We all win with give and take
Hong Kong cricket's 'Fab Four' were all smiles when the International Cricket Council's annual conference ended on Thursday as it was an unprecedented success. Take a bow president Shahzada Saleem, chairman Dinesh Tandon, secretary John Cribbin and general manager Danny Lai - you have all done the local game a huge service. The tangible benefits of hosting the ICC talking shop will only be clearly seen down the line. But what is evident at first glance is that cricket's profile has been raised tremendously among the people who really matter - the government - and this is bound to have positive ramifications.
The four top officials of the Hong Kong Cricket Association have this past week been pressing the flesh, engaging in corridor diplomacy and wining and dining the international powerbrokers, all for the benefit of the local game. Top ICC officials have been very impressed with these efforts. They had a fabulous conference organised for them - no other sport in Hong Kong has managed to land a high-level jamboree of its world governing body - with the slick efficiency Hong Kong is famous for. So much so the ICC is seriously thinking of commercialising the annual conference, and trying to make it a money-spinner.
Hong Kong has opened the ICC's eyes to this possibility. While the ICC paid for all the costs, including flying in all the delegates and putting them up in five-star luxury, the HKCA had to bear the cost for the opening night cocktails and the gala dinner. That amounted to more than HK$500,000, which they recouped from sponsors and patrons. In return, the association had open access to some of the most powerful men in world cricket, and they went out to bat for Hong Kong. Both ICC president Sharad Pawar and chief executive Haroon Lorgat impressed upon Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen the important role the game plays in this city - and, as Lorgat pointed out, it has done since 1841.
In his welcome speech, Lorgat thanked Tsang for the support shown by the government. I cannot recall in what form this support has been given. Perhaps it was a thank you in advance for a ground and a new home for Hong Kong cricket. If that wasn't enough, we understand Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing was also ardently courted at the gala dinner. Pawar had been briefed on the needs of Hong Kong cricket, and it is believed he put in a word with the other Tsang of the pressing need for more facilities. 'Hopefully, the government will help us out. We have got very positive feedback so far,' Tandon says.
We will have to wait and see if the seeds bear fruit. But what Hong Kong can enjoy right now is the fact they are in with a shout of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. The ICC rescinded its decision to turn the next World Cup into an event solely for the 10 full members, and instead reinstated it to a 14-team format. But the ICC took its pound of flesh by cutting the number of associates at next year's World Twenty20 from six to just two. Yet, Hong Kong cannot complain as the benefits of being in the qualifying picture for the 2015 World Cup translates into much-needed funds for the association.
By dint of remaining in the World Cricket League Division Two, Hong Kong is classified as an ICC high-performance country and will receive annual funding of US$350,000 until 2013. Lorgat revealed the ICC would stick to the same qualifying process used for the 2011 World Cup; it means Hong Kong will take part in the final qualifying event in Scotland in 2013 where 12 teams will vie for the four berths at the 2015 World Cup.
Cribbin, Hong Kong's man inside ICC circles, was right when he said the world governing body 'gives with one hand and takes with the other'. But we cannot complain too much. Lorgat tried to justify it by saying 'if you change one [2015 World Cup], you have to change the other [World Twenty20]'. What he meant was that there were cost implications and when the ICC decided originally to cut the associates out of the World Cup, it translated into increasing numbers at the T20 championship. When the World Cup decision was revoked, it was also forced to go back to the format for the last World T20 - won by England in 2010 - when only 12 teams took part.
You win some, you lose some. At the end of the day, Hong Kong emerged overall winners. The game's profile has been increased, the government is aware that cricket is more than just the Hong Kong Sixes, and the national side are assured of funding until 2013 and have a chance, albeit slim, of qualifying for the 2015 World Cup. It's been a great week for the local game.