch cricket in Malahide," Deutrom says. "Yet we are still having to take an enormous risk in putting in temporary infrastructure. We feel that we are throwing a lot of money at activity which isn't necessarily growing the sport, simply to remain compliant with ICC strictures.

"Clearly, it's inhibiting our ability to invest in the things we want to invest in, particularly into the grass roots of the game so that we can be more visible. And of course it leads in to having to make increasingly difficult decisions about what we can and can't do." Cricket Ireland continue to lobby the governments in Northern Ireland and the Republic to assist with building a stadium but in the meantime, they have to make do.

On a brighter note, Deutrom is hopeful that the three scheduled ODIs against England can go ahead behind closed doors at the end of July. Given it is likely to be the only international cricket taking place at that time, it is not lost on Cricket Ireland that those games will have a significant profile. It is an important opportunity for a country crying out for as much exposure as it can get but there are hurdles to jump yet, including various government approvals in both the UK and Ireland.

"It is not just about players pitching up having been given approval the day before," Deutrom says. "This is about making sure elite athletes are able to prepare with adequate notice. Our players are not back out there yet and we are aware that the England team is. As World Champions, they are quite good and they are playing at home. We are impressing on our government that unless we receive a decision swiftly we may well have to take a view about whether our players are going to be suitably competitive in those fixtures. We believe that we ought to be training by next week."

Away from the international landscape, Cricket Ireland have decided to maintain pre-Covid-19 levels of central funding for each of the five provinces. One of the driving forces behind the introduction of the provincial structure in Ireland in 2013 was to develop structures underneath the international level to help grow the sport. Now, more than ever, that remains a key priority. "We just want to make sure our provinces and our clubs are as well placed as possible to be able to get through this, to try and be as visible as possible," says Deutrom.

"We have got a significant amount of talent coming through. The numbers of people playing our sport has been growing steadily over the years. We were national governing body of the year in Ireland only last year to a testament to the extraordinary talent and ability of the staff that I am proud to be CEO of, of the people in the grass roots game who are growing this sport. I genuinely believe that the fundamentals of the business are very strong. So yes, I do remain positive."

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