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The Sports Lawyer: ‘Ireland’s exclusion from cricket’s world party by the ICC is certainly damaging and probably actionable’

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THE SPORTS LAWYER is actually a posse of Britain’s brightest lawyers, from the Sport & Media team at the UK law firm, Thomas Eggar, who will be contributing features, analysis and insight on a regular basis on the key sports law issues of the day. In TSL’s latest column, Andrew Nixon considers the legal implications of the ICC’s decision to cut cricket’s 2015 World Cup to 10 nations, meaning Ireland are barred

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By Andrew Nixon

8 April 2011

The news that the International Cricket Council (ICC) has taken the decision to make the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand a closed tournament, involving the nine Test playing nations plus Zimbabwe, has left the future of cricket in associated nations in limbo.

The most high-profile victim of this decision is Ireland, a country that has made considerable strides as a genuine cricketing force in the last five years, and which has beaten Pakistan, Bangladesh and most recently, and famously, England in Bangalore five weeks ago.

The decision has been premised on the basis that the World Cup, in its current format, is too long and protracted. It is an argument that has some merit, with both the recent World Cup in India and the 2007 tournament in the Caribbean coming in for criticism for having too many ‘dead’ matches.

However, it is a concern that the ICC is now seeking to reduce the number of teams during a time when one of the governing body’s stated objectives and mission statements is to globalise the game.

The Ireland example is a perfect case study in how this decision could be incredibly damaging. Cricket’s profile across the island has been boosted considerably as a result of the successes in India and the Caribbean.

Irish cricket has gone from an amateur sport, with a limited playing pool and playing structure, to a country with its own elite system and central retainers. The carrot (both financial and prestige) of having the opportunity to compete in the World Cup every four years has been a significant part of the development.

The damage could be felt in two ways. Firstly, without the prospect of playing in cricket’s showpiece one day tournament, talented Irish players are more likely to consider qualifying to play for England, following the path paved most recently by Eoin Morgan. Ireland is always going to face the prospect of losing players to England; however, exclusion from 2015 event will make player retention even harder.

Secondly, Cricket Ireland has worked hard to create a streamlined and well governed organisation, headed up by Chief Executive Warren Deutrom, which now boasts a small but significant portfolio of commercial partners and stakeholders, as well receiving increased government funding. It is inevitable sponsors and government funding bodies will be less inclined to invest in a sport that is no longer entitled to compete at that sport’s highest level.

Viewed objectively, these issues are a real concern.

So what next for Ireland?

The relationship between the ICC and its members, including associate members such as Ireland, is governed by a private, contractual relationship. Although not a public body, the actions of private sports bodies, such as the ICC, are subject to similar scrutiny. Governing bodies, when making decisions, must act in accordance with its rules and regulations and any decision must be fair, proportionate, procedurally intact and in accordance with the laws of natural justice.

Therefore, if the ICC has taken a decision which is in contravention of the implied and/or express duties contained within the membership contract, or there was impropriety or irrationality in the decision making process, then Cricket Ireland (or indeed any of the now excluded Associate teams) may have a cause of action to challenge the ICC’s decision.

The ultimate forum for such a challenge would be the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS); however, we are a long way from that stage at present. The first step will be for Cricket Ireland to enter into correspondence with the ICC to determine the exact reasons for the decision and how that decision was reached. Thereafter, a resolution will inevitably be sought internally if indeed that is feasible.

Comment

The ICC finds itself in a difficult position. The broadcasting rights for the 2015 World Cup have been agreed. It would therefore be difficult to reverse a decision on the number of competing teams if contractual arrangements are in place and premised on the basis of a 10-team event.

Equally, as the International Governing Body, it has an obligation to the 35 Associate and the 60 Affiliate members to develop the game locally and globally. The financial damage to Cricket Ireland could be considerable and if that halts the progress and development of the sport, which on balance must be likely, the decision will be one that goes against the principles and objectives of the ICC’s global development programme.

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Andrew Nixon is an Associate in the Sport and Media Group at Thomas Eggar.

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