England's cricketers must weigh up the consequences before deciding to forfeit their opening World Cup match against Zimbabwe in Harare next week. The short-term loss of qualification points pales into insignificance beside the potentially far more damaging financial ramifications of such action.
If the players boycotted the Group A tie there is the question of immediate compensation to the World Cup organisers and possibly the Zimbabwe Cricket Union. That could be anything between £1m and £2m.
Secondly, and in the event of the tie not going ahead, there would be the possibility that the game's world governing body, the International Cricket Council, would sue the England and Wales Cricket Board if their commercial partners the Global Cricket Corporation, to whom they sold broadcasting and other rights, seek damages for any perceived losses.
Solicitor John Smith, a partner with the London legal firm Davies, Arnold, Cooper, who specialises in sporting litigation, admitted that the potential financial damages were incalculable. "The potential is there for a sizeable claim by GCC against the ICC, and therefore the ECB by extension," he said. "In the light of the figures that have been bandied around, they could certainly be as much as £10m."
Whether the GCC would want to sue the ICC out of existence, or the ICC do the same to the ECB, is a moot point. The answer is probably not.
But, there is still one more worry for the ECB and that is if the ZCU retaliates and chooses not to tour over here in the summer. In that case the ECB would have to find a late replacement, and failure to do so, according to an ECB spokesperson, would cost them at least £10m in broadcasting, sponsorship and advertising revenue.
And that, added to whatever they have to pay for the World Cup affair, will fuel fears that the first-class county and grass roots games will shoulder the bulk of the collective burden.
Last night Robert Matusiewicz, a chartered accountant and an expert in sports financing, predicted: "The ECB just could not sustain losses of that magnitude. Their balance sheet is too thin. They would have to off-set those losses by reducing payments to the counties and then to the grass roots.
"The counties need every penny of their £1.3m seasonal allocation from the ECB and I think there would be a number of counties who could go under if they did not receive the full amount." And an ECB spokesman admitted: "A loss of £10m out of an annual turnover of £60-£65m, is a significant chunk and a lot of people would have to assume that burden.
"Cash payments to the counties would be reduced, but also there is little doubt that the grass roots would suffer, for example the development of excellence programmes, schools cricket, club cricket."
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