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In yet another blow to cricket and embarrassment for USACA, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) cancelled the USACA U17 cricket tournament that was planned for the AAU Junior Olympics in Iowa between July 22 and 28. In an announcement via the AAU website, the organization noted: "The Cricket competition will not be taking place this year."
The AAU successfully conducted a cricket tournament last year (pictured right) in Detroit with the support of Michigan Cricket Association, which is an ACF member league. But no player or team registrations were received this year ahead of the June 23rd deadline.
The success of last year's event and the need to plan ahead were recognized by last year's organizers and efforts were made to engage with the AAU in December of 2013 in collaboration with the local Heartland Cricket league. Due to the limited resources in Des Moines, the original plan was for all youth programs to organize an elimination tournament elsewhere and bring only the top teams in each age category to Des Moines. However, these efforts were abandoned as USACA asserted its role saying that it would work with the AAU organizing committee for 2014.
For the local Heartland Cricket League (HCL), which was willing to collaborate with any organization that saw the merit in AAU Junior Games, it was a great opportunity to showcase cricket in a state where awareness of cricket was limited.
Speaking to DreamCricket.com, Jay Tanwar, former President of HCL, said: "If this was planned well, we would have been able to improve the two grounds that were fully operational and also fix up a third ground. It was a great opportunity."
"Darren Beazley, the USACA CEO, was in regular touch until April of 2014. The township had double-sodded the ground in Des Moines and was willing to do the same for a second ground if we confirmed the requirement in spring," he said.
In nearby Ames, Iowa, the city's only cricket ground was needed for the annual Iowa Games but the cricket league had the option of securing the ground for AAU if the tournament was confirmed sufficiently in advance.
According to Tanwar, USACA appeared keen on conducting the tournament as long as Darren Beazley was in charge. Communications with USACA appear to have broken down after his departure. If that is so, this is the second such episode in two months for USACA and marks another setback for that organization's efforts to repair its image.
Hemant Buch, USACA Head of Youth Tournaments, told ESPNCricinfo, "AAU was pretty understanding so we are continuing next year and planning has already started." Buch is quoted as saying that Des Moines was not a major cricket center and Virginia, next year's venue offered more grounds and local support.
Tanwar saw it differently. "This was definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity for cricket in Iowa. It would certainly have helped us to encourage more youth to take to cricket and to showcase the sport. The cancellation is not only a loss for our own efforts, it is also a loss for cricket as a sport in Iowa."
AAU Junior Olympics is the largest sporting event for youth in the U.S. and sees the participation of upwards of 16,000 junior athletes. Inclusion in AAU Junior Olympics is a matter of great pride and enhances corporate sponsorship of the sport. As an example, last year's winning team in the U15 age category received sponsorship support from Deloitte Consulting.
Separately, Tanwar told DreamCricket.com that Heartland Cricket League opted not to renew its membership with USACA this year. Tanwar emphasized that the league's membership decision had nothing to do with the AAU episode.