Couch Talk Episode 67 (play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Today’s guest is Ross Brooks, General Manager of Gibraltar Cricket. We will be talking about how he came in to that position, current state of cricket in Gibraltar and its future, and how the Associate & Affilate nations are treated as unqual partners in the global game. Welcome to the show, Ross!
Ross Brooks– Hi, Subash! Thanks very much for having me.
SJ– It’s my pleasure.
You are originally from London, England and you have made your way to Gibraltar via Scotland. Why and how did you get to Gibraltar, and what is it that you are doing out there?
RB– Yes. The story begins with Edinburgh and my involvement with Watsonians Cricket Club there. My involvement grew to, in the last 5 years, being the President of the club there. The work that I did with the club and the amount of hours I put in, made me want to make this in to a full time career. Fortunate enough on seeing Gibraltar advertising for a General Manager, and to be offered the position towards the end of last year, I have just come up on 6 months in the post now. I am here, and loving life in Gibraltar.
RB– The Board of Gibraltar Cricket was looking for someone who was prepared to roll up their sleeves , was good at putting a structure in place, and someone who is not afraid of getting their hands dirty and take care of a lot of the administration. So, they weren’t necessarily looking at someone to come in to develop the coaching with hands on side of things, but someone to drive forward a structure and improvement of cricket across the country.
SJ– So, before you came in, was there a structure? Or, was it all you building from scratch?
RB– A structure was in place. Gibraltar Cricket have had Associate status for 30-40 years now. And laterally, with the funding from the ICC, it has enabled them to have people in development position, so very much in coaching positions. It was only a couple of years ago when they hired their first General Manager, someone to look at the administration side, a prerequisite for receiving that ICC funding. It is fair to say that they hadn’t been done the way it should’ve been done in the last few years, and so there has been a lot of hard work over the last 6 months. I am really trying to put a structure in place to help us move forward.
SJ– Let’s talk a bit about cricket in Gibraltar, the history. Considering it is a British overseas territory, it is inevitable that cricket is being played there. I did read a bit about cricket’s history there- from the turn of the 19th century on, I suppose? From the point of view of the recent past, the last decade or so, how has been the state of cricket affairs?
RB– The last decade has seen a fairly dramatic change. Gibraltar has historically had a fairly big military presence. And with that, there have been some very good cricketers stationed here. Over the last decade, the military presence has disappeared. The game has gone through a bit of a transition now.
We have seen more and more gaming companies coming and putting their headquarters here because of the gaming laws that are around the world, and that has brought in a new set of expats. There are a lot of people from England based over here. Cricket is very active in the last 10 years in Gibraltar schools. The kids are getting a lot exposure across all the schools in the country to take sessions, in-school and after school as well.
SJ– Considering that you have a population of about 35,000, how is it that the cricket survives? You talked about being in schools. But, in reality, considering where you are geographically, you are going to be competing especially with football in terms of popularity and in terms of what the kids would like to play. How does cricket survive there?
RB– Football is king of sports in Gibraltar, and very successful too. The Gibraltar Football Association (GFA) are going through the process of becoming a full member of UEFA at the moment, which potentially gives them the opportunity to grow the game even more with funding. We very much battle against them. Space is also an issue in Gibraltar, with the population of 30,000 squeezed around the rock. So, you are battling for space to play cricket too.
There are other sports that do well and are successful here. Rugby is similar to ourselves. They are going through the process of gaining qualification as well to the International Rugby Board (IRB). Basketball is another sport that is trying to grow. Sports will compete against each other. For me, it is about giving the kids the maximum amount of opportunity to play as many sports as they can and ultimately they are the one who are going to take the decision as to what path to follow.
SJ– I was taking a virtual tour of Gibraltar on Google Earth. Even with the small area, I saw a plenty of football fields. I saw an artificial turf wicket near the international airport/runway. You mentioned the lack of space. So, what are the facilities for cricket? And, I also wanted to hear about the club structure.
RB– From facilities point of view, we operate two grounds. We have our main ground down at the Europa Point which has an artificial turf wicket in the centre and the outfield is essentially a dust gravel outfield, not conducive to sliding stops or diving catches. We also use the Victoria Stadium, which is a football stadium. It has an artificial pitch there. Effectively a mat for a wicket in the middle of that. Space is tight certainly, and the grounds are not conducive to the purest form of the game.
