Let’s re-imagine sports history, briefly. It’s July of 1966 and on the back of a successful World Cup, won by the hosts, FIFA is meeting to outline the future of the tournament and has decided to streamline their event, limiting it to ten teams. England is invited –defending champions after all – as are previous winners Uruguay, Italy, West Germany and Brazil. Czechoslovakia, Sweden, Hungary and Argentina have all lost finals – that’s 9 teams - and the tenth team will be Portugal, who have just won the third-fourth place playoff. These countries, say FIFA, will contest the next two World Cups, up to and including 1974.
It seems bizarre. What about Holland, who went onto reach the ’74 Final, or USSR or France or Spain or the USA or any team from Asia or Africa? These teams don’t meet the selection criteria now but maybe they will in time. Well, they’ve been excluded, and won’t be given the chance to qualify for another eight years. The same applies to North Korea, despite being the sport's Cinderella just weeks previously.
Such a move is illogical, yet this is the sort of decision taken today by the International Cricket Council. 36 years after their first World Cup (like in the fictional football example above), cricket officials have decreed that only the sport's ten full member nations will take part in the 2015 World Cup excluding associate teams like Ireland. Ten teams will also participate in the 2019 Tournament, and while Ireland and others will have a chance to qualify on that occasion, the ICC have effectively put the brakes on the sport's development here and in the likes of Canada, Holland and dozens of other nations.
Officials, players and fans here, unsurprisingly, are disgusted at the decision which has been described as a ‘travesty’ and an ‘outrage’. Warren Deutrom, chief executive of Cricket Ireland, says this “as a black day for cricket.” Irish captain William Porterfield said of his team that they “have done everything they asked of us over the last few years in terms of restructuring Irish cricket and I can’t come to terms with how they can just shut us out, do away with the qualification period and then try and call this a World Cup.
“We are currently ranked 10th, ahead of Zimbabwe, and there is no reason we can’t move up another position, if not two, by the next World Cup. Instead, the door has been closed in our face. It is an embarrassment."
Other players have also taken to their twitter pages to give out, even some not playing for Ireland.
What would a World Cup, or any sporting event for that matter, be without minnows? If FIFA had taken the above decision, there would have been no Quarter Final appearance for Peru in 1970. The stagnation in the growth of football elsewhere would have also had disastrous consequences, meaning it less likely for other small nations to experience some of the best days in the history. Football is a very different case to cricket, absolutely, but the difference between the best ten teams in 1966 and the best of 2011 shows how sports evolve and how giants can fall and minnows soar. The ICC’s policies, which have already seen some of Ireland’s best players line out for England, effectively kills our national team and any chance of the sport making further inroads in this country, following wins over Pakistan in 2007 and England just weeks ago.
It smacks of hypocrisy, of protectionism and narrow-mindedness. It is choking a sport, rather than letting it grow. Ireland are not calling for automatic qualification, just the chance to compete, something which our nation has done on every possible occasion at 50- and 20-over World Cups in recent years. The win over England in Bangalore shows the potential of our players, and the media response to the victory demonstrates the genuine appetite for the sport here. There is no rational reason for destroying that, but that is what the ICC have effectively done today.
Shame on them.