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USA Cricket: Does ACF have a chance?
by Venu Palaparthi
Feb 05, 2013

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By Venu Palaparthi

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Ways to keep control perpetually.

I recently came across some interesting observations by Alastair Smith on CarnegieCouncil.org.  It not only makes for spectacular reading, you might see in it a reflection of USA cricket.

"We're going to tell you that all organizations, whether they are democracies, dictatorships, corporations, sports federations—I love talking about sports federations by the way - they all operate on the same principles: that people are trying to get their way and they want to stay in power, the people at the top.”

“Rule number one…is be beholden to as small a number of people as possible." Elections, he says, are "wonderful inventions for corrupt leaders.  People keep thinking of elections as legitimacy - 'Let's have an election because the government will be legitimate.' It's not legitimate if what actually happens is - we know what the result is before the election."

Speaking about the purpose of such leaders, he says: “This is the whole purpose: you make people worse off except those people you choose not to make worse off. That makes them very loyal to you."  His advice to such leaders: "never be nice to the people at the expense of those who matter.”

Smith then illustrates his rules with the example of FIFA. He says just 12 votes are needed to determine who's going to be the soccer organization’s president and where the location of the World Cup games will be held.  "So, surprisingly enough you've got a budget of $4 billion and you need 12 votes."

If similarities to American cricket are not immediately obvious, then you should read Part 1 and Part 2 of my series.

Regardless of your affiliation, it is a fact that the American cricket community is at a fork in the road. USACA has shown us a ‘selectoral’ path, where somewhat coincidentally, 12 votes have decided the destiny of thousands of fans and players. And if you didn't miss the irony, ACF’s mission of expanding democracy by greatly broadening the spectrum of participation has also resonated with exactly 12 leagues. 

Will ACF succeed? A look at the math.

It is safe to assume that a majority of the twelve ACF signatory leagues will become members of the ACF once the organization begins accepting members. 

There are another 20 USACA member leagues that were disenfranchised - these are leagues that USACA has said are no longer in good standing.  These leagues have not yet expressed solidarity with ACF.   And there are an estimated 40 soft ball and hard ball leagues that have never been part of USACA.

These 60 leagues, and/or their constituent clubs and players are going to determine whether ACF will continue to gain traction. The soft ball leagues are both fertile territory and a solid hedge for the ACF.  There have been no attempts to date to integrate these soft ball cricket leagues under a national federation.  Of course, ACF's success also depends on its acceptance by individual fans and supporters. 

One thing is clear, USACA can no longer take ACF lightly.   There is a fair amount of curiosity surrounding ACF and many cricket organizations are considering ACF's membership invitation.  I have personally received over a dozen calls regarding ACF and USACA in the past two weeks.  The questions are on expected lines. Can ACF actually provide any services? Can the people that are steering ACF be trusted?  Will ICC's continued recognition of USACA affect ACF's chances of success? How is ACF different from the organizations that have previously attempted to take on USACA? What if USACA builds trust, revamps its constitution and extends an olive branch? 

What if USACA discovers God, cleans up governance?

In 2007, USACA revised the constitution, which was approved by only 97 of the 677 clubs then in existence (only 180 clubs voted). There were a lot of demands to make further improvements, but an ICC imposed deadline was looming. Despite the 14% mandate, USACA still obtained ICC approval and was reinstated as an Associate member. As Deb Das wrote on CricInfo: “Beyond steps to curb the most flagrant abuses of power, the new [USACA] constitution offers little safeguards against usurpation of authority and the maintenance of conspiratorial secrecy.”

This is the constitution under which USACA has operated since 2007. There has been much talk of revising and improving the constitution for years now but very little action. ACF on the other hand has published its draft constitution which, as I have written in my first and second parts, satisfactorily addresses many of the deficiencies contained in USACA’s constitution.

As someone who has observed USACA for some time, I can almost predict the next act in this drama.

USACA will respond to ACF’s onward march by convening a committee or hiring an outside consultant to review its constitution. Without a doubt, a report will be produced and the board will announce that it will consider the report’s recommendations at the next board meeting, in 100 days or never. In this manner, USACA will assuage the anger of the few who care in the near term and perhaps placate the ICC as well. It will also take some of the shine off ACF’s efforts. 

However, it is an inescapable fact that ACF has the advantage on the constitution and USACA has a lot of catching up to do. It is also a fact that for USACA, the trust deficit extends beyond the constitution.  There is no doubt in my mind that while USACA plays defense, ACF will continue to make inroads. 

USACA naysayers will find in ACF a compelling alternative. ACF will also find traction in areas and among leagues where USACA is an unknown entity.

Shouldn't this conversation really be about execution?

Alright, let's talk about execution under Gladstone Dainty's stewardship since 2003.  At the December 2012 AGM, the attendees were given a document dated September 9, 2008, titled "A Vision for USACA." Mr. Dainty told those assembled that the document remained as valid in 2012 as it did in 2008. Now, Mr. Dainty is not known to indulge in theatrics.  This was viewed as a tacit admission that there hasn't been much progress.

