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The Members Voice

Knott on Cricket - Published in the Dental Laboratory Journal - January 2005

 

Dr Nigel J Knott

Yes, a break from the business end of dentistry and a glimpse of what is happening on the pitches at Lord's and the other Test Match Grounds (TMG's). The very latest news that surrounds the removal of our Ashes winning cricket team from your TV screens is here in DLJ!

 

Many cricket fans were shocked when they heard of the new arrangements for the live broadcasting of Test Cricket in this country. For those of us who have assumed that arrangements were safely in place to safeguard our live terrestrial coverage, the announcement that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) had entered into an exclusive pay to view deal with BSkyB came as quite a shock. Bearing in mind this deal was completed in late 2004 before the epic Ashes Series had been played, one is forced into the conclusion that all is not as it seems. The fact that you may not be a cricket fan does not mean to say that this is of no particular interest to you - rugby and soccer has also been the subject of similar difficulties. The principle issue is one that affects all our national representative sports and the question of who owns Brand Englandor of course any other of the other British sports brands such as Brand Scotland and the others to boot?

Betrayal

In my opinion the ECB has betrayed the public interest and shot itself in the foot. How could any public-spirited negotiator think that audiences of less than one million when compared with those of close to 8 million are in the best interests of our national game? Association Football and Rugby Union are all headline sports experiencing the pernicious effects of commercialism and the inability of the various vested interests to sit round a table and thrash out some form of compromise that balances the commercial and national interests. As usual the politicians have been shown to have feet of clay and in this case seem to have been caught napping by the ECB although I was impressed by the evidence that Chris Smith (now Lord Smith) gave recently when questioned by the Parliamentary Select Committee. At the heart of the debate are the subversion of the amateur interests and the subjugation of the value of the amateur game that used to be enjoyed and played for fun in the school playgrounds. In 1994 I had the privilege of being appointed to an MCC Working Party with Lord Hugh Griffiths as Chairman to look into the administration of cricket in the UK and recommend changes. At the time the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) was the governing authority of the sport but was in the Sin Bin having artfully neutralised the balancing power and independence of the Cricket Council. It was here that I learned how much time and effort the army of unsung amateurs dedicated to the grass roots game gives without ever counting the cost.

The Amateur

The status of the amateur sports person today has been usurped and compared unfavourably with the hyped up image of the professional. The word itself is regularly used in a pejorative sense - so and so is only an amateur or in other words a part timer and in some way inferior. Tell that to people like Ted Dexter and of course Colin Cowdrey in their prime! There is something special about the person who takes on the world and wins in the absence of all the razzmatazz, hairdressers, image-makers and psychos. Justin Rose no longer holds the same attraction for me as the teenager who arrives in a banger with a hangover and casually holes out from further than the length of a cricket pitch on the 18th Green to beat all but one of the professionals. Heady stuff. David Gower (an amateur at heart) was once bored out of his brains and decided to take a spin in a privately owned plane to have a look at the match he was playing in from the air. Upon landing he was carpeted for breaching his contract and nobody in management could see the funny side of David's prank. Lord Griffiths commented that cricket had a civilising influence on our daily life and I know exactly what he meant. It is the ability to play by the rules and win and lose without the awful nastiness that so often seems to afflict many sportsmen (I am not sure that the female of the species suffers from the same criticism) whose pictures fill the sports pages today. The wonderful picture of Flintoff kneeling by the side of the vanquished Australian Brett Lee was the action of another great amateur who in his soul Freddie truly is.

The Government of Cricket

The Griffiths Working Party made recommendations to replace the TCCB with a British Cricket Board of Control. This new authority was to have a proper constitution that took into account the need for transparency and public accountability. As so often happens the lust for personal power and money took over and we have ended up with a national sport being governed by the England and Wales Cricket Board - a private company that is not publicly accountable! Conflicts of interest are rife with the Board of Directors stuffed with people closely involved at County and Test Match Ground level - a recipe for disaster. Many of us believe that we cannot go on subsidising the activities of those County teams who only ever attract a handful of supporters and others who waste fortunes on overseas players that deny our own young talent appearing in major matches and give our international opponents the precious experience of playing in our unique conditions. We used to have a Sports Council and now we have Sport England and the way in which the politicians have jumped on the Olympics bandwagon makes me think that marketing and money interests have gone mad. Where cricket is concerned we find that the First Class Counties, the MCC and the MCCA (the Minor Counties) comprising the ECB have an interest in an offshore Company in Guernsey where nearly £3million in cash is held! The Company is called Reigndei Ltd (which in my hazy recollection of Latin lessons at school means the rule of a god) but which I am informed is pronounced rainy day and is money set aside for pluvius payments (sic) (surely pluvial payments?) but in any case one is tempted to think there must be some nut cases or knaves involved here. Interestingly, a sum in excess of £850,000 was transferred by the ECB to Guernsey in 2003 and more than £2million in 2004 that seems to indicate the divine weather forecasts must have been pretty awful!

The Plot Thickens

The Manchester Guardian released documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act that related to a meeting between Tessa Jowell, the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport and James Murdoch, before the deal with the ECB was sealed, but the confidential Minutes relating to the cricket were withheld. The Select Committee has now demanded the release of these documents but I have a funny feeling these will be mislaid or lost. Lord MacLaurin in his evidence made it explicitly clear that the ECB had a responsibility to clear any deal with the Minister before signing any future broadcasting agreements that had to include substantial live coverage of Test Matches on terrestrial TV. Furthermore it was made clear to David Morgan (Chairman of ECB) by Lord MacLaurin that this was the case and despite this evidence the ECB lawyers are quoted as saying that no legally binding contract prevented them signing the deal with BSkyB. Here of course is further evidence that dentists are far behind lawyers in The Extracting Cash Stakes that should be featured in the Royal Ascot Calendar.

Another very strange piece of evidence is the fact that the ECB Accounts state that no Director fees were paid in 2003 so we are asked to swallow the fact that the CEO, FD, Marketing Director et Al worked for nothing! Well as Churchill once said you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

The bloodhounds at the time of going to press have been impeded by the fact that a company known as DerbeYork Trustees Ltd has failed so far to file any accounts for 2004 (now past the Companies House deadline) and this company is closely associated with Reigndei Ltd. Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the fact of a cool £20 odd million in cash was paid in to the ECB Accounts in 2004 advance payments. I wonder whether this payment was made by BSkyB to ensure that the deal could not be unstitched without significant compensation being paid? This is more than one year in advance of any loss of terrestrial TV coverage as the BSkyB deal runs from 2006-2009 inclusive. Not only is cricket no longer on the  List of Crown Jewel sports but the Minister responsible and officials of the ECB are in complete agreement on one point - it is the money that counts!

In my opinion this is not Cricket.

11 December 2005

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