Monday, November 16, 2009

Ashes are not 'crown jewels' yet, says Giles Clarke

Giles Clarke is confident that the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) can overturn the recommendation of the David Davies review that home Ashes Test matches be returned to free-to-air television after 2013, a move that would be sure to adversely affect ECB revenues which rely heavily on an exclusive deal with Sky Sports.

He does not expect a legal challenge – which has been mooted – to be necessary.

“We haven’t taken legal advice and are not intending to do so,” Clarke said. “I’m confident that the response of cricket’s recreational arm and the Government’s understanding of the situation will produce a logical and sensible resolution to this situation. This is now an issue for the Government to grapple with. We’ve had a very sensible hearing from the Government in the past.”

Davies’s recommendations, which would affect various sports but perhaps none as severely as cricket, which draws substantial revenue – the ECB puts it at over £90m - from Sky’s coverage of the Ashes, now pass to the culture secretary Ben Bradshaw and sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe for a 12-week period of consultation.

Clarke believes that during this time, cricket will be able to put a case that was largely denied it by Davies’s committee, which invited the ECB to only one of 14 meetings. The one cricketing expert on Davies’s nine-man panel, Angus Fraser, was one of four to vote against the Ashes being returned to free-to-air TV.

“The government are big supporters of community cricket and they realise the importance of the anti-obesity programme and how critical it is to get children in state schools playing cricket,” Clarke added.

“We’ve got to convince the Government that economically cricket cannot afford this, and we will. The future of the game as our national summer sport stands in high risk and I’m not going to allow it to be destroyed by an act of shoddy opportunism by David Davies. I’m confident that this is a Government that listens and cares intensely about the issue of sport in the community.”

ECB officials insist that if Davies’s recommendations are adopted, jobs at grass-roots level will be lost. “Should we be putting aside £7m for redundancies?” Clarke said. “Is the Government going to have us enforce half those working in the grassroots game into redundancy? Is that the best way to build a side to beat Australia?”

The situation is complicated by the fact that neither BBC nor Channel 4, terrestrial broadcasters who have shown cricket in the past, seem keen to screen cricket again, while Sky would need to raise its reach to 95 per cent of the available audience to qualify for free-to-air coverage. Sky’s reach is expected to pass 90 per cent after the digital switchover.

On the back of lucrative deals with Sky the ECB has managed to build up substantial financial reserves of around £30m from a £2m overdraft in 2001, but the board fears that this money would quickly be absorbed if Davies recommendations were adopted.

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