Push the dial back some more, this time to 2005. That year, under Dainty's leadership, USACA published a document titled “Strategic Development Plan for 2006-2007”. In that plan, USACA said that it would have a Junior and Youth Development Program for U-13, U-15, U-17 and U-19 and that it would also have an U-23 A squad. It also contemplated a series of national competitions for leagues, clubs and regions. Among the more notable objectives were - "improving information and communications" and "restoring USACA's image."  We all know how that went.

Now, push the dial back a bit further to 2002 when USACA first published a five-year plan for the 2002-2006 period.   In that plan, USACA wrote that it planned to "attain ODI status by 2006 and thereby qualify automatically for 2007 World Cup."  Similar ambitions were expressed in a variety of areas: "Increase participation of players from its current 10,000 to 50,000 in a five-year period, certify 2000 umpires, 2000 coaches, [and] at least 150 advanced certified coaches."  "Cricket Administration in The United States of America shall adopt state of the art technology to attain optimum results from the implementation of its strategic plan for the period until 2006."   Don't even ask for an appraisal of that plan.

Were there no bright spots at all since 2002 for USACA, you ask? Yes, there were a few. 

USACA Treasurer John Thickett and former CEO Don Lockerbie steered the organization in the direction of a commercial deal, which by 2010 seemed imminent. Its progress since then has been slow, but it would be unwise to write it off just yet.

Thickett also made sure that tax filings and other financial data were published on the USACA website. In another positive step, some four years after USACUA proposed to form a representative and inclusive umpires federation, the USACA president finally acknowledged that USACUA needed to be supported.  Thanks to New Zealand Cricket's help, USACA also made Lockerbie's 'Destination USA' goal a reality. Both the Pearls Cup in 2010 and the two T20s between New Zealand and the West Indies in 2012 were steps in the right direction.

But if you look at the 10 years since the 2002 plan, USACA has been singularly unimpressive. It has not succeeded in shaking off its inability to build sustainable development programs and processes, has not communicated effectively, did not build alliances among the sport's many fans and followers, has not partnered with other organizations that are doing yeoman's work in promoting cricket, and has failed to align its own board members in one direction. It has placed all its eggs in one basket - everything would be alright once the commercial arrangement fell in place. 

It did not help at all that this period was punctuated by lawsuits, intrigue, resignations, long periods without tournaments, suspensions and expulsions. The membership, which was never taken into confidence, gradually became alienated, especially after the 2011-12 election drama.

And yet, USACA faces no serious threat to its existence even though its current membership has whittled to a handful of leagues. Instead of mounting an Arab Spring, the dissidents have sought refuge elsewhere.  

Strange as it may sound, the other thing that USACA has going for it is... things cannot get any worse! From ICC suspensions to teetering on the brink of financial doom, USACA has seen it all during the last decade. In fact, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about USACA's fortunes in the near term. First, USACA just hired a new CEO, Darren Beazley. His resume is impressive and he will likely remedy at least some of the issues.  Also, if CHALLC begins writing checks, the organization will certainly be in a better position to effect changes.

Unlike USACA, which has generally promised the world and delivered an atlas, ACF has announced very few initiatives and generally delivered. ACF’s website and social media presence may not win it Webby awards, but the organization has outperformed USACA, whose online snafus are by now part of cricket folklore. On the tournament front, the ACF T20 was much appreciated. The organization's Orlando meeting was definitely more open than anything that USACA has delivered to date.

For ACF, the key near-term challenge is to scale up its plans, set new milestones and continue to exceed expectations.

ACF is in a honeymoon period. In order to maintain its momentum, it needs to conduct U-15, U-19 and women's tournaments in addition to the T20 tournament, it needs to have open townhall style meetings in addition to the annual meeting and it needs to launch programs and services for all its members. It must also attempt to create a soft ball cricket tournament and find a way to integrate that sub-community into the national framework. Everything that ACF does must be measurable and reports must be provided to the constituents.

ACF is unburdened by the past and has more energy and passion to prove that it can succeed. Its success will be measured by its ability to set itself meaningful goals and actually achieve them.

[In tomorrow's Part 4:  Does ICC care? And why competition is not such a bad thing for cricket?]

 

[Disclaimer: The author is a co-founder of DreamCricket Academy, which is a former associate member of USACA (now a USACA member-in-waiting for over six months); a former representative of CLNJ on USACA's Atlantic Region board (CLNJ, which is NJ's largest league, was disqualified by USACA in 2012); and an administrator of CLNJ-Youth, the largest youth cricket program in the state of New Jersey.   He also served as CLNJ's delegate to the ACF when ACF was not yet incorporated.  However, the opinions expressed and the inputs on ACF constitution are his own and should not be viewed as CLNJ's or DreamCricket Academy's inputs.]

 
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