NEIL MANTHORP: Cricket in lockdown isolation is possible, and Faul can make it happen
A virus-free India team playing in an empty ground would at least allow millions of rand to flow into the economy
There is an understandable but misguided notion among nonfollowers that talk of playing sport, any sport, behind closed doors is irrelevant, premature, inappropriate and even disrespectful. I sympathise with that view, but naturally disagree though purely from an economic point of view.
There is no sporting contest on earth worth more than a single, healthy life, and the argument that it should resume to raise morale and put smiles on peoples’ faces is a little fatuous. Actually, the resumption of live sport could keep millions of people healthy by keeping them at home and putting food on the table.
Television networks and broadcasting houses pay billions of dollars to sports bodies for a certain number of fixtures or hours a year or for a “cycle”. When that product cannot be delivered, for whatever reason, it constitutes a breach of contract.
Broadcasters are not charities. Without content, they cannot recoup their investments from advertisers or subscribers.
Cricket SA’s acting CEO, Dr Jacques Faul, was misrepresented at the start of lockdown when he was quoted as saying that Cricket SA “would not be affected”. The missing word was the most important — “yet”.
It is inappropriate to suggest that anybody should be “fortunate” during the pandemic. But Faul did explain that Cricket SA, because of the timing of the global lockdown, had a larger window before it was immediately affected. But, if and when it is affected, it will be devastating.
“We missed the last few weeks of our domestic season, which was unfortunate for the fans, players and sponsors, but if we are still not playing by August then we will be hit very, very hard,” Faul said on Monday.
“We have three T20 matches scheduled against India in August, which could be critical to our whole year. If they are cancelled then we are looking at a bleak picture,” Faul said.
Broadcasters are known to pay in the region of $3m per T20 involving the Indian national team. So, given the depreciation of the rand in recent weeks, the value of that short series has increased from about R135m to more than R160m, which is why every effort should be made now to start planning for ways to stage it.
Sport is played for the benefit of fans, of course, and large crowds are at its heart. But there is also a business to consider, and those same people will still watch on television, providing ratings that satisfy advertisers who pay money for the airtime, all of which keeps the economy moving.
Sport, correctly, is not regarded as a priority in times of crisis, but it is part of the oil that keeps the engine running so that health and security forces can still function.
The England and Wales Cricket Board’s head of events, Steve Elworthy, estimated recently that a “core” team of “essential players and staff” required to stage an international cricket fixture would number about 500. But that was before the majority of the world had locked itself down.
Elworthy was still thinking conventionally. He had included playing and coaching squads of 20, caterers, full ground staff, limited security, media and even commentators.
Caterers? Prepacked lunches. Security? Padlock all but one side entrance. Media? Zoom press conference. Commentators? Do it from home. Cameramen? No more than six required — the rest of the cameras can be operated manually or live-streamed.
Only the head ground curator and four staff required. If it rains, so be it. No covers. Umpires? Yes, we need them.
The Proteas’ next two assignments involve a white-ball tour of Sri Lanka (three ODIs and three T20Is) in June and a two-Test, five T20 trip to the Caribbean in July. If they are cancelled, Cricket SA will actually save in the region of R2m in travel and costs. It is only the host nations that benefit from the income from TV rights.
The subject of Faul’s doctorate was “stakeholder” management in major and mega events, such as World Cups and Olympic Games. It is precisely his ability to think and plan on such a vast scale that enables him to think on a small scale.
Imagine: the Coronoa-free Indian squad flies to Lanseria, from where they are transported to the university accommodation in Potchefstroom, 100m from the boundary of Senwes Park.
They train for two days and then play three T20 Internationals on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday before returning in secure transport on Monday. Many millions of people watch — at home. They even vote on their mobiles for the man of the match, contributing a few cents towards food relief as they do so.
Competition in lockdown isolation sounds soulless and ghastly, the antithesis of why we play and love sport. It should be about congregating, socialising, adventure, camaraderie.
But it won’t be forever and it will allow millions of dollars and rand to keep flowing in the economy and millions of people, from shelf-packers to cleaners, to earn something. If anyone can make it happen, it is Jacques Faul.