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From Big-3 to decentralising power: Will the ICC’s recent reforms improve the governance of cricket?

From Big-3 to decentralising power: Will the ICC’s recent reforms improve the governance of cricket?
Wednesday, 22 June 2016 By Desh Gaurav Sekhri

The International Cricket Council (“ICC”) has undergone a series of changes and reform over the past six years. With reform becoming a buzzword in cricket administration over the past half-dozen years, the ICC has undergone three major attempts at transformation, leading into the most recent reforms of 2016.

This article analyses the changes that have occurred to the governance and administration of international cricket from the Woolf Report in 2012 through to the present day. It also considers in parallel the development of the governance and administration of cricket in India.


Phase 1: The Woolf Report (2012)

In 2012, the ICC commissioned an independent governance review headed by Lord Woolf, the former Chief Justice of England & Wales. The Woolf Report, published on 1st February 2012, took the ICC to task and suggested 65 recommendations in total, which would have impacted many facets of how the ICC was run.1 Best industry practices, the expansion of the ‘Member Nation’ roster, reform in the voting system, and a revised allocation of funding in a more equitable manner were among the primary recommendations.

The Woolf Report formed the basis of many future reviews in cricket administration, including the most recent and well-known judicial committee recommendation, the Justice Lodha Committee Report,2 that could well re-calibrate cricket administration in India. The Justice Lodha Committee report is explained in detail in the section below on reforms in the Indian context.

Despite the comprehensive submissions contained within the Woolf Report, and its potential for reforming global cricket, the recommendations were largely ignored. However, it is worth recapping some of the key path-breaking reforms.3

One important recommendation was to expand the executive board of the ICC, and change its structure by inducting five independent directors. In contrast to the existing set up at the time, this recommendation was suggested to ensure greater transparency, and a more level playing field for the non-test playing nations. It had been felt that the ICC was geared more towards prioritizing the Full Member nations, sometimes at the cost of expanding and developing global cricket. It was to counter this that the Woolf report wanted to recalibrate the executive board for conflict-free decision making.

The report also recommended a realigning of the membership tiers in the ICC. The existing set up has:

  • 10 Full Member Test-playing nations;
  • Second tier of Associate countries where cricket is firmly entrenched and gaining in popularity; and
  • Third tier of Affiliate countries where cricket was played in accordance with the Laws of Cricket, but perhaps not to the extent it was played in Associate nations.

The Woolf report suggested doing away with the Affiliate category and also suggested a detailed review to expand membership in the Full Member category. It advocated greater opportunities for Associate nations to play with Full Member nations, and that Full Members need not necessarily be Test-playing nations. If the latter suggestion was accepted, then countries would have the ability to gain access to greater funding from the ICC and a greater say in the administration of cricket overall.

Also addressed was the Future Tours Programme (“FTP”), where it was recommended that more opportunities be provided to Associate nations beyond the ICC events such as the ICC World Cup, in order for the Associate nations to gain points for world rankings, and to improve their level of play.


Phase 2: the prominence of the “Big Three” (2014)

As noted above, the Woolf Report was, unfortunately, largely ignored. Instead, in 2014, the ICC instead went the opposite way, choosing to concentrate power in the hands of the three most powerful cricketing nations: the Board of Control for Cricket in India (“BCCI”), Cricket Australia (“CA”), and the England & Wales Cricket Board (“ECB”) - together know as the “Big Three”.

The era of the Big Three was invoked as a measure to try to drive the ICC’s leadership through fiscal sensibility and a market-led initiative. India, Australia and England were identified as the key revenue and profit drivers for global cricket and the Big Three were essentially given carte blanche to govern the sport globally. Leadership roles were given to the representatives of these three cricket boards on the core ICC committees, and revenue control was placed in their hands, effectively allowing them to steer the direction of the ICC.4

The fabric of the ICC was modified to ensure a rotational policy of leadership, headed by an independent chairman appointed for a period of two years, who would lead the ICC into a new era of reform.The BCCI was de-facto appointed to initiate the reform owning to its role as the market leader and most influential cricket body in the world. Its president at the time, N. Srinivasan, was appointed as the inaugural chairman.

The key components of the Big Three phase dealt with the reformulation of committees that featured the BCCI, CA and ECB representatives at their helm. A new executive committee was formed that allocated permanent memberships for the three boards, and was empowered to circumvent all other committees’ recommendations. After protests within the ICC, Cricket South Africa was also included in the committee.

A new model was also set up for the ICC revenue distribution, favoring the Big Three and effectively allocating a larger chunk of the funds to them. The positions of the chairman, executive committee chairman, and the head of the finance and commercial affairs committee were to be nominees of the Big Three. FTP arrangements were overhauled, and binding bilateral agreements between two nations’ cricket boards prevailed for the period between 2015-2023.

There was however a process shared by the ICC to try to help successful Associate nations attain Test status. They proclaimed that:

The winner of the next ICC Intercontinental Cup will be entitled to take part in a play-off against the bottom-ranked Full Member and, if successful, obtain Test status ….This complements the pathways that are already in place for any Member to be able to qualify for the major events in ODI and T20I cricket."6

Overall, the Big Three phase was criticized for being autocratic, and for damaging further the already deteriorating perception of the ICC serving less of the global development and Associate nations’ growth, and instead mollifying the demands of the Big Three cricket boards.7


Phase 3: removal of power from the Big Three (2016)

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Written by

Desh Gaurav Sikri

Desh Gaurav Sekhri

Desh Gaurav Sekhri is one of the first Sports Attorneys in India, and he leads the Sports law practice at J. Sagar Associates (“JSA”), a premier national law firm, since he joined in February, 2009. He is also the author of “Not Out! The incredible story of the Indian Premier League”.

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