With no more 'Indian money' to paper over the cracks, cricket's fat is being trimmed and the sport in SA is undergoing a reboot.
Rumours of the impending financial demise of Cricket South Africa (CSA), it seems, were exaggerated. The slashing of India’s potentially lucrative tour of this country from 12 to five matches was supposed to have left CSA’s beleaguered administrators facing a shortfall of around R200-million. But when the year-end financials were completed this week, the shortfall in profits forecast was just a shade under R20-million of the profit that was budgeted for the financial year.
The most comprehensive review of professional and amateur cricket ever conducted began around nine months ago – before the Board of Control for Cricket in India’s president, N Srinivasan, even began his brinkmanship with the tour – and has now been completed.
No less a sum than R50-million was slashed from CSA’s costs while the national currency’s crash against the US dollar, so painful for importers, was worth tens of millions of lost rands to the sport.
Ironically, while Srinivasan’s decision to cut the tour was born from financial spite, it actually saved CSA money because the income from television rights is not always proportionate to the number of fixtures. By capitalising on the two Tests and three one-day internationals, that were played and not taking the tour countrywide, CSA actually saved money.
But it is the radical reorganisation of the way the domestic game is run that is likely to serve future generations most handsomely. “Every aspect of the way in which cricket was run has been re-examined,” CSA chief executive Haroon Lorgat told the Mail & Guardian this week.
“While there has been enormous growth in revenue over the past 10-12 years, it is not surprising that costs had grown proportionately,” Lorgat said. “I expressed concerns about the sustainability of the model on which South African cricket was being run when interviewed by the board in July last year. They later agreed that everything should be re-examined.”
Three separate work streams were set up to investigate the way in which the franchises, the stadiums and the affiliate (provincial) members of CSA were being run and the funding model that was sustaining them – or not.
Inefficiency was rife. Growth had been too fast and infrastructure had been unable to keep up. Small provinces, and some larger ones, with no meaningful income beyond their annual CSA handout, were attempting to survive as fully independent entities with skeleton staffs attempting to handle every aspect of administration, from accounting to stadium maintenance, advertising, travel and accommodation.
“It was a case of few people doing the work of many in every centre, and being an expert in no particular area,” Lorgat said. “By seeking to consolidate and centralise certain tasks, like booking flights for teams, we should be able to have an expert in charge – and we can implement significant economies of scale with airlines and hotel groups by offering them much higher volumes and benefiting from better pricing.”
Everything from board meetings to under-13 Coke Week has been re-evaluated and nothing, it seems, failed to gather “fat” over the past decade. Instead of various management committees convening four or five times a year, meetings now piggyback on each other.
Having weak amateur teams travel around the country fulfilling bloated fixture lists was an expensive exercise in futility. If proposals are adopted, CSA’s general manager of cricket Corrie van Zyl will in future use the country’s centres of excellence to identify the players with genuine potential and “streamline” the semi-professional aspect of the game.
It is not all cutbacks and saving, however. CSA plans to introduce a brand-new FA Cup style knockout T20 competition involving every affiliate and associate member union – perhaps even including the national under-19 team and one or two invitees such as representative teams from Zimbabwe, Namibia or Kenya. There is nothing more popular in sport than giant-killing, and this would provide the likes of Boland, KwaZulu-Natal Inland and Griquas an opportunity to remind the franchises of their proud histories.
Identifying such vast over-expenditure inevitably begs the question: Why did it happen in the first place? “There were many understandable reasons,” says Lorgat. “Income grew hugely and there was a real need at the time for CSA to spread the revenue and grow the game. The introduction of the franchise system threatened the smaller unions and measures were taken to try and keep everyone happy.
“Now we can afford to be more prudent and discerning. We have to. The old model would have bankrupted us. The India tour was a reminder of how fragile and reliant our infrastructure had become on big-earning international tours, but this process of re-evaluation had started well before that.”
The lower half of the country’s 200-plus professional players may have to work harder for their crust in the new dispensation, but the South African Cricketers’ Association (Saca) is right behind the changes. “It is a huge, positive step in the right direction,” said Saca chief executive Tony Irish. “Under the previous administration the ‘Indian money’ often papered over many of the inefficiencies in our system.
“This is as comprehensive a review as anybody could ask for. Rationalisation and greater efficiency were the aims and they have been achieved. It is not just about cutting back but also ensuring that new programmes are efficient and sustainable,” Irish says.
On the field, racial quotas have been changed for next season with franchise teams required to field five non-white players instead of four. “There was a commitment from all our members for transformation to be accelerated. This is a response to that. Frankly, I don’t think it will be an issue. Most franchise teams support the need for sustainable growth through transformation and have been playing four or more players of colour for several years anyway,” Lorgat says.
“The players understand and support the need for transformation,” Irish says. “We would have preferred an average of five non-white players over the season, to avoid issues with injuries and loss of form, but we understand the need and desire to fast-track black players as quickly as possible.”