As the Year 2020 moves towards its’ conclusion now that autumn has moved more closely into winter, the clocks have changed meaning longer nights as darkness descends upon us earlier each day, the Prime Minister has chosen to declare a new National Lockdown. Time to batten down the hatches and prepare thoroughly for the difficulties which lie ahead.
Sage minds are predicting far worse consequences than just “a long hard winter” ahead of us. The economy is going to be impacted significantly, individuals mental health will be challenged in a variety of different ways, families are being stretched both financially and temperamentally. Meanwhile, the future of many sports has never been more uncertain.
The closure of public facilities, the lack of income through the banning of crowd attendances at sporting events, the collapse of some major sponsors primary business activities means various sports will lose vital contributors to their financial wellbeing. Broadcasters are likely to lose considerable amounts of advertising revenue and players are being asked to perform in bio-secure bubbles which are unlikely to enhance an individual’s sense of meaningful connection to the wider world. Sport is in big trouble. Financially, and practically, it cannot continue in its previous form. Something has to give for a new path towards a healthier future is to be found.
So what might be some of the possible solutions to the current crisis? A return to the amateur/semi-professional days of the post-war years? A better financial distribution model to ensure the long-term health of each sport? A recognition that professional sport has lost its way over the past decade or so and needs to be ‘cleaned up’?
I am a believer in the thinking that individuals and Organisations are wise to embrace every aspect of a crisis. It enables ‘hidden truths’ to emerge and inspires leaders to confront ‘the shadow’ which has blighted the purity of their activity.
Sport was never meant to be ‘fully professional’ – rather a welcome re-energiser from physical labour, academic pursuits, or the hum-drum of business life. It offered people the chance to re-boot oneself after exercising the mind in other areas of life. Education and developing a sound foundation to underpin future career success was the priority for most people – sport as a job rarely offered enticing prospects in terms of income or job security. Thus, the standard of play and the community spirit achieved at amateur level proved to be a positive contributor to people’s lives. Watching local teams play other local teams and enjoying the social inter-action that such duels brought enabled deep friendships to be formed. Today, it seems the club scene in many sports is ‘dying on its’ feet’.
Increasingly, I see a sporting landscape dominated by TV, and the demands of the broadcasting companies which make the viewing spectacle a real pleasure with all the innovations and camera angles, but in doing so, the media moguls have created a new world which has diminished so much of what previously contributed towards a healthy local and regional society.
The globalistaion of sport has only followed business – sport is a subset of the entertainment industry and with the advent of The FA Premier League, it created a model which other sports have attempted to follow.
The globalistaion of sport has only followed business – sport is a subset of the entertainment industry and with the advent of The FA Premier League, it created a model which other sports have attempted to follow. In cricket, the Indian Premier League is the replica model of the English-based football equivalent of a global league. Today, many young people take a greater interest in some of the Indian franchise teams than they do their local county cricket club.
For example, with Eoin Morgan starring for Kolkata Knight Riders, and Rajasthan Royals employing England’s Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer, Jos Buttler and Tom Curran in their squad, interest for some people has moved away from supporting the county teams and even possibly, the England team itself. I have friends who are positive advocates of the IPL and have little time for English cricket’s more ‘bland’ product offers.
The administrators of the game globally have been accused of over-playing, and because of the decision to centrally contract professional players, have had to ‘sell’ their national team to play an unreasonable amount of fixtures just to attempt to make ends meet financially.
The players have been the winners financially, but I would suggest at the expense of their wellbeing. There comes a point in a professional sportsperson’s life when they have to confront the end of their playing career and this can lend itself to wanting to maximise every opportunity for income. It can dilute their attention to developing excellence and develop pa level of self-interest which runs contrary to the ideals of playing a team-oriented game.
For example, nobody would really want to deny a fellow human being from optimising their earning potential, but from a cricketing perspective, I think English supporters would want to know that the next Ashes Tour would be the primary focus for ALL the players involved with England, irrespective of the riches on offer elsewhere. I am not naïve, and operating in the world of fantasy and idealism when I say this – the game in England must be careful what it wishes for.
My concern is that recreational cricket clubs are folding and adult participation is reducing, whilst ‘the chosen few’ are becoming multi-millionaires through playing the sport. Talent programmes at professional clubs are in danger of becoming ‘reality-talent shows’ where the winner takes the prize of a professional career and most of the other contestants give up the sport for good once they realise that the incentive of ‘the 1st prize’ has been taken away from them.
When I talk to fellow former cricketers about the culture of the game in schools and clubs, I hear some disconcerting tales of woe. Unless the grass-roots of the game are being properly fed and watered, where will the future players and spectators come from?
When I talk to fellow former cricketers about the culture of the game in schools and clubs, I hear some disconcerting tales of woe. Unless the grass-roots of the game are being properly fed and watered, where will the future players and spectators come from? Without a strong school/junior club-hub system, there is a risk that individuals will be drawn to other activities and pursuits. When a well-known cricketing family with a deep history of club cricket and a family member who captained his country tell me that they are more interested in the IPL than county cricket or England playing ODI’s then I sit up and wonder if this is a microcosm of the level of interest that exists in our ‘local’ game.
With 18 county cricket clubs being ‘propped up’ by ECB’s annual hand-outs. There is a danger that those ‘on the inside’ think that all is well with the game because they are being well-remunerated each month. If SKY TV were to downgrade their financial contribution to the sport then a major wake-up call is on the horizon for many involved in the professional administration of the game.
Can ‘the fat’ be cut away in advance of an impending crisis? Will cricket learn from EFL Championship and EFL League 1 & 2 clubs in professional football? The bailouts being asked of the government is unsustainable and soon, football is going to pay a heavy price for its’ excesses. It needs to become regionalised and semi-professional if it is to be a healthy survivor in the medium-term. And, this will enable players to educate themselves more soundly thus opening up broader opportunities for other employment which in turn lends itself to a likely reduction in mental health problems for the many people who compromise themselves in professional sport by playing with injuries because sport has become their sole source of income.
Opening up broader possibilities for people who are good at sport must be the goal of the administrators of clubs. And, making clubs more of a community hub would be wise too. There is so much good that can be done in local communities when the focus of the sporting organisation is to serve its’ people and not just see them as ‘punters’ to sell tickets and merchandise to. A new vision must be developed to create a better future. It will be wise to begin the process by taking a long hard look at what the playing and watching of sport really means to people and their health.
Is the Hundred the answer to ECB’s desire to ‘grow the game’ and ‘future-proof’ the sport? I don’t know… But it’s worth giving it a go if the research is accurate and the new format can attract a new audience.
Perhaps county cricket is no longer a viable model? The ECB’s constitution may well prevent it from approving the changes which some clubs feel need to happen, but ultimately, my sense is that major change to our sport is coming. It is just a matter of when, not if, it takes place.