Cricket initiative risks floundering amid wider financial cuts

Rare is the sporting initiative received with universal acclaim. But when Cricket Scotland launched its All Stars scheme last week in conjunction with its counterparts at the ECB, the only catches to be found were in the MS Dhoni wannabes flinging themselves at the ball.

Mary Erskine School pupils are coached by Scotland internationalist George Munsey. Cameron Grant is batting, with, left to right, Max Bryce, Tara Raffan and Jessica Scholes

Aimed at children from five to eight, and costing just £5 per session with a bunch of goodies thrown in, it is a riposte to those who proclaim – with good reason – that the game has become an invisible irrelevance to the youth of today with its concealment behind Sky’s paywall or over in the netherworld of Channel Five. Significant investment has been made by both governing bodies in terms of promotion, marketing and the requisite training of officials. North of the Border, the initial costs have been ring-fenced. Everything else, admits Cricket Scotland’s chief executive Malcolm Cannon, is up for grabs.

The new financial year begins this week and, as of two days ago, he, like many of his counterparts, was still awaiting confirmation of where the investment they are due to receive from Sportscotland to adminster cricket will be allocated. As much as £2 million of Government cuts will inflict pain. Ongoing uncertainty is twisting the knife. “We knew things were going to be tight given the nature of the spending review,” Cannon confirmed. “But effectively what you’re saying is you get less than one week’s notice of the funding you’re getting before the new financial year starts. That makes it rather tricky to plan.”

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Since Scotland on Sunday first revealed the scale of the reduction in the budgets destined for each sport, there has been a quiet seething that will soon turn into a campaign to alter the Sports Minister’s mind.

That lobbying role, in theory, should have fallen heavily on the umbrella body, the Scottish Sports Association, whose membership includes the governing bodies as well as other local partners. Its future has, however, been in doubt since its own funding was removed last year by Sportscotland.

Following an appeal, some cash, believed to be around £70,000 per year, has been restored. “We are being contracted to provide some services on behalf of Sportscotland in terms of supporting the governing bodies,” confirmed its director Kim Atkinson. “And we’re having discussions with Government over some other assistance.”

Not all are convinced that the organisation can effectively push back against Holyrood’s political shove. Refinement in the arguments made is needed. This time around, it is too little, too late, Cannon argues. Damage done. Retrenchment in process. “But what we do have is the ability to give Government the message that this is illogical in terms of meeting the targets they’ve set for themselves for health and well-being,” he said. “But we have to take some responsibility as sports. We have jointly and severally failed in getting the messages through to shape policy. We know what we do has an impact out there with the public. But we’ve not made an impact at Holyrood. There’s been a failure to land it with the decision makers.”

One-day internationals scheduled against Zimbabwe for the summer plus two quasi-ODIs with Sri Lanka have already stretched Cricket Scotland’s coffers. All Stars may shine brightly and enthuse a new generation. Beyond that, what will keep them engaged?