The Board of Cricket Ireland today confirmed investment in the Provincial Unions and grassroots game, provided an update on international and domestic fixtures, and outlined a range of cost-saving measures designed to buffer the organisation and the sport during a period of great uncertainty due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Board, which met ‘virtually’ last Wednesday using video-conferencing technology, considered staffing, operations and a range of scenarios for the home season, given the great unknown of when ‘normal activity’ will be allowed to resume.
Warren Deutrom, Chief Executive of Cricket Ireland, said:
“Like all parts of our society, the cricket community of Ireland has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and our thoughts and best wishes go out to every member of the cricket family who is doing their part in helping to stop the spread of this virus, or who may have a loved one affected by this outbreak.”
“The Board’s mandate to Cricket Ireland management was to develop a series of recommendations that not only balance the short-term needs of guiding the organisation and the sport through the crisis, but to look ahead to how we will be positioned in dealing with the longer-term impacts caused as a result of this situation. It was readily acknowledged that the knock-on effects of the crisis will be almost as challenging - if not more challenging - to the future of the sport as are the immediate issues being experienced.”
“Cricket is not unique in this scenario – every sport across Ireland is facing the same set of dilemmas, however, each sport will have still have its own peculiar issues that will need to be addressed. CEO’s from other national governing bodies maintain fairly regular contact with each other, and there is clearly a very collegiate feeling amongst the sports community at present. We all believe in the resilience of Irish sport to pull through this crisis, but equally we are not blind to the fact that the consequences may last for some time. Even the rescheduling of other sports and events can impact our own. For example, we are now looking at the Euros – with its Irish-hosted component of the tournament – now falling right in the middle of what could be an incredibly busy home season for us in 2021.”
Regarding the outlook for international cricket in the following months, Deutrom said:
“We're all going to have to take a pragmatic approach - we just don't know what's going to happen even if sport does get back up and running in June. With regards to international cricket, we remain in a wait-and-see holding pattern. Clearly, there is a high risk that our men’s home series against New Zealand and Pakistan - scheduled for June and July respectively - may be postponed if Government restrictions remain in place.”
“Of course, some of the challenges we face in trying to bring some degree of certainty are no different to any other sport with international opposition – for example, attaining visas for visiting teams and their support staff may not be possible as the Department of Foreign Affairs and the UK Foreign Office are currently not processing visa applications. In addition, each country will take the advice of their home government, so teams may not even be in a position to travel to Europe. More specific to our situation, both New Zealand and Pakistan are visiting multiple countries on their tours, so that adds an extra layer of complexity. Then there are more logistical issues such as hotel and international flight bookings, the movement and staffing of broadcast facilities, and complying with the restrictions that may still exist around large group gatherings."
“Irish cricket also faces some challenges stemming from the fact that we have no permanent stadium and rely heavily upon temporary infrastructure at our matches. Not only does this extend our lead-times for series preparation, but also - at this time of crisis – we are aware that there is a shortage of temporary or portable infrastructure on the market as most is understandably in use by the HSE and HSCNI.”
“For our senior women’s team, we have already had to postpone a tour to Thailand, and we are maintaining contact with ICC in relation to the 50-over World Cup Qualifier scheduled for July. We should know more shortly – and, of course, if the tournament somehow did proceed then we would have to look at warm-up or preparation matches. Where, when, against whom – these are still great unknowns for us.”
“So, we wait and watch – and while definitive decisions have not been made yet, it is realistic to assume that the current scheduled timings will be subject to change.”
With regards to supporting domestic cricket and the grassroots game, the Board agreed to Cricket Ireland continuing all regular payments to the Provincial Unions. These payments, made by the national governing body every year, go towards essential running costs including administrative and development officers, rental subsidies, game development programme funding, and costs of supporting coaches and player-support services.
“At a recent meeting with the Provincial Union General Managers, it was clear that there was a genuine risk to the sustainability of the Provincial Union businesses from the reduction in commercial and club activity caused by this crisis. As a major creditor of the Unions, the Cricket Ireland Board had no hesitation in extending this much-needed support to give the Unions some degree of security in these uncertain times.”
Furthermore, the Board were presented with further proactive measures aimed at supporting the club and grassroots game – these will be further considered and announced in May 2020.
With regards to domestic fixture scheduling, Deutrom said:
“There is much goodwill in the cricket community for the men’s Test Triangle Inter-Provincial Series, the women’s Super 3s and the national cup competitions. We have a range of models for what shape each competition might take, but once again it depends largely on the date we can get some form of cricket underway. Again, we will have to be pragmatic but Irish cricket fans should rest assured we shall do all we can to hold viable competitions this year.”
“One scenario we are looking at is to play as many Inter-Provincial matches as possible on weekdays only. This will give clubs the maximum opportunity to utilise their grounds for play on weekends, and enable some clubs to generate revenue through activities such as bar takings. It may not always be possible - for instance, any T20 Festivals should be centred around weekends - but we will work closely with Provincial Unions and clubs on the great jigsaw puzzle of fixture scheduling that lies ahead.”
The Board also approved a range of cost-saving measures in relation to Cricket Ireland’s staff and players. Deutrom said:
“The Board recognised that with major impacts upon our operations, revenue shortfalls through loss of broadcast and sponsorship revenue, and uncertainty still about when we will be able to restart, prudent measures were required to buffer the organisation through at least the next two months. Preserving jobs and ensuring Cricket Ireland will be in a fit position to commence operations when we return to normal were central to those deliberations.”
“We will continue to support all employees as they work from home, maintaining all operational, IT and human resources support to ensure the work can continue. However, starting this month all non-playing staff will see a 20 per cent reduction in their salaries for April and May. I shall take an additional 5% cut which will apply to the end of 2020. Staff will also be asked to take some mandatory leave between now and the end of May. In addition, employees based in the North will be furloughed until the end of May, in line with the UK Government’s job retention scheme.”
“In relation to our contracted players, the Board recognised that the players were already losing out significantly through loss of match fees from a number of already-postponed, and possibly to-be-postponed series, and that to ask them to take a further cut to their base remuneration – with no guarantee that all cricket might be rescheduled – would be unreasonable.”
“The Board has not taken these decisions lightly, but recognised that keeping 100% of our personnel on 100% pay in a period of massively-reduced activity and threats to all levels of the game was untenable. However, as an organisation we will support our people as best we can, and will endeavour to keep the interests of the sport, our people and the many businesses across Ireland who rely on our operations first and foremost. We can’t get away from the fact that there will be some short term pain, but we hope these difficult measures will help the sport recover quickly once this crisis passes.”
In more administrative matters, the Board also agreed to the postponement of the Annual General Meeting – which was due to be held in late April - until a date that could ensure physical attendance by members. Finally, the Board also agreed to meet on at least a monthly basis – as opposed to the regular bi-monthly frequency – for the duration of the crisis.