Even Fifa aren’t that callous – ICC wrings the life from Hong Kong cricket
Next year’s World Cup features only 10 teams, making it next to impossible for associate nations to compete on the world stage
“Cricket is truly for all,” says the International Cricket Council in a video promoting the diverse nature of its game.
How right they are – anyone can play and you can play it just about anywhere. But here’s the disclaimer – unless you qualify to play for one of the 10 best cricketing nations in the world, you can forget about competing at the highest level.
At a time when Fifa is expanding its World Cup to include a massive 48 teams, 10 seems to be the magic number for the ICC.
Ten teams made it to the Super 10 stage of the 2016 World Twenty20 – the part where the big boys got involved – and 10 teams will take part in next year’s 50-over World Cup, down from 16 in 2007.
While depriving associate nations of the chance to take part, they’ve also taken away the David v Goliath clashes that fans love – at a time when one-day cricket is battling to stay relevant in the wake of T20’s dominance, the same games between the same teams that play all year round does little to excite.
The powers that be did just increase the number of test playing nations from 10 to 12, but for a budding Hong Kong player that would mean very little.
“Inclusion is a huge part of cricket,” says the video, but it seems the ICC are referring to stories like the Hong Kong domestic helpers that formed a team rather than the actual Hong Kong team who would give anything to take on the world’s best.
It is a time of great uncertainty for Hong Kong cricket despite their historic win over Afghanistan in the World Cup qualifiers this week.
The sport has been booted from the Asian Games, meaning in turn that Hong Kong’s cricketers are getting the boot from the Sports Institute.
Their ODI status is up in the air and hangs on their performance at a tournament the ICC hold in such high regard that they’ve hidden it away in Zimbabwe with minimal exposure.
In other words, unless it’s India v Pakistan in a one-dayer or the Ashes, the sport’s governing body doesn’t much care.
To give some perspective to what Hong Kong are up against in their bid to qualify for next year’s ODI World Cup, they need to finish in the top two in a tournament that features test-playing nations Zimbabwe, the West Indies, Ireland and Afghanistan.
Thanks for coming, better luck next time.
However, had the World Cup featured 16 teams like it did back in 2007 – or even 14 like the last iteration in 2015 – Hong Kong would be right in the mix.
If they do keep their ODI status, that entitles them to continue playing official matches against other associates with the same status, but still no matches against the best of the best.
So while Hong Kong’s national side are better than they’ve ever been – and the territory’s highest-ranked sports team – it seems they are no closer to reaching the “real” top level.
World Cup’s are supposed to be festivals, events that pit minnows against heavyweights and events that sometimes see those minnows bring down those heavyweights.
Iceland’s Euro 2016 win over England was celebrated far and wide, but the ICC ain’t having none of that.
In fact, it is the very reason they’ve trimmed the World Cup to within an inch of its life: when Ireland defeated Pakistan and Bangladesh knocked off India in the 2007 showpiece, the ICC lost its most prized possession – India v Pakistan.
There’s a reason the ICC tries to pool the two sides together in every international tournament and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work it out.
Of course, the Indian market is crucial, but it’s not going anywhere.
So while the ICC focus on their bottom line and pedal their “cricket is for all” nonsense, teams like Hong Kong are left to sit back and ponder just how little the suits they trust to run the game actually want them strutting their stuff on the world stage.
Truth is, Hong Kong sportspeople are largely a realistic lot – decades of mediocrity has ensured that – but they need a dream to cling to.
However, it seems the ICC are destined to wring the life out of any team that isn’t already in the games’ top echelon. Even the corrupt mob over at Fifa aren’t that callous.