The other challenge we have is- we talked about the GFA’s impending decision with UEFA. There is a strong talk of UEFA wanting to fund the new stadium for the national team, one of the potential site is one of our cricket grounds. That puts us in an even more troublesome position if that goes ahead.
SJ– I saw that there have been two tours from MCC. Shouldn’t there be more of that, where people from more established cricket nations come down to Gibraltar to play cricket, which will be a bigger exposure to the skill levels and show the people playing cricket in Gibraltar what they need to be aspiring to?
RB– We welcome all sides here. The tough thing is, to be brutally honest, our facilities are a bit of a shock to the ones coming out here. We don’t produce the quality of cricket. If we can work hard on our facilities here, and we rely on the government backing to help us do that, a place like Gibraltar will be absolutely ideal for touring teams and for people, and academies coming out.
If you look, Spain has La Manga, which is hugely popular with all types of academies and performance camps. We have no doubt that we can build something like that in Gibraltar. We have got the climate. It is the end of January and we just spent the entire week doing outdoor training and some nets work. If you can do that in January, it is a wonderful place to come and play some cricket when the weather is not good in your own country. If we can work hard in doing that, we will boost the game. At the moment, we don’t have the right facilities in place to attract the types of calibres of team that we like to come out here.
SJ– What are the plans in place to improve the facilities? You said you wanted government funding…
RB– We are working closely with the government and we talked about the football proposals, which in the short term could have dramatic consequences on our sport. There are a couple of areas of land in Gibraltar, even in the tight space that we have got, which could host such a facility. We are lucky that we are close to the Gibraltar Rugby Association and we could do something that we could both use. Rugby is on similar line, they could have sides coming in and touring more if they had the correct facilities. I don’t think everyone from the governmental point of view grasps the potential of cricket and rugby. If you look at Gibraltar as a PLC (private limited company), it could be a massive boost to their economy for having those facilities in place.
SJ– What about the club structure? From what I read, there are about 15 clubs?
RB– Yes. There are mid-week competitions and weekend competitions. The midweek ones are played in the evenings, T20. There are 16 teams that play midweek. Some of them are from work sides. Some gaming companies have sides. We generally play a two-tiered league throughout the summer. We have 4 teams during the weekends. There are maybe 3 teams for the 40 over competition and 4 for the twenty over competition. We generally do that when we have the students coming back from the UK for the summer as well.
There are various competitions- Cup and League style competitions- where we try to get as many people as we can get involved in cricket.
SJ– Do these clubs form the conduit for the people to get into the Gibraltar team, to play in the [European] division championship cricket?
RB– Absolutely, yes. All the guys in the national squad play within the weekend sides. They are all Gibraltarians and based in Gibraltar. We probably have 2 or 3 guys who are in the national team on residency (4 and 7 years). The remainder, the bulk of them, are Gibraltarians – born and bred in Gibraltar.
SJ– Let’s get to the main thing that you are here for- Gibraltar is going to be playing in the ICC European Division-1 Championship Tournament in Sussex. That is going to provide teams to go into the ICC World T20 Qualifiers to be played in the UAE later this year. Where is Gibraltar figuring in all this?
RB– In terms of the tournament, the last T20 tournament we participated in had 12 teams in it and we finished 9th, 2 years ago. We got aspirations to finish high and try to make a few waves in the tournament by causing an upset or two. We are competing against some nations incredibly larger than us in populations.
SJ– Yes. You are competing against Germany, Belgium, Austria, Sweden, Norway, etc.
RB– Yes, and the Islands as well- Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man are in there. it is going to be a stiff test. The beauty of being a small place is that the squad can get together as one and we can be closer as a unit, which some of the larger nations can’t.
SJ– How are your preparations and what are the things that you are in need of?
RB– Preparations have started off well. The squad has been working hard on fitness from around October, on twice a week program on fitness. We have had a bit of a break from cricket since end of last season. This weekend we had come from a weekend long session with the national coach, Paul Lawrence. He comes from Somerset and helps us out. We restarted to feel some balls again, take some catches, and some fielding drills. A few hits in the nets as well. It is coming along nicely.
SJ– So, who funds all these? The coach coming down, the team traveling to Sussex, training, etc. Do the players fund themselves? Is it the ICC? How does it work?
