Supplementary written evidence submitted by the England and Wales Cricket Board
Further to our appearance on 5 May 2020, I am pleased to provide the following supplementary written evidence to the Committee’s inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on cricket.
As the National Governing Body for Cricket in England and Wales, we are responsible for all aspects of the game from grassroots through to the elite level. We are a not-for-profit organisation. We reinvest all of our revenue to sustain and grow cricket.
COVID-19 is the single biggest challenge cricket has faced. Three key principles have guided us through this crisis: to prioritise the safety of everyone in the game; to support society’s efforts in tackling the pandemic; and to act as a responsible guardian of the game by protecting the cricket network as far as possible.
Protecting the cricket network
If we are unable to play any cricket in 2020, COVID-19 could cost the game as much as £380m through lost income. This figure is across the ECB, the professional county cricket clubs and the recreational game. It is an existential threat. Even in our best case scenario we are looking at a shortfall of £100m this year.
In March, we acted quickly to support the whole game. We did not wait for Government support. The ECB immediately repurposed planned funding with an initial package of £61m. This was made up of £40m to the First Class Counties and £20m to the recreational game, to help our network weather the COVID-19 emergency.
On 17 June we announced a further package of support worth £35.7m which will be available from 1 August 2020 for the remainder of this year. Of this, £30.22m will comprise of the early release of core payments to the First Class Counties and an additional £5.5m to our grassroots cricket network.
We continue to monitor the situation and will take action, where we can, to support our game. But the challenge for our game is potentially greater than the ECB alone can mitigate.
Government Support during the crisis
Firstly, we would like to place on the record our thanks to the Secretary of State, Sports Minister and their officials for the way in which they have engaged with us throughout this crisis. They have sought to understand the challenges we are facing and work with us to find solutions.
Turning to specific Government support, without the ability to generate revenue from playing professional matches this season, the Coronavirus Job Retention scheme has been a vital lifeline for First Class County Cricket Clubs and worth in excess of £2m per month to the game. The Business Rates holiday has to date saved the game approx. £4m.
We are grateful to both Sport England and Sport Wales for the pace at which they have acted to address the emerging challenges with us.
The following areas of support have been invaluable to our recreational clubs:
While we are working closely with all aspects of the game to understand the challenges they are facing on the ground, we are only at the beginning of addressing the impact of this crisis on cricket. Until such time that we can generate income through ticket sales, catering and event activities, further extended financial support may be essential to secure the very future of our clubs.
Behind Closed Doors
Critical to being able to weather some of this financial challenge is our ability to fulfil our broadcast contracts with Sky and the BBC on a behind closed doors basis. We are grateful to the professionalism and support of DCMS and PHE in coordinating this work across the sector. It has been an exemplary model of working. From developing the initial key principles, working through the medical guidance to hopefully culminating in the first international Men’s sports match taking place on UK soil on 8 July at the Ageas Bowl between the West Indies and England. Plans are also underway for men’s Pakistan, Ireland and Australia tours later this summer.
We are also currently in discussions with the BCCI and Cricket South Africa around the prospect of hosting both teams in a potential Women’s tri-series later this summer, allowing fans to watch the best female cricketers in action for a four-week block at the end of the season. We are delighted that England Women will be back to elite training from 22 June, giving them ample preparation time for these matches.
Support for the Women’s game
As we mentioned in our oral evidence, one of the areas we are most concerned about is the impact of COVID on the progression of women’s sport. In our strategy Inspiring Generations, we set out our ambition for cricket to become a gender-balanced sport with targeted investment in facilities and programmes to support more women and girls to take up the game. While we are currently working through what the economic impact of COVID-19 means in the short, medium and longer-term for the game at both the grassroots and elite levels, this ambition remains unchanged.
Just before the pandemic, we had made an initial investment of £1.2m into a new workforce of club development officers across all of our County Boards. They will focus entirely on the growth and sustainability of women’s and girls’ sections within our clubs. We are excited about the impact this new workforce can have once we can bring the recreational game back later this summer.
We welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to delivering the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham 2022. The inclusion of Women’s T20 is hugely important, and we would like to use the Games as a catalyst to ignite that passion for women’s cricket, building on the success from the Women’s World Cup in 2017. In the past year, the ECB has trained over 550 female cricket leaders from BAME communities have. We would like to expand this programme nationally to drive even more female participation. In these financially challenging times, targeted funding from the Government would enable us to accelerate our plans and benefit from an uplift in advance of 2022.
