Sports Integrity Initiative: Film Review – Death of a Gentleman – is cricket dying in more ways than one?

Cricket is unique. It is considered the world’s second most popular sport. Yet, unlike football, some of the biggest countries in the world – the USA, China, and Germany for instance – barely know it even exists. Earlier this summer the FIFA corruption scandal made headlines the world over and it was the US’s Department of Justice who were the instigators of legal action against those involved. In cricket, the actions of the game’s administrators are less obvious, less accountable. It is for this reason that the film, Death of a Gentleman, is so integral to drawing attention to the game’s administration. The film’s producers claim that ‘a lack of independent regulation means cricket is being run in a way that fans become chequebooks and players become pawns.’ The Sports Integrity Initiative, an independent sports law platform created to air key issues in sports integrity and to provide a platform for change, has reviewed the film to highlight the integrity and governance aspects of the sport.

Timing, as they say, is everything. This is the summer in which the FIFA corruption scandal has finally culminated in meaningful arrests. This is the month in which two headline teams in the IPL have been effectively disqualified on the back of large-scale corruption scandals. The timing for the release of an investigative documentary, trying to find out what goes on behind closed doors in the administrative world of international cricket, could not be any better.

Is Test cricket dying? As the name of the film suggests, have we found ourselves in an era that will in fact oversee the Death of a Gentleman – the death of Test cricket? It is this question that the producers of the film, journalists Jarrod Kimber and Sam Collins, initially set out to answer. Introduced with shots of amateur cricket played out on luscious green outfields in quaint English villages, the entrance is an emotive one. “You learn to be a proper human being playing cricket,” we hear the former West Indian fast-bowler Michael Holding proclaim. “It’s not about cricket, it’s about life,” Kimber tells us.

“Nonsense,” declares Giles Clarke, former chairman and now president of the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB), to the suggestion that Test cricket is dying. Clarke argues that this is the same story that we’ve been told time and time again over the last century, and yet Test cricket remains. With the third Test of the Ashes already underway, arguably the appetite for Test cricket – or the Ashes at least – remains large?

Far from providing a conclusive rebuttal however, there begins the purpose of this film. Just as Kimber and Collins begin by stumbling across the globe with hastily packed suitcases, often without a lead, and with just a camera crew and voice recorder to hand, the audience start wondering not only whether Test cricket is dying, but whether this is just the start of something much more sinister. This is a film not just about the very real threat of the death of Test cricket (and it certainly is a threat – they didn’t have Twenty20 or television rights in the 1900s, for starters), but about a sport run by an elite minority who control and oversee its administration with little to no scrutiny, about a sport which instead of expanding is forcefully being contracted, and about a sport which is turning down opportunities of development and an Olympic platform. This is a film about the vested interests of that minority. But it’s not just a film, it’s a campaign (and it’s got a hashtag – #changecricket – to prove it).

The investigatory work is second to none. At one point Collins and Kimber manage to weasel their way into one of Dubai’s many skyscrapers, armed with their very own fake sheikh, and to within one closed door of an executive International Cricket Council (ICC) meeting which is hashing out the distribution of its revenue among its members, skewed considerably in favour of just three cricket-playing nations – England, Australia and India.

Throughout the film there accompanies a parallel storyline to the investigation into how cricket’s administration is run. We are privileged to witness the development of one cricketer, Ed Cowan, as he goes from promising state player to international cricketer donning Australia’s hallowed ‘baggy green’ – the cap awarded to Australian Test cricket players – and scoring a century soon after. However just as Cowan tries to keep that dream alive, and just as Kimber and Collins try to believe that their own dream of keeping Test cricket alive remains, Cowan is dropped from the Australian side without warning and with little explanation. Cowan’s story becomes a metaphor for the film. How can something so hallowed, so treasured, be swept aside so easily by the powers that be? Just as Cowan plays his cricket in a measured but elegant manner – a true Test cricketer of Test cricket – we see how he is overtaken in standing and acclaim by his opening batting partner, David Warner, whose brash style and Twenty20 entrance into the Test team appears to prove the favoured path by the selectors. Is this the story of Test cricket versus Twenty20? Warner is currently opening the batting for Australia in the Ashes. Cowan is back in Australia, an outcast of the national team, left to raise his young family.

