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CRICKET: Time to declare for good of game; The World Cup may be in doubt if cricket's governing body fails to respect the very group which sells it. Cricket Correspondent Jack Bannister explains.

'T he International Cricket Council has again demonstrated a complete lack of respect for international players and their interests.

'As a result, the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations will be proposing a course of action for players to approve in order to force a resolution.'

Those chilling words were spoken last week by FICA chief executive Tim May and spell out the clearest possible warning about next year's World Cup in South Africa.

The most prestigious one-day tournament in world cricket is in grave danger of cancellation, unless the authorities come out of the trenches and start talking to people who, sadly, they still regard as the enemy - namely, the cricketers.

The sticking point is the fiveyear contract signed by the ICC with Global Cricket Corporation. It is worth pounds 354 million, provid-ing that all cricketers concede all image rights and personal sponsorships for 30 days before and after an ICC tournament, such as the next World Cup and last month's Champions' Trophy in Sri Lanka.

FICA insists that that demand is legally unenforcable as the said rights were signed away without their knowledge and consultation. FICA also recognised that if this sticking point is not addressed, major sponsors of the 2003 World Cup will call for a renegotiation of the pounds 354m deal, with disastrous consequences.

Quite reasonably, they have asked to see the contract, with particular reference to the clause which stipulates there must be no conflicting advertising for 30 days before and after a tourna-ment. That effectively rules out most of January, March and April for the World Cup.

FICA's mistrust of the ICC position is understandable for two reasons. India are due to play West Indies in a Test match starting on Wednesday in Bombay and have apparently been given special dispensation to waive the 30-day rule for a period of only 16 days.

This will help the Indian players to resurrect private sponsorships which were cancelled last month in Sri Lanka. FICA demand to know how the ICC can relax a contractual obligation they insist is inviolable. Having asked to see the written word, their suspicions increase when ICC refuse to show them.

Underneath the murky waters are some pretty jagged edges which the forthright May has every intention of bringing to the surface. For instance, the major sponsors of Team England include Vodafone. A major sponsor of the World Cup in South Africa is MTN, one of Vodafone's biggest market rivals. May has discovered that the 30-day rule applies to players but not to their boards, therefore, in Australia next January when England play several one-day internationals against Australia and Sri Lanka, the England and Wales Cricket Board will not be in breach if they market Vodafone. Their best way is, as everyone saw clearly last summer, by large-sized print and logos on the players' shirts.

Except that if the players wear the offending shirts, they will be in breach of the ICC contract, but if they cover up the dreaded word with a blank strip, they will then be in breach of their contract with the ECB. To quote the famous Morecambe and Wise catchphrase: 'Get out of that'.

The South African World Cup organisers are petrified - in Sri Lanka last month, several of the game's biggest sponsors expressed their deep dissatisfaction at the number of times their expensive marketing investments were ambushed by companies promoting individual players or teams.

All of which leads back to India and their reprehensible Board of Control, headed by the biggest troublemaker in world cricket, Board president Jagmohan Dalmiya. Believe it or not, no Indian cricketer has a central contract, which is why they are forced into the marketplace for personal sponsorships. When Anil Kumble was injured recently and missed Test cricket for sev-eral months he did not receive one rupee from the board. That is why the Indian cricketers are at the eye of the storm.

It is difficult to realise in this country how great is the grip of cricketing fever in India.

Hoardings and huge public advertising outlets feature Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid etc for Test matches. But, when they play in oneday tournaments abroad, those hoardings only feature their personal sponsors, even when they clash with the big-money firms who underwrite official tournaments.

FICA know full well that any downward renegotiations of the pounds 354m deal will cripple the game. It is even said that the boards of several countries will be forced into liquidation but, unless the ICC unbutton their lip to FICA, the ticking timebomb will surely blow the World Cup right out of the water.

May says this. 'The ICC has refused the players' demands that they be able to provide direct input into discussions regarding matters of paramount concern to the players, such as legal and privacy issues and matters of safety.

'The players have demanded that ICC recognise FICA in this role, but the ICC refused because they insist we are not representative of the international playerbase. But, despite a recent poll showing 98 per cent of the 140 approached in Colombo wanted recognition of FICA, ICC changed their position by saying that it is the sovereign right of individual boards to deal directly with their players and not FICA.' A nd which five countries voted that way and thus threw the largest possible spanner into the World Cup works? The Asian bloc - Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and (surprise, surprise) India - led by Dalmiya, plus South Africa. Remember the shameful coercing of India and South Africa after the Port Elizabeth Test match last November, when Mike Denness suspended Virender Sehwag?

South Africa agreed to play the final Test in Pretoria on an unofficial basis and so nearly brought about the cancellation of England's tour of India. Now, they are at it again. The South African United Cricket Board will pay the biggest price of all if they continue to refuse to recognise FICA and the World Cup is either cancelled or emasculated by second-string squads.

FICA are not demanding the earth. May knows it is in the players' interest to save the World Cup - all they want is to be included in discussions about saving face for all parties: the boards, the players and the sponsors.

May, a typical Australian, means what he says . . . 'The ICC position is clear to all. They seemingly wish to retain an unhealthy and inequitable amount of power and continue to ignore the representations of those who will be directly affected by their decisions.'

There are so many golden rules in poker, but the best one is when it comes to put up or shut up and, if you don't shut up, you had better have a decent hand when the cards are turned up. May called the ICC bluff last week and, sooner or later, they have to show their hand.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Oct 7, 2002
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