A self-confessed “Kiwi battler” on the cricket pitch, Greg Barclay from Gisborne never dreamed he’d one day sit in one of the sport’s most powerful seats.
Even when India’s Shashank Manohar abruptly stepped aside as International Cricket Council chair in July, with the Covid-19 pandemic tightening its grip on the world, Barclay insisted it wasn’t on his radar despite ever-increasing support.
New Zealand Cricket’s chair for the past four years, and its representative on the ICC board, soon became the warm favourite with the backing of powerhouses Australia, India and England, among others.
Early on Wednesday (NZT) it was official: Barclay secured 11 of the 16 votes at the second ballot to claim the required two-thirds majority over Singapore’s Imran Khwaja who’d filled the interim role. The Auckland-based commercial lawyer who studied in Christchurch, played Hawke Cup cricket for Poverty Bay and was a director of the 2015 Cricket World Cup in New Zealand, became the ICC’s second elected chair.
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“I was reasonably confident that the majority of the board were keen to get me into the role. I thought ‘if enough want me then I’m happy to do it’. Did I covet the role? Not at all,” Barclay tells Stuff.
“I was fairly clear that I didn’t particularly want it, for a few practical reasons. One, I enjoy my role with New Zealand Cricket and we’re making progress and still have things to do so I was happy to stay here with the board.
“Two, and obviously pre-Covid, as a smaller full member nation I wondered whether I had the gravitas to move things forward. Three, there’s the geographical barrier and it’s very hard to get to Dubai in a short period of time, as opposed to [travelling from] India or England. The tyranny of distance made me think it would be too difficult. ”
Covid took care of the latter. Barclay plans to chair his first meeting soon via Zoom call, and in a conservative estimate doesn’t think the ICC board will be face to face for another year. “I’m hoping that period will be less than what I’m expecting. If we can get up there [to ICC headquarters in Dubai] by midway through next year that’d be a great outcome, I think. ”
For now, Barclay feels a mix of relief and trepidation. ICC politics is a daunting prospect, balancing the needs and interests of the wealthy Big Three – particularly the might of India – with some of the battlers among the 12 full member countries, plus three associate members on the board who rely on ICC handouts.
“It’s fair to say there’s some dysfunction around the ICC board and management. Covid has exacerbated that, the fact we can’t get together and work through some issues has meant they’re more stark than they would have otherwise been.
“Just having a chair appointed will go a long way to addressing that, because we’ll get some shape and leadership back into the organisation. I sincerely hope we will, anyway. ”
Mapping out a viable Future Tours Programme which takes in ICC events and doesn’t completely flatten the players, for the 2023-2030 cycle, is high on the list, before opening it up to broadcasters who pay the massive fees to help world cricket tick.
Barclay was irked by reports he’d sided with Australia, India and England in pushing back against moves by some at the ICC to play more world tournaments at the expense of bilateral cricket. There was an element of truth, though. For the likes of NZC, the Black Caps make up between 80-90 per cent of its annual revenue, with a full home international schedule vital to its financial survival.
But so are men’s ICC tournaments. This year’s T20 World Cup postponement in Australia will negatively impact balance sheets, which will hopefully be replenished by back-to-back tournaments in India next year and Australia in 2022.
The ICC pledged US$128 million (NZ$182m) to NZC and others for 2016-2023, from its world tournaments. The majority of that is yet to land.
“There’s a reasonably delicate ecosystem that surrounds cricket and an incredibly congested calendar. We’ve got to get the right balance which includes ICC events and bilaterals which are massively important for countries, not just from a commercial point of view but it’s the engine that drives the game in individual countries, right from fan engagement to domestic programmes and development pathways and high performance programmes and cricket at the elite level. ”
And his biggest challenge? “Making sure we can host world events. That’s the only place we produce revenue is off the back of those events. If one or two of those had to be cancelled, to the extend that broadcasters and sponsors didn’t come through with their commitments, then that would put a massive hole in the funding of world cricket. ”
For now, he’s confident the October 2021 tournament will go ahead, with contingency plans for hosting, like the United Arab Emirates which worked for the Indian Premier League.
Barclay will exit the NZC boardroom in the next few weeks, becoming, in his words, a footnote in history as it elects a new chair. He says NZC won’t directly benefit from his seat at the top table. His brief is a fully independent chair with the ICC’s interests at heart, but vows to conduct himself as any proud Kiwi would expect.
Barclay quips he used to take the new ball “into the wind, most of the day”. That could be an accurate summation of his first steps into the new job, being cautious and accurate in the hope that conditions become easier in these uncertain and tenuous times.
International Cricket Council, New Zealand national cricket team, Greg Barclay, Australian Men’s Cricket Team, England cricket team, ICC Cricket World Cup
EbeneMagazine – IN – From ‘Kiwi battler’ to the most powerful role in world cricket, how Greg Barclay rose to the ICC table
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