While the film is a campaign, it is not without its light reliefs. The portrayal of ECB President Giles Clarke and ICC Chairman Narayanaswami Srinivasan, whom Kimber and Collins frame as the film’s ‘villains’, the bureaucrats running the show behind closed doors in the interests of their own cricket board’s success and theirs alone – is brilliant. “That idiot Sam’s outside,” says Clarke on being accosted, once again, by Collins. “Next question,” he says pointedly. “I’m not here to talk about that.” When the two journalists manage to get a personal interview with Srinivasan, former President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and Managing Director of India Cements which owns the Chennai Super Kings franchise recently ejected from the IPL over corruption charges, the results are beautiful. “We are all equal when we sit at the ICC table. The BCCI is very well-meaning,” Srinivasan tells us, knowing that England, Australia and India alone are set to take 53% of ICC revenues for themselves, leaving the 102 remaining member boards to scrap it out for the rest. “We are a large cricket family.”

Only last week Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, told us in similar fashion that he was just like the rest of us as part of the wider football family. It’s easy to imagine Srinivasan as cricket’s incarnation of Blatter, but the truth is that despite Death of a Gentleman’s best efforts, this isn’t FIFA. There are no arrests. No proven corruption by those in power. No evidence to conclude illegality. There is no smoking gun that will trigger immediate and conclusive reform of an unscrutinised international governing body. So what next?

Kimber and Collins are adamant that there is a purpose – that this campaign is more than just a hashtag. They have launched a petition, admittedly with the hashtag ‘#changecricket’, calling on the governments of England, Australia and India to implement the changes proposed by the Woolf Report (and dismissed by Clarke in the film) recommending independent, transparent and accountable governance. They want an outcry at the fact that the next Cricket World Cup is to be reduced to just 10 participating nations. And they want the ICC to support cricket’s bid to become an Olympic sport, and unlock the potential of to date unknown cricketing entities, such as China and the USA. The film may not uncover a smoking gun, but it casts an extraordinary deep and sinister shadow over the world’s second most popular sport.

Another point of interest was the presence, or absence, of those attending the premiere of the film and of those featured within it. It was a battle of us versus them, of insiders versus outsiders. Piers Morgan, critic-in-chief of the ECB for batsman Kevin Pietersen’s omission, was in attendance. As was Nick Compton, former England opening batsman dropped for not really doing anything wrong. Peter Borren, captain of the Netherlands, which is likely to be one of the teams to lose out in a shrunken World Cup, was also there. Clare Connor, on the other hand, Director of Women’s Cricket at the ECB, had been actively prevented by her superiors from appearing in the film, or commenting or being associated with it. As was another cricket broadcaster who feared for their career and the wrath of the BCCI should they attend. The Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), the home of cricket, the maker of its laws, had earlier refused to screen the film to its members. If this film is to make waves, to have a real impact, it may need to get some more supporters from within. The newspapers’ reviews have been favourable and in abundance, but they have never been ones to hold back when it comes to criticising the ECB.

It would be interesting to see a response – from the ECB or the BCCI to an unflattering portrayal of their administrations. The fear, however, is that as with the Kevin Pietersen saga in which the ECB handled the PR so badly the average cricket fan couldn’t help but turn against them, they are confident that it will blow over because they know that those that matter, the consumer, the fan, the money bags of the game, have already been intoxicated with the thrills of Twenty20 cricket. The BCCI knows that it has the trump card – it has the millions of countrymen hooked on the IPL and the ensuing multi-million pound television rights to go with it. Is this a market which has already been intoxicated, brainwashed by Big Bother enforcing it’s own two minutes of hate against these dissenters? Is the gentleman already dead? For cricket’s sake, and the integrity of sport, let’s hope this wake-up call has come just in time.

• This article was originally published in the Sports Integrity Initiative internet journal on 29 July 2015. To access the original, please click here.

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