Cricket, like all sport, needs to stand on its own feet

It strikes me that there would be an understandable outcry if Cricket South Africa (or SA Rugby or SAFA, for that matter) went cap in hand to president Cyril Ramaphosa and asked for a small slice of the R500 billion ‘stimulus package’ if and when the time comes when their money runs out. Which is exactly why every effort should be made to allow them to help themselves, as soon as possible.

Discussions around the safe and successful staging of the T20 World Cup in Australia in October and November seem hopelessly optimistic. The 16 teams due to compete make it the largest and most logistically challenging cricket tournament in history. Even if the first round featuring only the non-Test playing minnows was cancelled, it would still leave a small monolith to lift. Apart from condemning all the smaller nations to financial ruin.

In India and Australia the return of live cricket is being given the platform for discussion it merits, not because the competition between teams is as important as the health and safety of a population, but because live sport would serve a variety of important purposes while the vast majority of the world’s population remains in Lockdown.

There are literally hundreds of billions of dollars and pounds waiting to be paid by broadcasters around the world for various products they have ordered and signed contracts for. The fact that those sporting products will be compromised without a crowd will be more than off-set by what are sure to be record TV audiences with so many millions of people confined to home.

In England the topic of restarting main-stream sport is higher on the agenda than anywhere else, even India and Australia. It is not regarded as ‘inappropriate’ or ‘insensitive’, and it has nothing to do with that nation’s love of sport. It is simply recognised as what it is – a way to kick-start a vast section of the economy while relieving the tedium of the masses and, hopefully, continue to relieve the strain on the health service.

The fear in South Africa is that it barely appears up for discussion. As I wrote in my previous article, the Indian team’s short visit to this country for three T20 Internationals at the end of August is now worth around R180 million with the currency’s continued depreciation against the dollar. It is money which will keep the game alive, just, for another year.

But with Ramaphosa’s government not even allowing the population to go for solo walks during Level 4 Lockdown, they appear highly unlikely to countenance a small squad of 20 cricket players and management, tested and isolated 14 days before arrival, to be safely transported and quarantined at a single venue for the purpose of playing international sport.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has spoken of hosting its international fixtures this summer at select, ‘bio-secure’ venues which have five-star hotels literally on the boundary’s edge and, more recently, Surrey County Cricket Club Chairman, Richard Thompson, suggested they could extend the domestic county championship beyond the scheduled September finish by re-locating the teams to Abu Dhabi where they could play at the magnificent Sheikh Zayed Stadium and it’s two adjoining, smaller grounds.

It may sound fanciful and far-fetched but it is not. The Emirate has more than enough hotel accommodation and has already offered its facilities. Provided the players were all tested and cleared, and kept in quarantine, it would be manageable. It is easy to see problems but history tells us that the world’s most successful innovators, businessmen and statesmen are the ones who see solutions where others see difficulties.

“We’re in extraordinary times, and extraordinary times call for extraordinary decisions,” Thompson said on BBC radio. “I don’t know how this will play out, but if that’s a possibility it’s clearly something that’s got to be considered.

“Abu Dhabi have made it clear that they could host matches if the season were to be extended. There are some challenges there because you’ve got the T20 World Cup in Australia and some T20Is and ODIs that England should be playing in India around that time, but Abu Dhabi and Dubai are very well known to English cricket.”

The Ramaphosa government has its reasons for the draconian approach it has taken, and most of them are very good reasons. Adopting a ‘one size fits all’ set of laws for the individual population was really the only practical choice, however impractical it is in reality.

Doing so with businesses, presumably, is even harder – especially when so many have no chance of rebuilding (literally in the case of the construction industry) without endangering thousands of employees, their families and co-habitants.

But where high-profile sport has the capacity and budget to operate safely – including the chartering of aircraft and entire hotels where necessary – perhaps it should be allowed to do so. In South Africa, Ramaphosa needs to raise as much revenue as possible for the Solidarity Fund.

If the price of a ‘special operating license’ was a 10% levy of money generated by the event, it is a price very much worth paying.

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