Our Future is Within Our Hands – Malcolm Cannon
Cricket writer Jake Perry caught up with Cricket Scotland's CEO Malcolm Cannon after his first year in office.
Malcolm Cannon is a man with a mission. Pragmatic, level headed and sporting a CV which includes taking Hunters Boots from administration to major high street brand, Cricket Scotland’s chief executive is clear in his determination to ensure that the future of Scottish cricket is placed on a similarly solid footing. And as he passes his first anniversary in the role the reforms he has introduced are already beginning to bear fruit as the organisation continues to develop in the professional era.
It has been a year, and a challenge, that the 54 year-old has clearly relished.
“It’s been fascinating,” said Cannon. “I have come into what for me is a new sector and a new sport and into an organisation which some people have viewed as being slightly dysfunctional and remote, others as just doing what it was supposed to do for many years without much in the way of change.
“What we’ve done is to introduce some pretty fundamental foundations on to which we can build a business,” he continued. “And that’s the business of cricket, rather than the game of cricket or the cricket teams themselves.
“We’ve got a great new board with a lot of enthusiasm, energy and skill and I think we have engaged with the districts and the regions better than before too – we’re getting them involved at board level but we are also going out and speaking to them directly.
“So, yes, it’s been a fascinating year working with a great team.”
And it has been a period to look back on with considerable satisfaction. Scotland’s women reached the World Cup Qualifier on top of their fourth place finish at the Women’s World T20 Qualifier. At the World T20 in India the men’s team recorded their first ever victory at a major tournament and the Under 19s qualified for their World Cup in Bangladesh. Off the field, too, international recognition came to Scotland in the prestigious form of the ICC’s Global Development Award.
The positivity of such accomplishments is also tinged with a little disappointment, however.
“There have been some fantastic successes,” said Cannon, “and perhaps we should be more proud of them than we have tended to be. That’s one of my frustrations. If you compare our record with that of rugby, football and hockey, pretty much every other team sport, I think we are unfairly harsh on ourselves. The Scottish public and even the Scottish club players are not as proud of the successes of the nation as they perhaps should be.
“We should be a little more outwardly proud of what we have achieved.”
Such frustrations are few, however, and Cannon speaks with enthusiasm and passion about the changes brought in over the past twelve months. Most eye-catching of all has been the root-and-branch review of the governance structure of Cricket Scotland and he is clear as to the rewards that the boardroom shake-up will bring to the Scottish game.
“There are three very clear benefits to what we have done,” he said. “Firstly we have moved towards a more equitable model with a woman’s position on the board secured. Uniquely as a sport we have the opportunity for girls and women to play alongside their male counterparts – if they want to and are good enough they can play for the national ‘men’s’ team - so having a woman on the board by rights is very important.
“Secondly, we have opened membership up to independent directors for the first time and through the four appointments we have made, all highly competent and experienced individuals, we have managed to appoint two additional women. So we now have three women on the boards of Scottish cricket and I think that is a massive change for the better.
“The third part is to do with representation from each of the districts. In the past elected members came from club cricket but there was no requirement that each of the areas was represented, which in theory meant you could have had five representatives from, say, Melrose.
“Now we have dictated that each region is represented. And that encourages upward and downward communication so that the board, and therefore its decisions, are better informed.
“It has been a huge change overall and it was very reassuring to have almost universal agreement and endorsement from the clubs. They saw the problems, they recognised the need for change and they have absolutely supported that change.”
Hand-in-hand with the development of the new structure has been the publication of Cricket Scotland’s Strategic Plan, a four-year programme setting out clear and measurable targets for growth in the domestic and international game. Cannon is realistic in his appraisal of what they mean and how they will be achieved.
“The strategy is built on three main pillars, none of which are particularly smart or clever or unique – any sport will tell you that they want to get more people playing, they want to play at a higher level and they want to become more independent and financially secure - but we’ve got the ability to make step changes in at least two of those,” he said.
“We are looking to increase participation in the grassroots game by 20% and we can address a great deal of that target just through getting the girls’ and women’s game better structured. We want to develop and grow the women’s league, ensure that girls who try cricket at primary school are then looked after and nurtured through senior school and the club structure and then carry that through to make the women’s game a more attractive concept to elite sportswomen.
“We’ve got a really good opportunity to make pretty radical changes to the numbers of people playing cricket. We’re introducing a new Curriculum for Excellence model into primary schools which will massively increase the numbers of young children being exposed to cricket and that is a fundamental part of growing the game.
“In the performance side we have set targets of top twelve in both the men’s and women’s rankings,” he continued. “Global top twelve when we’re ranked thirteen and fourteen at the moment doesn’t seem massively ambitious but if you look at the step change between the Test-playing nations, the next two quasi-Test-playing nations and the rest it is quite a big jump.
“So it is ambitious – I think we can be even more ambitious but we need to make our targets achievable and in a four-year strategy I think to be top twelve in men’s and women’s cricket is ambitious enough.
“The third part is around becoming more commercially aware through making the sport a business as well which makes sense. As a professional sport we are compared with the other two professional team sports in Scotland, football and rugby, and undoubtedly we are on a different scale. So we need to exercise as many of the commercial options that we have at our disposal and leverage those as well as we can.”
And what of the familiar problem faced by Associate cricket, those widely-voiced concerns over fixtures? How much influence can Cricket Scotland exert when it comes to arranging matches for the national side? Cannon is frank in his analysis of the issues facing the governing body.
“We have very little influence, certainly when it comes to the men,” he said. “Slightly more when it comes to age group and women’s fixtures which are still run in a non-professional manner, in the sense that they are not seen as having the same media rights or sponsorship value, but in the men’s game, which is what most of the focus is on, we have very little ability to organise matches.
“The Future Tours Programme for the Test nations, and now more and more for Afghanistan and Ireland too, is so packed that to find an opportunity to play one of those teams you need to be negotiating two or three years out. It’s no-one’s fault, but we are where we are and it is what it is – the reality is that we need to start negotiating our position from three years out to ensure we have some good quality competition in 2018, ’19 and ‘20 as opposed to next year. And this is the difficult thing because funding matches is at our cost so we need to be sure that we will have the funds to pay for those fixtures two, three, four years out.
“We’re in a conundrum because we want to arrange fixtures but we don’t have the money and without the fixtures we can’t generate the money. It’s an age-old problem, it isn’t new but it is something we need to get our head around.”
He is equally honest, though, about the chance the national side now has to secure a place at the top table.
“We need to win our remaining World Cricket League (WCL) games to give us the best opportunity to be chosen as the thirteenth nation for the ICC’s proposed ODI league,” he said. “If we can get into that we have a set of guaranteed, quality fixtures because we will have to play all the other teams in that top thirteen at some stage which means matches against the top Test-playing nations.
“We have to get there first, though, and that is entirely within our gift. And we have to be honest with ourselves because in the past we have not performed well enough to take the opportunities which have come our way.
“If we don’t win the WCL we can’t blame anyone else. We can’t blame the weather - some of the games this season have been abandoned or not taken place, but other teams have the same issues that we do. We live in Scotland, and if we can’t get over that then we probably shouldn’t be living here.
“But this is a real chance that is within our grasp and we need to make sure that we take the opportunity.”