April 15, 2023

ICC board meeting set to discuss India-Pakistan situation and the Afghanistan question

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Afghanistan, the continuing complexities of India-Pakistan and a new revenue distribution model will all be on the agenda at what is shaping up to be a portentous ICC board meeting this weekend in Dubai.

The quarterly meeting, the first of this year, began on Thursday with the women’s cricket committee and the men’s committee on Friday. But all eyes will fall on the Chief Executives’ Committee (CEC) meeting on Saturday, before the ICC Board and Finance & Commercial Affairs (F&CA) committee meet over Sunday and Monday.

It is in and around the sidelines of those meetings that the most pressing topics will be discussed:

Afghanistan’s membership

The ICC’s working group on Afghanistan will present an update to the ICC board on the situation in Afghanistan since the Taliban took power in the country in August 2021. Imran Khwaja, the ICC’s deputy chair and head of the working group, has met with officials from the ACB and Taliban in Doha twice since November. They’ve been provided assurances that the government has not interfered in cricket affairs, but also acknowledge that any women’s cricket while the Taliban are in power is near impossible.

Consequently, the working group will argue that the issue of women’s cricket is beyond the control of the ACB and so the board should not be punished. Full membership at the ICC requires the member to have a functioning women’s team but that status is unlikely to be under threat. There is, however, a growing resolve among members to act, or at least for a clear policy statement to be made.

Even the ICC management is desperate to act, not least since some Afghan women cricketers reached out to them. There has been informal talk of funding a women’s team outside of Afghanistan and without implicit ACB approval. But the working group will make the board aware that such options could prove counterproductive, even dangerous, for those on the ground in the country. It is a tightrope, in not wanting to punish Afghanistan while also wanting some progress with the women’s game.

A new revenue distribution model

The F&CA will begin discussions on a new model to divvy up the ICC’s broadcast money (and commercial earnings) over the next rights cycle. It is not going to be a simple discussion – it wasn’t for the current cycle, where the rights were sold in 2014 for eight years as one bundle to one broadcaster, for approximately USD 2.1 billion.

This time round, the ICC is selling rights separately in different regional markets, as well as unbundling them into different packages – one for TV only, one for digital only, one for both, over four and eight years – and men’s and women’s events treated separately. That has already brought a much greater value than the last cycle, even accounting for there being more events. Last August, Disney Star* secured the rights to broadcast ICC events in India for four years from 2024 to 2027. That deal is said to be worth just north of USD 3 billion. The ICC has also recently sold rights in the UK market to Sky Sports for eight years, in a deal worth around USD 260 million. On Friday, the ICC announced the US rights going to Willow, leaving the subcontinent rights (excluding India) to go.

So, much more money, but also more challenges in distributing it. The F&CA is headed by the BCCI secretary Jay Shah and given that the India market now has a tangible separate value, it will only strengthen the longstanding BCCI belief that they should receive a lion’s share of it. Smaller members are also wanting enhanced shares, especially as they ended up with less than the expected amounts from the last cycle after ICC projections fell slightly short.

The battles over the financial model last time round were epic, not least because of the tumult caused by the Big Three takeover and then eventual rollback. The BCCI, ultimately, wasn’t happy with its share. The global calendar is more fractured and complicated now, only adding to the difficulties in navigating this. The discussions will start this weekend but the expectation is to not expect a new model anytime soon.

India-Pakistan

The BCCI says India will not travel to Pakistan to play in the Asia Cup in September. The PCB says if they don’t, then Pakistan might not travel to India for the World Cup in October-November. This has been the status quo between the two members for a while now.

“We have complex issues on hand but for me when I go to the ACC (Asian Cricket Council) and ICC meetings I have kept all options open for us and we have to take a clear position now,” said the PCB head Najam Sethi at a press conference earlier this week. That is in line with the PCB belief that the Asia Cup and ICC events are linked: if India refuse to play in Pakistan for the Asia Cup, what is the guarantee they visit for the ICC’s Champions Trophy in 2025?

That is the question the PCB will be raising this weekend, though it will do so with the wriggle room that ultimately a decision on whether Pakistan travels to India for a World Cup will be made by the Pakistan government. There were reports in Pakistan earlier this week that the government had refused PCB permission to send a team to India. But state officials indicated to ESPNcricinfo that not only had no such decision had been made but that it was far too early for them to be making it.

The Future-Tours Programme

A working group looking into current and future FTP bilateral planning arrangements will be ratified at the meeting.

The group is led by Zimbabwe head Tavengwa Mukuhlani and includes the ECB’s Martin Darlow and New Zealand Cricket’s Martin Snedden and are expected to meet formally for the first time. The group is open for Full Members to address concerns heightened amid international cricket’s shrinking calendar as T20 leagues sprout worldwide.

Given the concerns about the dearth of Test matches expressed expressed recently, the group is likely to hear those concerns sooner rather than later. “The way world cricket is going now, apart from the big three, every team is barely playing any Test cricket,” Jason Holder said after their recently concluded Test series in South Africa. He was echoing comments made by Angelo Mathews, playing a two-Test series in New Zealand, as well as the MCC.

Governance Review

Discussions over ICC constitutional reforms have been ongoing for years in what has been a thorny subject.

It seemed to gain momentum during meetings last year with informal discussions over several proposals, including a single tier of ICC membership and a push for more independents to sit on the governing body’s board.

Currently Indra Nooyi, chair Greg Barclay and ICC CEO Geoff Allardice are the only independent directors on the 18-person board. But board directors have been unable to get on the same page and no such proposal was tabled last year. Discussions are set to resume in Dubai.

*Disney Star and ESPNcricinfo are part of the Walt Disney Company

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