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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:08 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Lord Marland Lord Marland Conservative 4:08 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, It is a sportsman’s pleasure to be involved in this debate. Because I am sitting next to him, and he will give me a good kicking if I do not, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, on a very well constructed speech. We heard a brilliant speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Brady. I wish my maiden had been as good—indeed, my speech now may be nothing like as good but I shall try my best.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Heyhoe Flint, that if I were her I would go the ladies now and take a break because what I am about to say will not be to her pleasure. It is amazing how we can be on the same Benches but disagree with one another. Cricket is a sport that is close to my heart. I declare my interests as a co-owner of Wisden Cricketer, Cricket Archive and Test Match Extra. We also arrange the cricketing National Village Cup, which incidentally gets no sponsorship from the ECB. It is a magnificent occasion which has its final at Lord’s in September. Some 130 villages participated in it this year.

For those noble Lords who would like to make a guess, what do they think is the debt in county cricket at the moment? I asked someone on the way in to the debate, and he said, “£6 million”. That is so far from the truth; there is £246 million of debt in county cricket. Warwickshire County Cricket Club has been lent £25 million by its county council and it cannot afford even to pay the interest on it; nor can Yorkshire County Cricket Club, which borrowed £20 million from its chairman, who is tipped to be the next chairman of the ECB. Some 10 out of 18 counties cannot afford to pay the interest on their debts, and the figures are horrendous. We now have 11 grounds vying for Tests and one day internationals, two of which are always destined for Lord’s and one of which goes to the Oval. That leaves four Tests in the coming year and 10 or 11 one-day internationals for 11 grounds—which I gather now include Gloucester.

As we have heard from my noble friend, cricket is run by the ECB. It sucks in the television funds and has had an average annual income of £104 million for the past 10 years. Its costs have gone up from £12 million to £22 million. The board dangles the carrot of money in front of cricket. The observer would ask where that money goes. The observer would say that it goes to the Test team, which we applaud because it was underfunded, but has now probably reached the point of overfunding at £28 million a year. It has gone into women’s cricket and to a very successful women’s team under the leadership of my noble friend, which we applaud—I dare not. Money has also gone into grassroots cricket. A look at a school report of the ECB would show that we have lost 70,000 players in grassroots cricket over the past few years. We have won only three of the last 12 Tests, and by the time we return from South Africa, the England team will have played 15 Tests and 40 to 50 one-day matches, which is effectively 120 days of cricket in 360 days. This is utterly crazy and unsustainable, and we know it.

So, also, is that monstrous debt. It cannot be carried through cricket and its activities generally. Of course, cricket is now all about money, and that is why we have such an overload. Is this the ECB adopting an agenda for its own institution or is it an adopting agenda for the game of cricket? The answer, I am sure noble Lords would agree, is a resolute no. Are the wheels coming off cricket? The answer is predictably yes. Is the ECB acting as the custodian and trustee of our national game? I leave that for noble Lords to decide.

It is not just cricket. We have heard from other noble Lords that tennis and other sports are also in this position. Why is the consumer not protected by a body in the way we have Ofgem, Ofwat and so on? I would ask the Government to consider putting in place a form of consumer protection for sport. That does not mean that fans should be running counties, teams and so on, but it does mean that their priorities must be considered and taken into account by an official, independent body. I invite the Government to consider this.