What price for the grassroots of cricket?

Nathan Absalom Roar Pro

By , Nathan Absalom is a Roar Pro

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    Appeals for increased money to grassroots cricket, now where have I heard that before?

    Now, it’s not as though juniors, park and grade cricket couldn’t make big improvements for small amounts of money.

    However, I would give a far more sympathetic hearing to appeals for more funding to grassroots cricket from Cricket Australia in their current industrial dispute with players if the proposals were less vague and divisive.

    The reason for this is that, during my time living in England, I heard exactly the same appeal as justification for what turned out to be an ill thought-out decision.

    In 2005, the decision was made before the Ashes – yes, those Ashes – this would be the last Test series shown on Channel 4. After that, the cricket was shown on Sky, with increased revenue to be placed into grassroots to expand the game.

    Although it wasn’t clear how much money from this deal went to the park and village cricketers, and how much came from Government funds, money did initially find its way into the broader cricket community.

    Coaching structures were re-invigorated and upskilled, volunteers treated better, and there was a general sense that the ECB was improving the game and working towards a common goal.

    The game was brought into state schools and some in Australia even started to recommend this was the model to follow.

    Over the long term though, the game stagnated, arguably declining at the grassroots level, with participation levels dropping.

    For all the money that went to the grassroots, the game was out of sight and out of mind, and time pressures of the sport for amateurs and the failure to captivate the public with a competition like the Big Bash did not help at all.

    Of course, Cricket Australia aren’t proposing that, but sport at the grassroots is a very complicated beast and what is happening with the current pay dispute between the governing body and the players presents a different, but real, risk to the overall health of the game.

    Cricket is no different to other sport at that level: dependent on volunteers, and no amount of funding is going to change that.

    When you ask people why they are volunteering, there’s one answer that you’ll hear a lot: people want to give back to the game what they got out of it when they were younger.

    For junior and amateur cricket to flourish, harnessing that motivation is key. Getting people to commit their time and efforts are helped with a large pot of money, after all cricket is an expensive sport, but it’s not the be all and end all.

    The risk that CA is running is that a prolonged dispute where cricket is on the news for all the wrong reasons will demotivate potential volunteers.

    Bickering and infighting are pretty high up on the list for people not to volunteer, even if the connection to your local club or team is much stronger than to the national one.

    They may get more support if they explain what this money means. Does it mean more and better coaching? A subsidy for the balls? Grants for facilities? All of the above?

    Even after reading what the Cricket Australian chairman wrote in The Australian, I’m none the wiser.

    I suspect though, that if they sat down with the players and told them what they wanted for the grassroots game, they’d come to an agreement pretty quickly. After all, I’d wager that many of the players fondly recall their time in junior and club cricket, and are happy to compromise.

    But if grassroots cricket really was the most important factor in this deal, I’m sure this agreement would already have been done.

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