Ajman League ICC investigation highlights corruption vulnerability of T20 cricket

The disgraceful scenes from the United Arab Emirates in the Ajman All Stars League are currently being investigated by the International Cricket Council (ICC). (Screen grab)
Updated 31 January 2018

Ajman League ICC investigation highlights corruption vulnerability of T20 cricket

BANGALORE: The disgraceful scenes from the United Arab Emirates in the Ajman All Stars League, currently being investigated by the International Cricket Council (ICC), should surprise no one. Twenty20 cricket has been a great vehicle for cricket to expand its horizons, but the mushrooming of private leagues around the world — most of them conducted without any official approval, as the Ajman tournament was — has made them the prime focus for the twin scourges of spot-fixing and its big brother, match-fixing. 
Despite the hype, the reality is that the vast majority of such tournaments haemorrhage money. Cricket South Africa’s embarrassing failure to get its Global Cricket League off the runway earlier this season was a stark reminder of that. Even most Indian Premier League (IPL) franchises, with the gargantuan weight of cricket’s biggest ecosystem behind them, took several years to break even.
When the anti-corruption units, both the ICC’s and those run by individual boards, are not in the fray, unsavoury elements are noticeable at matches.

In December 2007, while India and Pakistan were playing a Test series — the last between the two sides before political relations took a turn for the worse — the Indian Cricket League (ICL) began with much fanfare. It was bankrolled by Zee TV, whose relations with the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had soured over what it deemed the arbitrary termination of its rights to telecast India’s overseas matches.
The ICL was doomed from the start. Lalit Modi was putting together the IPL, and there was no way the Indian board was going to countenance a rival competition in its backyard. Indian players on the fringes did sign up, but the foreign contingent mainly comprised those on Retirement Avenue, looking out for one last lucrative payday. 
Soon after it began, a friend tipped me off about a pub in the heart of Delhi. There, you could make every kind of bet possible, from the number of no-balls bowled in an innings, to how many runs would be scored off the third ball of the eighth over. When people think fixing, they often picture players tanking games. The reality is far more nuanced.
In the IPL spot-fixing case of 2013, the wagers were apparently over the minimum number of runs that would be scored in a certain over. 
“Most of these leagues are all about fixing,” said Michael Holding, the West Indies cricket legend who refuses to even commentate on the games.
“Look through the numbers and see how much money they lose each year. You think the team owners are running charitable trusts?”

Holding’s views were supported by Australia’s Dirk Nannes in an interview with ABC Grandstand.
“The owners weren’t allowed on the ground, but there would be a team manager going to the owner and saying, ‘What are we doing next’, then going to the coach,” he said about his time in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL). “The security guys were saying enough was enough. But it just kept going on. The owners were sitting there on the phone. The owners were demanding that they be in constant touch with the coach because that’s why they bought the team.”
The Ajman case was fixing at its worst, almost a spoof version, so ham-handed were the performances. But those expressing outrage over it would do well to examine the bigger tournaments. From the IPL downwards, no tournament is safe.

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

Updated 09 July 2020

Milan turn to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, Liverpool to revive glory

ROME: Preparing to complete a ninth Serie A campaign without winning the Scudetto, AC Milan decided returning to the pinnacle of football required a new approach.

Jay-Z’s entertainment agency Roc Nation is at the center of it, linking up with Milan to scour the world for sponsors and use concerts and other high-profile events to attract new fans.

And who better to ask about how to end a title drought than the team that just won their league for the first time in 30 years?

“We have been talking to Liverpool,” Milan chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig told The Associated Press, “because they’ve been through the same path as we are going through now.”

Milan are enduring their longest Serie A drought since the 1980s. Despite beating leader Juventus on Tuesday, even the top four Champions League places are out of reach in this pandemic-delayed season. It’s been seven years since Milan last competed in Europe’s elite competition.

“We’re working very hard to get back to where we should be, and from that perspective, it does help open doors when you have won seven Champions Leagues,” Stylsvig said. 

“Playing European football is top of the agenda. It is our natural habitat and somewhere we should be.”

Only Real Madrid has lifted the European Cup more often than Milan. But that seventh title was won 13 years ago, by beating Liverpool.

Now Liverpool are the lodestar for Milan, which have fallen to 21st in the Deloitte ranking of football’s moneymakers with revenue of €206.3 million  ($234 million) in the last financial year, a third of the income at the newly crowned Premier League champions.

“Four, five years ago, no one considered Liverpool and see where they are now,” Stylsvig said. “They obviously play very attractive football. They are winning, they have a fantastic manager, a fantastic team and now they are following suit from a commercial perspective. It has taken time, but their model seems to work.”

Liverpool have been run for a decade by John Henry’s Fenway Sports Group. Milan have also had American ownership for three years since the takeover by the Elliott Management hedge fund.

“We are obviously a global brand,” Stylsvig said in a telephone interview. “I’ve probably been talking too much in the Italian market in the last few years and (the coronavirus) sort of pushed us to think more global again.”

The pandemic that shut down sports produced the first public manifestation of the partnership with Roc Nation when Milan staged a live virtual fundraising concert headlined by Alicia Keys.

“I do think merging sport and entertainment could be the way of engaging new fans,” Stylsvig said. “The world has changed dramatically and we need to follow suit. Roc Nation is helping us, challenging us with that, having someone on the sideline to do that.”

The biggest audiences logging in to watch “From Milan with Love” were from China and the US.

With no games being played during the three-month Serie A shutdown — and crowds still prohibited from matches — Milan have had to find new ways of connecting with its fan base and fulfilling commercial deals.

“It’s been incredibly challenging,” Stylsvig said. “You basically have to rethink the model. So one of the first things we did was focusing much more on a digital space, creating content and trying to be engaging and trying to talk to our partners.”

Further down the line is moving into a new stadium, with plans to rebuild the San Siro it shares with Inter Milan.

“That will change the club,” Stylsvig said. “The revenues are incredibly important but also for the perception of the club.”