Cricket World Cup and a policy of exclusivity

The days of colonisation may be long gone but the spirit of dominating smaller nations has taken over the new masters of the sport
India’s tour of Australia during 2018-19. Photo: AFP

Since the commencement of the tournament in 1975, the one-day international World Cup has traditionally been the flagship event of the International Cricket Council (ICC) whilst both the Test and T20 formats of the game have their own unique features. The ODI World Cup carries an intrinsic sense of competition amongst the participating teams unlike any other series or tournament played in the sport. Cricket fans are extremely passionate about the World Cup—and this time is no different. Nevertheless, with each passing global tournament, cricketing administrators have ironically remained persistent in preventing the integration of the world in the World Cup.

Amidst the backdrop of an all-English UEFA Champions League final and the smooth initiation of the 2019 Cricket World Cup, there was a palpable sense of excitement amongst sports fans in England. The World Cup has gotten off to a good start in its first two weeks. Before delving into the cons of the format of the tournament, let's get some things clear. The quality of cricket we will be seeing from the English team is expected to be top-notch, with 10 of the very best teams in the sport competing for the much-coveted prize. The league system, whereby each team faces every other team, also means that this will be a much more hotly contested and challenging tournament compared to the last six World Cups. And lastly, the smaller boundaries across the venues and the increasingly batting-friendly conditions prevalent in the pitch, in contrast to the versatility seen in the bowling line-ups of the teams, will make the ICC Cricket World Cup 2019 an event which is sure to enthral fans.

Individuals such as Lalit Modi and N Srinivasan, both of whom served in senior positions in the BCCI, are directly to blame for the increasing moral corruption in cricket.

The problem of a 10-team World Cup is, however, not necessarily to do with the quality of cricket being displayed, but rather one that needs to be explored in terms of a deeper philosophical question regarding the sport itself. Once considered to be the vanguard of colonial socio-cultural interaction, cricket has seen post-colonial societies, such as those in the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies, outperform the original founders of the game in many avenues of the sport—whether it be in cricket commercialism and marketing, or the differences in fan bases. Today, cricket is surely not the "gentleman's game" it was once thought to be. At present, it has evolved into a sport via which rural communities engage in leisure and community-building, while providing the national teams of many countries, including Bangladesh, with some of their best talents. The dominance of India in the sport has become prevalent in both the financial and non-financial aspects of the game. But as comedian Hasan Minhaj describes in an episode of the Netflix show Patriot Act titled "Cricket Corruption", as the most powerful organisation in cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has gone a bit too far.

Individuals such as Lalit Modi and N Srinivasan, both of whom served in senior positions in the BCCI, are directly to blame for the increasing moral corruption in cricket. Engulfed in scandals related to the Indian Premier League (IPL), these individuals paved the way for the criticism we now hear about cricket. For one, cricket, and especially T20 cricket, with all its glitz and glamour, has centralised the sport towards the Indian subcontinent—and by centralisation, one refers to the financial, technical and administrative monopolisation of the sport by the BCCI. In statistical terms, the BCCI generates 75 percent of the revenue of the ICC and that in itself shows the increasing market power of the BCCI.

In hindsight, one may suggest that it is the right of the BCCI to earn the highest share of ICC revenue and assume political authority, given its contributions to the game of cricket. Yet the so-called "Big 3" model, as proposed by former BCCI President N Srinivasan, which refers to the powerful triumvirate of India, England and Australia, helps them control decision-making in the sport and only points towards an exclusive interest of these three big players. The cumulative result of this is a 10-team World Cup where lower-ranked nations such as Ireland, Zimbabwe, Canada, Bermuda, etc., do not have the opportunity to participate due to their inability to generate high revenues. This entire model is aimed at institutionalising exclusivity in the game of cricket. And for a game aiming to widen its reach, such a scenario is counterproductive.

If we look at the history of cricket, some of the most exciting games in World Cup history have been, in a sense, the victories of minnows over well-established line-ups: Zimbabwe beat the mighty Australians in 1983; Kenya went on to the semi-finals of the 2003 World Cup without playing a single Test match; and we all know about the rise of Bangladesh since the 1999 World Cup match against Pakistan. Such instances made cricket exciting and, in a way, more inclusive. But the format of the 2019 World Cup is a continuation of an exclusivist policy of cricket authorities; it is part of the same policy which has kept cricket out of the Olympics and barred associate nations from rising to the higher echelons of the game.

Monetary motivations may make one believe that a 10-team World Cup is a good financial investment for the ICC. But if we think that money made cricket what it is today, then we know nothing at all. Cricket continues to be, unfortunately, a colonial game. The days of colonisation may be gone but the spirit of dominating smaller nations has taken over the new masters of the sport.

Mir Aftabuddin Ahmed studied economics and international relations at the University of Toronto. Email: [email protected]

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