Ukraine cricket's future hangs in balance

Will ICC accommodate the war-torn nation as its 95th Associate Member?



by

Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Fri 22 Jul 2022, 7:13 PM

Can war-torn Ukraine become the 95th Associate Member of the International Cricket Council (ICC), which meets on July 25 and 26 in Birmingham, England, where the Future Tours Programme (2024-31) and the election of a new chairman top the agenda.

The ICC, which has 106 members, including 12 full and 94 associates, is looking to consider all future requests for membership in both the categories against an objective set of norms in line with its statute.

The ICC membership is likely to lend a fresh lease of life to the game in Ukraine, which has been facing an armed aggression from neighbouring Russia since February 24.

Though Russia was made an Associate Member of ICC in 2012, in July 2019 Moscow decided not to include cricket in its list of official sports amid bolstering Ukraine’s claims for its inclusion in the global sports body.

Kobus Olivier, the Ukraine Cricket Federation’s (UCF) Chief Executive Officer, is quietly confident of the country making the cut as “it ticks all the boxes”.

Olivier, a self-confessed “cricketing nomad”, who made Kyiv — the Ukrainian capital — his home four years ago as a principal and English teacher, thanks to Shyam Alimchand Bhatia, an Indian expatriate based in Dubai for the past 45 years and one of the biggest patrons of the game. Bhatia encouraged Olivier to take on the assignment in Kyiv.

Olivier has played domestic cricket in South Africa and was the director of cricket at the University of Cape Town, where former Proteas captain Graeme Smith was an alumnus.

He sought to use his downtime in Kyiv as a breather from the game after holding various cricketing positions across the globe, including the CEO of Cricket Kenya, national youth coach in the Netherlands and coaching stints in Dubai.

Little did Olivier realise that the bat-and-ball game will strike a big chord among his pupils and spread far and wide in the country and with a generous support from Bhatia, who is known to loosen his purse strings for the promotion of the game in far-flung corners of the world such as non-cricketing playing nations like Nepal, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia.

Bhatia’s Cricket for Care Foundation, which was launched in 2007 on the premise that his success in the field of business was primarily due to the lessons learnt on the sports ground, is backing Ukraine’s cricketing cause by donating kits for the budding cricketers.

Olivier contends that Ukraine had satisfied the ICC's strict membership norms such as development of junior and women’s cricket and an entry into the T20 club.

Besides, the Associate Member tag from the ICC gives legitimacy to the sport amid the ravages of a long-drawn bloody conflict and goes beyond a “day out in the park for mere fun and frolic”.

The much-anticipated second-tier membership at the governing body's board meeting would not only entitle Ukraine to play T20 International status but also access to a paltry fund of $18,000 from the $30.8 million earmarked by the ICC for its 96 associate members this year.

Besides, it’s likely to attract new sponsors even though the Ukrainian government’s sponsorship looks few and far between considering the protracted conflict.

The UCF has been promoting the game for the past two decades because of a growing interest among 15,000 students — most of whom belong to India and Pakistan, who are pursuing professional courses in the former Soviet republic.

UCF President Hardeep Singh has arranged for national team players to undergo training in India while Olivier has set up a base in Zagreb in Croatia after fleeing Kyiv.

Olivier is also planning to host a 'Ukrainian Freedom Cup' in Zagreb in August, where teams from Serbia, Slovenia, Hungary and the Czech Republic are likely to take part.

The Lord's Taverners, a British charity, and the MCC Foundation, the charity arm of cricket's lawmakers, have extended support to the UCF, but, unfortunately, sponsorship funds have dried up.


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