RB– As an Associate, we work closely with ICC Europe. They are in London. We get a sizable chunk of funding from ICC Europe, which funds my salary and my colleague Mark Bacarese, who is our Level-3 development manager, and it funds everything that goes on the game in Gibraltar. We have an operational budget that we work to, which has to take in to account the tournament we attend and the costs incurred on the national coach coming across on his time. We do have a couple of sponsors, small Gibraltar firms, and we have association with one of the major banks as well. But, all that only scratches the surface of what we need. We are very fortunate to get that money from the ICC and we spend it wisely. Is that enough? Probably not. It starts to just help us do what we do. But, to do more, to improve our facilities, we have to work with the government and help that funding to improve. We need more support to grow the game in the way I’ll like to grow the game.
SJ– Of course, more funds is helpful. What are the avenues? For example, someone listening to this show, an individual person, or someone with a business? How can they get involved, with not just Gibraltar, but whatever Associate countries they may be close to?
RB– Most of the associates have got their own websites, it will be easy to contact us and track us down. From my side, I am very clear that anyone coming into this, sponsoring someone like Gibraltar or helping us out, is not going to do so to receive massive TV coverage and see their logo on a shirt in the national press. What I can promise is that we have an organization here that is passionate about growing the game in the right way, growing it from the grass roots, heavily involved in community work. Anyone wanting to get involved will have a great time seeing the progress one of the smallest nations competing on the world stage, they will be very much a part of the Gibraltar cricket family.
SJ– Say, a small to a medium scale business do get involved, so they may not get all the benefits that they would expect. You would think associations like yours can appeal to individuals around the world to chip in? Are there avenues to contribute like that?
RB– I’d look at any different model really, and welcome any ideas from entrepreneurs on how we could best run it and work with them. My phone is always on, whatever time of day it is. I always welcome a call or an email from someone, we can have a chat and see what we can do.
SJ– One thing I want to touch upon before I let you go- the relationship between the Associate nations and how they are looked upon and looked after by the major cricketing Test playing nations, and even within that – India, England, Pakistan or Australia. In my opinion, cricket needs to grow more and more and be more inclusive. Whereas, what we see is that it is progressing in the opposite direction. Your take on that?
RB– Drawing of my experience of being in Scotland and having some friends working in the national governing body in Scotland Cricket, it is more apparent at that level- the Scotland and Ireland level. You see the restrictions around the qualifications for some of the major tournaments like the World Cup and the World T20. There is very much a perception at that level, but it is a closed shop at the top. Maybe the media will like to keep it that way, as well, just to have those top-10 playing at the same table. But, to make it a truly global game, it has to be more open. There have been questionable performances by some of the top-10 nations and for them to be challenged on an equal playing field will be better for a healthier game.
For ourselves, the challenge is around funding that is coming down from that table, it is no secret, that funding is decreasing in certain respects. You have to look at it, some of the tournament for U-19 representative sides are now not taking place. The amount of ICC Europe tournaments has decreased this year from previous years. That is purely down to finance and purely down to funds. That is stunting the growth of some of the smaller nations. It is going to be harmful for the game. For the kids involved, they need something to aspire to. Under-15 cricket against other nations, Under-19 tournaments, if they are not there, it is going to harm the development of the game from the grassroots.
SJ– Absolutely. I was talking with a friend of mine recently – Every country within FIFA has to go through qualifications to play the World Cup Finals, where 32 teams play, where, a large country like Brazil or Argentina, if they didn’t get past the qualification they don’t get to the final-32, they don’t get to the big dance. Whereas, in cricket, you are guaranteed as those top-10 nations. That is quite an unfair situation.
RB– You have the top nations looking after themselves. There is self-preservation. By voting in a certain way, you can preserve your own future. That is not the healthiest way to govern the sport.
SJ– Okay. Coming back to Gibraltar cricket, what is your outlook going forward?
RB– We are just around a process of a 3 year strategy which we have called as “Building the Base” to really get that much broader base in place. We are focusing on ensuring our national team are going to be performing well in the tournaments because a lot of our funding is more reliant on that high-performance element now. Also, a lot of the community work that we are doing and the youth work to really grow a base so that in the years to come we have sustainable product that will keep producing cricketers through it and keep giving people opportunities to grow the game. There are challenges in our facilities locally, there are challenges around financially, especially with decrease in grants coming down. But, if we can put something in place that is more sustainable and that is going to produce more cricketers, then we have got a fighting chance of growing the game and competing even more so than the level we are playing at.
SJ– Thanks a lot, Ross, for coming on the show. Good luck to you. And, good luck to Gibraltar Cricket.
RB– No problem. Thank you very much for having me on, Subash. I hope everyone enjoyed listening to me talk about Gibraltar Cricket for a few minutes.
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman