Cricket World Cup is about ‘participation not profit’

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Indian cricket star Virat Koli (blue) is one of the big names taking part in the World Cup

Twenty years ago Steve Elworthy was part of a talented South African cricket team that crashed out of a World Cup semi-final in the most dramatic fashion possible.

As the game reached its climax, the team known as The Proteas needed just one run from four balls to reach the tournament final against Pakistan at Lord’s.

But, on the verge of glory, batsmen Lance Klusener and Allan Donald contrived to get the latter run out in a shambolically exciting end to the game.

Two decades on, 54-year-old Elworthy is now the person in charge of staging this year’s International Cricket Council (ICC) World Cup in England and Wales.

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South Africa’s Steve Elworthy (green) is run out in the 1999 World Cup semi-final

And with 50 days until the tournament begins, he says he would welcome such memorable drama at this year’s event, even though the pain of that game at Edgbaston, Birmingham, still remains.

“I can still remember it as though it was yesterday,” he says. “I was in the changing room, in my pads, having been run out myself not long before, when I saw it all unfold on a TV in the changing rooms.

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Former cricketer Steve Elworthy is now an experienced sporting administrator

“The whole thing happened in slow motion. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing.

“The changing room was deadly afterwards. There was complete silence for 30 to 40 minutes before we started to gather ourselves. Yet we still got a hero’s welcome when we returned to South Africa, despite what had happened.”

Global TV deals

While the drama, and climactic endings, of one-day cricket remains – just look at the 2017 Women’s World Cup final that England won by just nine runs – much has changed in the wider world since the 1999 men’s tournament.

Elworthy has now organised half a dozen global cricketing events for the ICC, and is putting the finishing touches to this year’s World Cup. Lasting for six weeks, it will feature stars such as India’s Virat Koli, England’s Joe Root, and the West Indies’ Chris Gayle.

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The Cricket World Cup trophy has been on a global tour to increase awareness of the event

And while this year’s event may not make money, Elworthy, says that – given the publicity that will come from wide-ranging global TV deals and over-subscribed ticket sales – making a profit is not the over-riding objective.

Rather it is about ensuring cricket remains on the 21st Century sporting and leisure map, at a time when football dominates the back pages, and the power of digital communications means there are competing attractions for people’s free time.

“This will be my sixth ICC tournament,” says Elworthy, managing director of the 2019 World Cup. “They have tended to be short-sharp tournaments with not a lot of legacy, which is something we want to address this year.”

He heads up a team of 100 people, based at Lord’s Cricket Ground, working to deliver the ICC’s global event on behalf of the hosts, the England and Wales Cricket Board.

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Getting more children to play cricket is a top priority

“When we started to plan for this year back in 2014 we realised there was an opportunity for this Cricket World Cup to get more people to play the game,” he says.

“That became the priority for the event hosts, the ECB, and tournament organisers, the ICC. Clearly there are financial benefits, although it is not our priority,” he points out.

Sharing the spoils

He says the event will have a global TV audience of 1.5 billion viewers. There have also been more than three million applicants for just over 650,000 tickets.

The ICC keeps broadcast and sponsor revenues, and the ECB keeps publications and ticket revenues – but has pledged to put the money back into the game – to schools and clubs, and into the tournament itself. Meanwhile, the match venues keep hospitality, food, drink, and car parking revenues.

The match venues can use that cash to update facilities, such as investing in changing rooms and new floodlights.

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World Cup ticket numbers have been vastly oversubscribed

“We want to engage one million under-16s through the Cricket World Cup,” says Elworthy. “It is a hugely ambitious number. We want to really stretch the ICC and ECB to achieve that number.

“We want to get 100,000 young people to watch a World Cup game, and have priced tickets for them at £6 a time.

“That for me is the main legacy… how to engage with new cricket audiences, and get people to play the games in schools and elsewhere, as well as to watch it.”

A volunteer programme, along the lines of that successfully used in London 2012 Olympics and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, was heavily oversubscribed.

The World Cup will also be used to publicise the ECB’s All Stars Cricket programme, aimed at giving children aged five to eight a first experience in cricket.

‘Fantastic format’

There has been much debate around the tournament format, which instead of a number of groups, features one large group, with each of the 10 teams playing each other once, before two semi finals and a final.

“The 1992 World Cup, where there was a round-robin format, was heralded as one of the better ones,” says Elworthy.

“I think all-playing-all is the best format. Every supporter knows where their team is going to play and when. If you have different pools you have uncertainty and fans buying tickets ‘on spec’ for future games they might not qualify for. The round-robin format has been terrific for us in terms of ticket sales.

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Australia are the reigning World Cup champions after defeating New Zealand in 2015

“Every team is guaranteed nine games. You could have a bad result and your prospects change, and suddenly you have to perform to get into the top four and a semi-final place. Or you could have a good few result, and the semi-final is a possibility again.”

‘Upsets and dramas’

With such a demand for tickets and only a finite amount available, that plays into the hands of touts.

“We are doing what we can about it within the confines of the law,” says Elworthy. “We are very pro-active in this areas. We have our own ticket resale platform in place.”

He said if organisers were able to identify the seat row and number of tickets appearing on non-sanctioned secondary websites, then they would cancel them.

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England and South Africa open the 2019 World Cup at the Oval on 30 May

“There is a very real danger you will not be able to get into games,” he warns. “We priced tickets at a certain level for a reason, with the lowest price being £16. We want the tournament to be accessible.

“We want to attract families, with fan zones and lots of interactive and participatory events around games.”

Looking back to 1999 does he believe there will be anything to compare to that semi final, when South Africa and Australia actually tied the match, but the latter went through after finishing higher in their earlier Super Six table?

“There are bound to be upsets and drama,” he says. “The different playing conditions from the north to the south of the country will play a part too.”

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