In times of COVID-19, financial woes for Afghanistan Cricket Board

With no cricket and a lack of sponsors, the ACB, like other cricket boards across the globe, is feeling the heat.

The Afghanistan national team has many international matches lined up in 2021.   -  AP

Cricket boards across the globe stare at huge financial losses as they grapple with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Afghanistan Cricket Board (ACB), too, is feeling the heat with no cricketing action and lack of sponsors.

The ACB, which became a full-member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) in 2017, has already announced a 25 per cent salary cut for its national team coaches - Lance Klusener, H. D. Ackermann and Nawroz Mangal - and will review the players’ salary structures in June to take a call on whether a pay cut is necessary.

“The player salaries will be reviewed in June and we will take a call on whether or not we will be making cuts to the players salaries as well. They have been paid salaries for the first three months this year,” ACB’s chief executive officer, Lutfullah Stanikzai, told Sportstar from Kabul.

With its finances hit, the board had to reduce by 25 per cent salary for the coaches in May, and there are possibilities of a 50 per cent cut in case situation does not improve. “The national team support staff has been impacted. We have tried to protect jobs, we have not terminated any contracts , nor fired anyone yet. But they are the highly paid staff at the ACB, so when there is a loss of revenue, we have to take this decision of pay cuts to the national team support staff,” Stanikzai said.

Reliance on ICC

At a time when there is no clarity on when cricket will resume again, the ACB hopes that the T20 World Cup and the Asia Cup goes ahead as per schedule. “As a relatively young board, we rely heavily on the distribution of the ICC. That is going to impact us next year and beyond if the T20 World Cup is cancelled and the Asia Cup doesn’t take place,” the CEO said.

Ahead of the Asia Cup, the ACB had decided to play a five-match T20I series against Zimbabwe, but now even that looks dicey.

“Cricket has come to a standstill in the whole country. Our domestic competitions have either been postponed or cancelled. Our international tours have also been impacted. We were supposed to travel to Sri Lanka for an A tour, which has been postponed. We were supposed to travel to Zimbabwe for a five-match T20I series, that’s also in limbo and at risk because there is no international flight,” Stanikzai said, adding: “There is uncertainty as to when international cricket will be resumed. The cancellation of events and losing sponsors have put us in difficulties.”

Being a full member, the ACB is entitled to a distribution cost from the ICC for featuring in the global events. So far, the ACB has received 50 per cent of the distribution costs for 2020 from the ICC in January, which amounted to USD 2.4 million approx).

Important year ahead

But how much of a loss will the ACB suffer if there is no cricket in the near future? “It will be difficult to put a figure to it since we are at the first half of the year. By mid-June, when we do our review, we will have a better understanding of the loss,” Stanikzai said.

He added: “The important year for us is next year because we are playing a lot of international cricket in 2021. So, it is important that we go with a good financial health in 2021.”

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Afghanistan plays its home games in India - in Greater Noida and Lucknow. But will there be any cost-cutting on that front, too?

“We use the facilities in India on a series-by-series basis. It has to be in consultation with local associations and the BCCI. Overall, the impact has been quite evident and no cricket has happened. The loss of sponsors and loss of revenue are the major concerns,” Stanikzai said.

Future uncertain

Some cricket boards have shown keenness on playing in front of empty stadiums. However, Stanikzai admits that the game will no longer be the same after the pandemic. “It is difficult to make a prediction as to when things will be normal again. It all depends on the lockdown imposed by certain countries, also depends on where we play or host our matches - including India - also in Afghanistan. Once things are back to normal, at least for the next year or so, it will be quite difficult to give confidence to fans and others which they had previously. It is important that we take prevention measures. Health and safety of staff, players and all other stakeholders have been the No. 1 priority,” the CEO said.

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Even before the coronavirus hit, the ACB suffered a financial setback as one of its major sponsors - Alokozay Group of Companies (AGC) - cancelled its contract last year owing to differences. Even during the lockdown, Indian company Tyka - which signed up as a clothes sponsor with the ACB - terminated its contract, adding to the woes of the Afghan board.

The road ahead is tough as the ACB has a lot of international assignments lined up next year.

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