10 October 2007

On the face of it the plans to restructure the Irish Cricket Union are steps in the right direction…


…and the long awaited overhaul of the engine-room of cricket in Ireland might be seen as inevitable by its critics in recent times.

Certainly the move to a corporate board should bring new ideas and entrepreneurs into the decision-making process but marrying amateur sports administrators and successful business men has never been an easy mix and it remains to be seen if this business model is the catalyst that will make things happen rather than live from year to year on a shoestring.

And that's really the crux of the ICU's future as they are cash-strapped and it's OK for critics (and players) to talk about contracts and national squads like rugby and football, but we are light years apart, and the realism is that the Irish game doesn't have the funds to contemplate such a revolutionary structure. Even the idea of overseas winter tours is fraught with challenges so unless significant funds come to the table in the near future then not much is going to change on the playing side.
In a way the ICU plans to place players in the county game is an admission of that reality and although closer links with counties might help some players, this is not a revolutionary step forward as the opportunity has always been there. In the current game talent spotters in every sport keep a watchful eye on emerging players, and are as likely to pick them up early as the ICU or a provincial union.
However, the most alarming announcement was the end of the Bank of Ireland sponsorship, and unless there is a master plan in the closet to replace them with something bigger and better, this is a huge negative. Sponsors are invaluable in modern sport and the ICU can ill afford to exist without a major sponsor for the national team as crumbs from the ICC coffers won't advance our cricket at the rate we now expect.

Thanks to Kukri for their cricket gear sponsorship but in the economies of scale this sponsorship is small beer when it comes down to what is needed to run and advance Irish cricket. Will a new board bring new ideas, sponsors, professionalism, vision and quality management to the ICU table and will it do it quickly enough to take advantage of our World Cup heroics and the success of our youth teams outside the blaze of publicity?
And what will it do for the game at grass-roots?
Right now the Irish Senior Cup, the flagship of club cricket in Ireland , remains without a sponsor, and the apathy shown by both unions and spectators for home Ireland matches must be a serious concern for the administrators of the national game. High entrance prices and limited facilities have exacerbated the debate but when it gets down to the core of the problem then we have to concede that the Irish game and its promotion at the highest level has lost touch with its grass roots. Sad to say, but many clubs, players and supporters aren't all that interested in cricket at the highest level despite the 'false dawn' of World Cup fanaticism and euphoria. When all the dust had settled and we returned to the real world it was back to small crowds, player unavailability, poor results
Well done the ICU executive in taking this step forward but we are a long way from getting the grass roots of cricket on board and unless there is a huge injection of sponsorship and funds, we won't be able to promote the game on the field and off it at the level we need to meet the expectations of a new generation that feel Irish cricket is a professional sport.
We have a long way to go!

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