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Moving on at pace

Posted in Disability Cricket

This year has started at a pace. No sooner had our Learning Disability squad touched down from their series Down Under than we are straight into the preparations for another season of increased disability cricket activity. I’ll update you on some of the projects that I have ongoing at the moment.

Something that reared its head towards the end of last year was the Davies Report into listed free to air sports events. One of the proposals made was that home Ashes series should be added to the list and therefore the broadcasting rights would be unable to be sold to the highest bidder as has happened in previous years. Sadly, it is a fact of life that sport is now inextricably linked to commercial sponsorship and support. The effect of this proposal, if it is agreed by the Secretary of State for Culture Media and Sport, is estimated as meaning a loss to ECB of over £100m over a four year period.

Now when you consider how much money has come into disability cricket alone over the last three years in terms of additional tournaments, funding of national squads, total funding of national competitions etc it is not hard to imagine where the impact of such a loss of revenue is going to be felt most.

Funding and support of the grassroots game in this country will take a massive hit if these proposals are agreed. There is no coincidence that the rise in popularity in cricket is as a result of the profile given to it by the success of our senior men's and womens' team and the support of Sky as a media partner.

Therefore a lot of my time has been spent lobbying against the proposals and raising awareness of the impact on the disability game. I’m not alone - Clare Connor and Tessa Whieldon to name but two of my colleagues at ECB are using the period between now and the beginning of March when a decision is expected by the Secretary of State to raise awareness of the impact that support of these proposals will have on our game.

Next time you are at a new indoor net facility consider whether that facility would be there if ECB had not part funded it. The proposals within the Davies report represent the most serious threat to investment in grassroots cricket that most of us can’s that serious. Please take the time to write to your MP and request that they write to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to oppose the proposals outlined in the Davies report.

On a brighter note I am pleased to report that the amount of disability cricket development activity happening up and down the country is increasing month on month.

As part of our Whole Sport Plan funding commitment to Sport England, Tessa Whieldon and myself are currently undertaking a review of each of the disability development forum regions - nine in total.

Last week we met with Jeff Levick and Greig Stewart, from the South and West, and Richard Hill, from London and East, who outlined activity taking place in their regions and it is quite staggering when you consider where disability cricket was, say five years ago.

We have been able to announce a 66 per cent increase in participation in our focus clubs alone, so that doesn’t include those who are playing the game in other community locations such as schools, leisure centres and non Focus Clubs.

A sure sign that we are turning the corner and beginning to be recognised amongst the wider cricketing community was the number of coaches who visited the disability cricket stand at the recent National Conference and expressed an interest in getting involved and working with players with a disability. My thanks to Ian, Les, Richard, Bill, Ron and Neal for helping to man the stand over the weekend.

Congratulations must also go to Adam Hall of Essex who won the Sky Sports Young Coach of the Year Award, not least for his work with disabled cricketers in Essex and the London Boroughs. Deserved recognition for very hardworking coach who has made a spectacular impact over the last few years.

Congratulations too, to Shaun Rigby, a leg amputee from Telford in Shropshire who was selected for Shropshire Cricket Boards EPP (Emerging Players Programme). A fantastic achievement and recognition of Shaun’s cricketing ability and a clear sign that cricket boards are beginning to see ability over disability as well.

Further afield I have been able to make some progress regarding international cricket for those with physical disabilities. ICC have supported my request to pull together an international group tasked with developing an international structure for physical disability cricket.

Last week I circulated an invitation to a meeting in Dubai to all the CEOs of the major Test playing nations and the Game Development Managers in those countries. This will see how much of an appetite there is out there from the national governing bodies for a structured international game for the physically disabled.

I’m pleased to say that both our own Chief Executive David Collier and Managing Director Cricket Partnerships Mike Gatting are fully supportive of this attempt to bring some organisation and structure to the physically disabled game.

I have to be honest and say this is a small but significant step along the way and that the more important meetings will come further down the line when the international representatives sit down to agree the format of the game and the eligibility criteria.

Until we have stated expressions of interest and support for this development we can’t move forward. Again, in the context of the Davies report, it is important to recognise that it is ECB leading the way and trying to establish pathways for people with all levels of disability to excel on the world stage.

Some will say that it has taken too long for us to get to this stage and that even now not enough is being done. I can assure you that plenty is being done and at levels above myself but we can only move at a pace that other countries can manage. It is fair to say that the disabled game in this country is far in advance of other nations.

I remain optimistic we will start to see developments with physical disability cricket and that we will play a major role in deciding how things will look. I say a major as opposed to a deciding role.

Each different country that I speak to has a different view on how things should be structured. We currently adopt a pan disability system where people with any physical disability are able to play. Some countries are in favour of categorised cricket where we would have wheelchair-only cricket. Conceivably this would lead to amputee cricket and Cerebral Palsy Cricket and this would bring cricket into line with other sports but would be a huge management undertaking.

Then there is cricket where any variation of several proposed points systems could be used to categorise players. My point being here that we need an agreement by all nations on what system cricket will adopt and how it will be managed and reviewed. There is lots to discuss and I’ll keep you updated via this blog as to any progress being made.

Increasingly disability cricket is making news both locally and nationally and more and more people are aware of the efforts that have been made to develop the sport for people with all types of disability.

I’ve talked about this before but the point is still relevant – the image of the disabled game is paramount at the moment. People who witness any form of disability cricket for the first time will form an impression based on what they see.

We, as a generation of players, coaches, managers and administrators have an obligation to those that will come into the game to ensure that the impression that people have of us is a positive one and that disability cricket is a sport that people wish to be associated with. We are all effectively salesmen of our product. The more impressive the product the more interest in it there will be.

I think I’ve probably gone on enough now and still haven’t got through half of what is happening at present. I’ll save that for my next blog.

I hope your preparations for the new season are going well.