By Charles Randall
18 December 2012
Sport England's grant of £27.5 million to the ECB for recreational cricket, announced this week, has underlined the important role of clubs, especially for raising participation levels and engaging with Asian communities.
Compared with funding four years ago the Sport England figure has been reduced, though to the relief of many the Chance To Shine programme has been guaranteed for another three years by the earmarking of £7.5 million from the main grant. It is estimated that the scheme, administered by county boards, has reached more than 400,000 young people, developing more than 1,200 new satellite clubs on school sites. StreetChance, an inner cities project, has been awarded nearly £1 million via the Cricket Foundation.
Sport England’s commitment to all sports totalled £493 million, and director of sport Phil Smith said cricket had made "good progress" in the past 18 months. "We are confident that it can build further momentum over the next four years," he added. "We are particularly interested in the progress made in women’s cricket and the initiatives which focus on disabled participation. The sport has acknowledged the need to do more to help the South Asian communities, who have strong cultural links to cricket, get involved and we look forward to seeing growth in this area."
Sport England said a key issue was to encourage more people into cricket, including women. The ECB are to focus their £20 million grant on a drive to keep club players in the game for longer and establishing flexible versions, especially short forms such as Last Man Stands, an eight-a-side format used in South Africa. The basic network of 5,500 clubs was specifically mentioned by Sport England as a vehicle for delivering recreational aspirations. It was suggested that short formats could achieve national coverage and encourage people with limited leisure time, including former cricketers, to play more often.
The Club Cricket Conference has already made fruitful contact with Asian leagues, and wider contact has been planned for 2013. This is progress that, in Sport England's words, should "harness the inherent appeal of the game" within these communities. Sport England wishes to see more disabled people taking up the game, perhaps through a targeted programme called Hit the Top, and to ensure talent is developed. In the funding statement Sport England said: "As a result of the priority, investment and energy ECB has given to the disability game in recent years, England have become world leaders in disability cricket, both on and off the field."
Alf Langley, the CCC chairman, welcomed the Sport England grants and the praise offered by Phil Smith. "In such a momentous year it should be expected that Olympic sports would make gains," he said. "Cycling, for example, was awarded £32 million, football £30 million, sailing £9.3 million, so the £27.5 million for cricket was quite encouraging. Nevertheless the Sport England message is clear: More work needs to be done on participation numbers."
This year eight Asian leagues became affiliated to the CCC, involving more than 200 clubs and more than 2,000 players in London and the south. In 2013, with ECB support, the CCC are hoping to make contact further afield in the midlands, Leeds and Bradford with a view to engaging ethnic clubs and players.
Langley said: "We have done quite a bit to bring Asian leagues into the fold so far, finding out about their needs and aspirations. We can help with things like insurances, coaching and ground-sharing. But it isn't just about money and resources. We all agree that a sense of belonging is important, and this is certainly a way of increasing participation."
As part of the Sport England funding, the Cricket Foundation expects to deliver a cricket programme to more than 1,000 state schools through the ECB’s national network of 38 county cricket boards. The ECB said: "Creating strong links between community sports clubs and schools is the central focus, and the Cricket Foundation charity is planning a three-pronged approach: Establishing satellite clubs in schools, embedding competition within them and providing training opportunities for young people."
The ECB is hoping local cricket clubs can work closely with coaches, young people and teachers to set up a satellite cricket club on school sites. Pupils will be at the heart of decision-making and shape how the school club is run. Activity at the club may range from extra-curricular coaching and forums to discuss club activity, to organising social events and ambassador visits.
The £7.5 million to the Chance to Shine initiative should help introduce the game to more young people. The ECB said: "Competition is a key motivation for young people in secondary schools, and the Cricket Foundation plans to expand its 'Chance to Compete' format with fast-moving eight-a-side matches played in less than an hour. During the winter, schools will be supported to hold indoor soft-ball competitions in school sports halls and community centres, with the hardball equivalent played outside during the spring and summer terms. The new offer to secondary schools will increase competitive cricket opportunities by encouraging each to play a minimum of five competitive matches annually."
In making the overall funding announcement Sport England said that investments in the 46 sports on the list would be made through each sport's governing body after a "robust and challenging process" to assess the quality of their plans and their ability to deliver for community sport and talent development.
Each sport, a statement said, would be subject to tough performance management through a payment for results approach that would see Sport England rewarding success and penalising failure. A chunk of the total funding package, some £40 million, had been set aside in a Reward and Incentive Fund, enabling Sport England to move swiftly to help high-performing sports achieve even more.
Sport England said that any governing body failing to achieve annual targets for increasing participation faced losing 20 per cent of the remaining investment, with the money immediately becoming available to bids from the open market. Swimming, tennis, basketball, table tennis, fencing and sqaud received an implicit warning when they were awarded only one year's worth of grant, with the rest due to be paid conditionally.
Sport England’s chief executive Jennie Price underlined the importance of participation. She said: "This investment represents years five to eight of our long-term plan to get more people playing sport. We've learned a lot over the last four years and with a record 15.5 million people already playing sport once a week, we are on track to deliver. We have worked very hard, with the governing bodies of sport, to make these decisions, and I believe they are right."