Return to Recreational Play
We are also extremely concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on participation at the grassroots. Our recreational players have already missed out on three months of matches. Physical activity is vital for physical and mental wellbeing. Cricket stands ready to help get the nation back playing safely. We are in danger of losing a generation of cricketers, which could be catastrophic to the long-term future of the game.
As a team sport with individual disciplines, cricket can be played easily on a socially distanced basis. As social gatherings are slowly expanded, we have developed a roadmap for how cricket activity can return at every step of Government’s Plan to Rebuild; from creating opportunities for individual household activity, expanding to adapted gameplay and then to full normal play. All of this planning has involved following all medical advice.
The ECB believes that cricket is ready to return from 4 July at the same time as the return of other activity such as the gradual reopening of restaurants, gyms and leisure facilities. We would welcome the Committee’s support in ensuring that recreational sport is a priority for this phase.
Crucially though, pitches across England and Wales need time to be prepared for such a return. Therefore, the game and local authorities must have as much advanced notice as possible to restore these pitches to safe use.
Supporting the National Effort
Throughout this crisis, we have been proud to see the very best of the cricket community emerge. As part of our campaign Together Through This Test, we have:
There is more activity planned throughout the summer, but many of our clubs and organisations are charities themselves and have not been immune from the financially devastating effects of COVID.
A greater focus on sport and physical activity in schools is needed
As the Government’s restrictions ease and pupils return to school, we have received concerning reports about a lack of clarity and consistency around what physical activity is permitted during the school day. The issue appears to lie with DfE and a lack of clarity around whether external coaches can support school sport in a socially distanced safe way. We wish to see greater collaboration between DCMS and DfE to support sport using school facilities over the summer to help get the nation’s children active again. We also remain concerned about school sport in the next academic year, with the future funding of the Primary School Sport Premium yet to be confirmed by DfE. This lack of certainty makes planning for the next academic year that much more difficult for community cricket coaches. We urgently need clarification to enable us to support schools for the next academic year.
As the Committee will recall from our evidence in the previous Parliament, we would urgently like to see the Government make good on its School Sport Action Plan and deliver an hour of quality physical activity during the school day.
How Government and DCMS can help us rebuild from COVID-19
Grassroots sport has a key role to play in rebuilding society after COVID-19 including the importance of keeping people fit and healthy and will need Government support to play this role.
The Government’s initial financial support package has been beneficial, as has support to for behind closed doors cricket. Together these measures have prevented cricket from facing an immediate funding crisis. However, cricket still faces losing almost all of the 2020 season, and the impact on our sport is significant. As a critical part of the event sector, we still have no visibility on when match going spectators may attend again with a real risk there will be no spectators at all this summer.
We, therefore, call upon the Government to remain aware that there may be a requirement to support our sport at every level in 2021 and beyond until we see the full impact of COVID-19.
We also call upon the Government to support the return of grassroots cricket at the next step of A Plan to Rebuild on 4 July.
COVID-19 has shown the importance of people being physically active. Both to be healthier and stronger, but also in addressing mental health. However, COVID-19 has also exacerbated existing inequalities. Sports like cricket can help bridge that gap by offering ways for many to volunteer and be part of a team or community. We have a vital role to play as the nation rebuilds, and it shows the importance of protecting the role that sports clubs and team sports have in society over the longer term and why we need Government support as a key delivery partner.
Among the specific things we ask the Committee to consider:
I. The need for a long-term investment programme into the country’s grassroots sporting infrastructure. We need to protect, enhance and grow our sporting capital, in cricket’s case its pitches, equipment and pavilions. The Government needs to expedite the commitments it has made to invest in the sporting landscape, and this includes ‘greening’ sports facilities, so they are more sustainable to run and contribute to the environment.
II. A renewed focus and effort from DCMS and DfE to ensure that every child receives an hour a day of sports activity including the opportunity to play a team sport.
III. Innovation is required to develop the initial success of the soft drinks levy that has seen sugar taxed. This measure helps reduce obesity and has also provided ring-fenced funds to invest in sporting opportunities. We urgently need confirmation that the Levy will continue to fund primary school PE and we would also like to see the soft drinks levy extended to more products with a ring-fencing of the proceeds invested back into community sport.
IV. The establishment of an enhanced fund to specifically invest in Women and Girls sport to ensure that the progress isn’t set back by COVID-19.
We are grateful for the Committee’s continued work to highlight the challenges our sector faces.