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ECB opens up infrastructure funding through £61m aid package

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has announced a £61m (€69.1m/$75.5m) package to help the sport withstand the financial impact of COVID-19, funding that will include the opening up of money previously reserved for stadium development projects.

The plans detail a number of measures for the whole sport from elite to grassroots, including the Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), owner of Lord’s; the First-Class Counties (FCCs) and their County Cricket Boards (CCBs). Local cricket clubs will also be offered support to see them through the coming months.

The ECB last month agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least May 28, wiping out the first seven rounds of the County Championship and questioning the status of this year’s 50-over Royal London Cup.

The ECB, which is due to launch its new franchise-based competition, The Hundred, this summer, is currently modelling a range of options to start the season in June, July or August – with an immediate focus on options for cricket in June, including England’s three-Test series against West Indies, and the domestic T20 Blast tournament. It is believed The Hundred could be delayed to 2021 amid the current turmoil.

With revenues impacted across the game – from both cricket and non-cricket activities, the ECB Board has approved plans to expedite payments from a number of areas within its 2020-21 planned distribution budgets.

Around £40m will be made immediately available through early release of three months’ (May-July) county partnership distributions to FCCs and CCBs and the immediate availability of two years’ facilities maintenance distribution. The latter funds will be available unfettered and not restricted to facilities maintenance expenditure. A further £5.5m to be made available for counties who are not eligible for 2020-21 ordinary facilities maintenance distributions.

In September, the ECB announced a £25m increase to its Infrastructure Fund for FCCs over the next five years in a move to further boost the fan experience at grounds across the country. The fresh investment followed on from the £50m of FCC infrastructure funding that the ECB pledged earlier in 2019 when launching its ‘Inspiring Generations’ strategy for the 2020 to 2024 period.

Yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) announcement from the ECB also included the suspension of international staging fees for four months and waiving of international staging fees payable in 2020 if the match is not played as scheduled due to COVID-19.

Tom Harrison, chief executive of the ECB, said: “We understand these are challenging times and it has been our priority to provide swift and immediate support to all members of the cricket family at every level in England and Wales.

“We are fully aware that the situation with COVID-19 will continue to develop, and it will be months before the full financial fallout is made clear. We will continue work with all of our partners to protect the ongoing health of the entire game in the short term and beyond.”

In a letter to Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) chief executive Tony Irish, reported by ESPNcricinfo, Harrison has estimated that an entire season without cricket will cost the game in England and Wales “well in excess of £300m”.

Harrison described the ongoing pandemic as “the biggest challenge the sport has faced in the modern era” admitting that “although the full extent and impact of the pandemic on cricket is as yet unknown, it is already clear that it will be extremely significant”.

The ECB last week said COVID-19 testing checkpoints and isolation units could be deployed at grounds under a behind closed doors event model, adding that the “national mood” would also need to be judged before the domestic season could begin play.