Disney to spread cricket gospel

Stephen Brenkley reports on ambitious plans to broaden the game's appeal
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A series of one-day cricket tournaments involving all the sport's Test nations is likely to start at Disney World in Florida next year. The matches, at perhaps the most unlikely venue to stage international cricket, are a significant part of a new strategy to make the game popular around the globe. They will be played in August or September for a minimum of three years.

The proposal for the tournaments, to which every leading country including England, Australia, West Indies and South Africa, will be expected to send national teams, is contained in an interim report produced by the International Cricket Council's development committee. If the agreement is finalised at the ICC's meeting this summer, the Disney Corporation have pledged to build a pitch and stadium to international standard in Orlando as well as endeavouring to nurture the game at grass-roots level in the United States.

Ali Bacher, chairman of the development committee, said in South Africa late last week: "It is essential that cricket expands if it is to survive as a significant sport and North America with its television outlets and its huge population should be a major part of that expansion. Disney are as excited as we are about it. They can give added value to their 35 million visitors and we believe that it could be instrumental in the game's progress."

The idea of Disney World, who recognise the importance of both television and the United States in taking cricket beyond its traditional Common- wealth boundaries, came from the ICC chief executive David Richards. He and Dr Bacher have met Disney representatives and further discussions are being held between the West Indies cricket Board and Disney World - almost near neighbours - in consultation with the ICC and the game's governing body in the US.

While purists may claim this as proof of their long-held assertion that the limited-overs game is indeed Mickey Mouse cricket, Dr Bacher sees it as essential in the drive to what he describes as "globalising the game". His committee have made several other suggestions. "Obviously, I can't say that they will all be taken on board but I do know that several leading figures in the game have spent a lot of time and effort in coming up with a strategy that we think will protect all parts of the game in the years to come. We know we have a product to sell and that television likes what we have."

Perhaps the second most controversial idea is the staging of the World Cup, the game's biggest marketing tool, every two years instead of every four.

Just so Disney do not have the field to themselves, sponsorship negotiations are already under way with another multi-national corporation to sponsor the World Cup. Coca-Cola have agreed to provide office accommodation for development managers in five geographical regions which the committee suggest are set up soon. The intention is for virtually the entire non- cricket playing world to be targeted, from Morocco to Chile and Poland to Korea.

Dr Bacher, a former captain of South Africa, said: "Cricket is under threat. It has to broaden its appeal. I should say we need 16 teams in the World Cup finals in future who can compete on level terms. We don't want one-sided cricket and the full members must support the lesser nations to get more people playing. In Holland, for example, they've had cricket for 100 years but there are still only 5,000 players. Test cricket can expand as well and by something like 2003 I think Bangladesh, Kenya and Holland could all be candidates."

He added: "There are many reasons for optimism. If a game being played for six or seven hours may be a weakness in the modern world with so much else competing for attention it is also a strength as it is exciting and gives advertisers the opportunity to push their products."

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