Now is not the time to forget about the game

Although we should all be concentrating our efforts on staying healthy and preventing the spread of the virus, there really isn’t much the vast majority of us can do other than wash our hands and stay at home as much as possible.

As a moody, unsociable young teenager with acne, I did that all the time. The staying at home part, not the hand-washing bit. Who would have thought the words of my frustrated mother all those years ago would one day become so prescient: “Good luck achieving anything worthwhile by staying at home all day…”

Anyway, hopefully most people are using the time constructively by planning for a brighter future, however bleak it feels right now. I know I’m only one of many millions pondering a largely income-free few months but that’s no reason not to plan for the time when cricket starts again.

Last week Cricket South Africa hosted its annual Chief Executives meeting. It lasted for two days and, I hear, there was some robust conversation and debate – which is the good news. The bad news is that some of those still in charge of running the domestic game claim there is nothing fundamentally wrong with the structure despite massive and irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Self-serving denialists.

There are six Franchises and 15 Provincial Teams. But below them are also 15 Academies – yes, each Province has its own Academy, remarkably. But wait, there’s more. Below the Academies there are 57 Hubs around the country, established with the purpose of creating first ‘entry points’ into the game for young players who not otherwise have had the chance to get into the ‘system’.

The facilities and costs of the Hubs vary but each one bears the expense of at least a coach and assistant coach as well as rent or a contribution to the upkeep on an existing facility, usually a club, school or University in a disadvantaged area of the country.

Players with potential from the Hubs may be offered ‘Academy contracts’ at one of the Provinces – or they could skip that stage and move straight to a Provincial contract. Academy contracts may include a contribution towards subsistence costs, as well as study costs. Provincial contracts vary, too, but for the most part players in their early-to-mid 20s can get by on what they are paid. Most of them are living in a comfort zone without the desire, ambition or talent to move out of it.

The cost of this huge pyramid, in just the last two years, was in the region of R680 million. It cannot be sustained for even one more year on projected income forecasts. Another two years will lead to the guaranteed bankruptcy of the game.

This vast structure was created in the name of development, which is laudable, but what’s the point if it leads to a situation in which there is no ‘game’ from which new players can derive a living?

Only when we get to the six Franchise squads is there a chance of earning some revenue through sponsorship, but it does not come close to a break-even point.

Then, right at the top of the pyramid, are men’s and women’s Proteas teams. They fund everything below them. In time, the revenue generated by the women’s team will grow but, for now, well over 95% of CSA’s annual revenue is generated by the men’s team. And they are scheduled to play less cricket than ever before over the next four years and, consequently, the international television deal with Star TV, which was renegotiated earlier this month, has decreased by approximately 30% between now and 2024.

The numbers are eye-watering and, as I mentioned, irrefutable. So why is it that a section of the supposedly intelligent men (that’s the first problem, right there) cannot accept the truth – that CSA is heading towards a cliff-drop at extreme pace?

The first is self-interest. None of the 15 provinces is prepared to countenance being discarded from the current structure or disbanding the Academy system. Everybody enjoyed the idea of welcoming Limpopo and Mpumalanga to the cricket family but nobody told them there wasn’t enough food on the table to feed the existing family members.

The second is development. CSA has become so highly politicised in the last two years under the defunct presidency of Chris Nenzani and rampant spending of suspended CEO, Thabang Moroe, that very few – other than his acting replacement, Dr.Jacques Faul – are prepared to tell it like it is. The fear of being labelled ‘anti-development’ (and by insinuation, ‘anti-transformation’) has left too administrators with their heads permanently buried and eyes averted.

“Cut wherever you like,” they say, “just not from me, my province or the development budget.”

Standard Bank saw this state of affairs last year and opted to leave the party, firmly closing the door behind them. The second largest sponsor, Momentum, said they would consider staying longer but only if Nenzani and his deputy, Beresford Williams, resigned from the board. Neither of them even bothered to reply. Over 10,000 people in this country rely directly on cricket for their livelihood and there will be no livelihood without sponsors, but Nenzani and Williams have stayed. Nothing has changed.

One day, hopefully, the Covid-19 virus will no longer be dominating our lives. Also, hopefully, those of us who struggled through and survived – financially and literally – will be able to return to our former livelihoods. But something is going to have to change massively at CSA for that to happen. My concern is that it may not while our attention is so strongly, and understandably, diverted.

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