Ireland leads the fight against ICC elites

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 June, 2011, 12:00am


His father left Sri Lanka to join the RAF in the late 1940s. By then the war was over, but a combative streak was born and it still runs in the family with Warren Deutrom gearing up for a battle against the big shots in the International Cricket Council who will meet in Hong Kong from June 26-30 to decide if a World Cup needs the world involved.

Deutrom is not alone in this fight for good. The 95 countries that comprise the associate and affiliate members - Hong Kong is an associate - of the world governing body are lining up behind the chief executive of Cricket Ireland.

'The ICC took one step forward in global promotion of the sport by expanding the Twenty20 World Cup to 16 teams, then two steps backwards by denying an opportunity to palpably capable teams from participating in its showpiece event, the 50-over World Cup,' Deutrom said.

Ireland have been in the forefront of the fight to keep the World Cup open to all after their emergence as genuine contenders on the one-day world stage. And Deutrom has been the most vociferous critic of the ICC's closed-shop plan. At one stage there was even talk of taking legal action.

On April 4, two days after India beat Sri Lanka in the World Cup final, the ICC executive board decided only the 10 full members could compete in the 2015 edition in Australia and New Zealand, cutting numbers from the 14 at this year's tournament. The decision was greeted with incredulity by both the boards and cricketers of several associate nations.

ICC president Sharad Pawar requested the tournament's composition be reassessed at the ICC's annual conference in Hong Kong. In another boost to the associates, the ICC Cricket Committee recommended there be a qualifying process for the 2015 World Cup after a two-day meeting at Lord's last month. This recommendation is far from binding, and will depend entirely on the decision of the full members of the executive board - the 10 test-playing nations.

Deutrom, who became CEO of Cricket Ireland in 2006 and has played a role in the country's rising fortunes, is quick to remind us the Hong Kong meeting will be 'the same 10 people having the same debate about the same issue'. 'The ICC's governance model fundamentally places its directors in a position whereby conflict of interest is an ever-present threat, and surely none could be more obvious than a country having to vote on whether it might miss out on a World Cup by facing off in a qualifier,' Deutrom said.

He is referring to countries like Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, the most likely nations to be forced to play in a qualifying tournament with the associates. Bangladesh are ranked ninth in the World ODI Championship, while Zimbabwe are 11th, one place behind Ireland.

'It actually places them in an invidious position of having to choose between their own best interests and their fiduciary duty as a company director,' said Deutrom, 41, who is well-versed with how the ICC works. Before joining Cricket Ireland, he was ICC events manager from 2002 to 2006. And before that, he was communications and events manager at the England and Wales Cricket Board (1998-2002).

'Quite simply, the decision the board reached was wrong,' he said. 'It embarrassed our sport on the world stage.'

Deutrom's argument is strongly backed by hard facts - more than 90 per cent of the ICC's members, its players and fans reckoned the decision was wrong. A survey carried out by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (Fica), which is the players themselves, came out strongly in support of associates being involved at future World Cups. A Cricinfo poll of 17,000 fans thought likewise.

But probably the most telling response came from the ICC's own development and cricket committee, which also figured a qualifying process was the way to go. This committee is chaired by former West Indies captain Clive Lloyd, and includes Pawar and ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat, as well as player representative Kumar Sangakkara.

'One would have thought that all these facts were incontrovertible, but equally the full members are in charge, and one hopes they fully appreciate they have to weigh their duty to the sport and its reputation as heavily as their duty to their own domestic constituencies,' Deutrom said. 'The desire is to achieve three strong formats of the game. But surely the game is more colourful, exciting and aspirational if the likes of an Ireland or an Afghanistan or even China or the US emerge to become powers of the game, rather than seeing the same teams that play day-in, day-out as the sole invitees to a private party.

'One of the great glories of sport is its uncertainty and the possibility of an upset, occasions which are often as memorable as the World Cup winning hit or a magnificent Sachin [Tendulkar] hundred. Cricket should embrace the glorious possibility of an upset by an up-and-coming team, rather than treat it is a commercial threat.'

Whether the ICC - in particular its behemoth member, the Board of Control for Cricket in India - takes heed of these words remains to be seen.

India's early departure in the knockout stages of the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies has led to the widespread belief the BCCI is behind the 10-team format. And the ICC apparently has gone along with this as it knows the power of money lies in India's huge television market.

But having been crowned world champions for the second time, India do not have to fear the minnows. And this will gives hope to Deutrom and the associates in Hong Kong next week.