More woes for cricket’s administrators in the US

More woes for cricket’s administrators in the US
Concerns about standards of governance in cricket have been raised in previous columns. (File/AFP)
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Updated 20 October 2022

More woes for cricket’s administrators in the US

More woes for cricket’s administrators in the US
  • Hopes that the turbulence of the last 20 years would disappear with the creation of a new governing body have not been realized

Concerns about standards of governance in cricket have been raised in previous columns. Several recent events suggest that they remain valid. One of these is focused on how the game is governed and financed in the US.

Between 1965 and 2017, the governing body was the United States of America Cricket Association or USACA. In 2005, it was suspended from the International Cricket Council’s annual conference owing to controversy over its election processes. Although the ICC suspension was lifted in March 2006, on the understanding that a new constitution and elections would be concluded by March 2007, the USACA failed to achieve this. It then received a fresh suspension, which was lifted in 2008.

However, issues reappeared in 2015, when an ICC review expressed significant concerns about the USACA’s “governance, finance, reputation and cricketing activities.” This led to another suspension and the ICC cut off funding. In June 2017, a Dispute Hearing Committee led the ICC Full Council to vote unanimously to expel the association later that month. Caretaker governance of US cricket was undertaken by ICC Americas until January 2019 when a new governing body, USA Cricket or USAC, was approved as a new ICC Associate Member.

Failure to agree on a constitution, including one drawn up by the ICC, lack of transparency over contracts with third parties, debts of over $4 million generated in part by legal costs, lack of funds to support the national team and to run tournaments, coupled with a poor record of developing grassroots cricket, lay behind the ICC’s decision.

A further factor was that the USACA had ceased to represent the majority of clubs and leagues in the country. This followed a decision by the USACA board in 2012 to disenfranchise 32 of 47 league members eligible to vote in elections. Some of these members had been critical of the USACA president. In response to their disenfranchisement, an American Cricket Federation was formed. Subsequently, it rejected encouragement to rejoin the USACA, although it is now working alongside the USAC.

Sadly, hopes that the turbulence of the last 20 years would disappear with the creation of the new body have not been realized. Familiar problems have resurfaced. Accusations of unconstitutional activity were made by two board members in March 2021 in a lawsuit against other board members. The suit claimed that the USAC had violated the constitution by not having held elections and an annual general meeting by Nov. 30, 2020, and by expanding the voting membership without obtaining the necessary majority amongst board members.

The combined impact of COVID-19 and the need to set aside funds to defend the lawsuit led to cuts and postponements being made in tournaments and player contracts in 2021. Although a court dismissed the lawsuit in July 2021, the USAC’s CEO resigned four months later. Minutes of a board meeting held on Dec. 8, 2021, show a resolution for the CEO to continue as an employee of the USAC, and providing full-time support beyond Dec. 10 on two specified matters until the end of April 2022 at the latest.

These events occurred shortly before the US men’s team was due to host Ireland in two T20Is and three ODIs in late December. The ODIs were cancelled because of COVID-19 cases amongst support staff, causing loss of income and additional costs for the USAC. Even greater strain was placed on its finances leading to further staff cuts and tournament postponements.

In addition to the ongoing lawsuit, another one was raised by a contractor, whose contract was terminated. In a claim of racial discrimination, damages of $2 million were mooted. As if this was not bad enough, the USAC’s chair of the board resigned in May 2022. Shortly afterwards, it was announced that the lawsuit brought about by two board members would be dropped and that the long-delayed elections would begin on July 8. Prior to that a further twist in the tale came when the former CEO threatened a lawsuit to recover bonuses to which he believed he was entitled.

The elections produced new board members. One of them, Atul Rai, a former USACA president, was appointed interim chair. The election process was allegedly affected by the existence of fraudulently registered voters and by technical issues. It also emerged that some players had allegedly not received pay in a timely fashion. Clearly, the board had a number of issues with which to contend. These have become even more acute in the last three months leading up to the AGM on Oct. 9.

The ICC’s funding for the third quarter was suspended because the USAC had not submitted financial reports or 2021 AGM minutes. Furthermore, the USAC’s administrative rights to co-host the 2024 ICC T20 World Cup with the West Indies were taken away by the ICC. Although the reports have been submitted, there is uncertainty about World Cup matches being played in the US. At the AGM, the USAC revealed debts of around $650,000 at the end of 2021, having overspent projected budgets by $1.5 million. Financial statements for 2021 have not yet been published.

A curiosity of the USAC’s financial arrangements lies in its relationship with its commercial partner, American Cricket Enterprises or ACE, parent company of the Major League Cricket T20 competition. COVID-19 delayed its launch, which is now set for 2023.

As a result, the ACE has not generated income but it has a contractual agreement with the USAC to provide a minimum of $8 million over 10 years. The USAC’s problems over the last three years have meant that over half of these funds have been drawn down, along with some additional funds outside of the contract.

The ACE, backed by the founders of Willow TV and the principals of Times of India Group, is well funded, having raised an initial $44 million, with a further $76 million committed by a variety of investors. The Knight Riders Group Indian franchise is a stakeholder. Financial building blocks are in place for the MLC, but the checkered record of US cricket administration and the USAC’s current perilous finances raise concerns over its ability to take full advantage of the opportunities now in prospect.