It is impossible to know how recreational cricket will emerge from Covid-19 interruption. Regardless, it is essential that the cricketing community acknowledges the need for pragmatism in a time of administrational struggle.
Club finances face perilous months ahead, pitches face losing their residents, and one of the more fiscally demanding sports faces losing its most vital stewards in the form of its recreational following. So how can we alleviate these pressing anxieties?
With difficulty, yes, and while recreational participation is dwindling, there are too many good souls to let the game falter. Merely preventing catastrophe will not suffice, though, and many club administrators deserve credit for their creativity and commitment to ensuring cricket returned to the greens in the summer.
Leveraging the success of some clubs in the virus-stricken year, recreational cricket must embrace the truth that unmissable opportunities exist to grow the game.
Notwithstanding our deep hope for an effective vaccine to become available, the winter months pose a bleak sporting outlook.
Despite the unpredictability ahead, summer, though, offers an opportunity for cricket to take advantage of the societal hunger for recreational sport.
The group of mates who have missed out on months of Sunday morning football; the group of hockey friends desperate to strike a moving ball again; the numerous children seeking extra-curricular social interaction in the midst of wider societal restrictions. In our capitalist world that seldom deviates from neoliberal ideals, it is fair to say that ‘the market is there’, and cricket possesses a unique chance to grow and unify a sporting community.
The ECB have been open about their desire to attract a new audience to the game through The Hundred, and with this strategy yet to succeed, recreational cricket must do the work itself. Following 62 job cuts within the ECB described by the governing body’s chairman as ‘inevitable’, the club game must, for its own sake, seize the initiative; it cannot rely on a governing body in economic strife. Infiltration of school sport programmes, the formation of partnerships with other sports clubs, digital advertising; now more than ever clubs must innovate in order to survive and grow.
Enticing new members is important, of course. Equally vital is the financial stability of clubs. Stories of a sole person bankrolling amateur sports clubs are aplenty, and a reliance on singular revenue streams is purely unsustainable. One struggling business need not be the economic ruin of a cricket club. Although such clubs are likely to retain a fiscal advantage over their local counterparts for now, the need for innovation to diversify club revenue is becoming increasingly apparent. Otherwise, the pot will eventually run empty.
Administrators must also acknowledge that club sponsorship possibilities are changing; the economic decimation of some industries has been the birth of others. While clubs cannot necessarily rely on financial assistance from struggling small businesses, there remains the chance for members to rally in their support and demonstrate the community spirit that cricket prides itself on harnessing.
Online fundraising, take-away services, multi-purposing of club facilities and virtual events; there are many streams that clubs in need can pursue. For our game to survive as we know it, we need considered, logical leaders to execute pragmatic strategies.
When the dark winter months give way to light, spring and cricket, we may, hopefully, return to much of what we lost, with new learnings to support our game in need.
(Pic credit: kentcricket.co.uk)