CSA could postpone T20 league again

A view of the Wanderers Stadium BCCI

Cricket South Africa will decide by the middle of September if it will host a T20 league, and has strongly indicated that a second postponement is possible if the financial viability of the event is not secure. In its first public statement on the league since CEO Thabang Moroe confirmed a six-team tournament on July 31, CSA explained it will not pursue a T20 league "at all costs" and prefers an approach of "cautious optimism".

Earlier this week, CSA's league suffered a major blow when pay-television broadcaster SuperSport announced it was withdrawing from its equity share of the new tournament, effectively leaving CSA to fund the event itself. SuperSport was due to hold a 49% share in the new league after CSA opted to move away from private ownership. Four of the eight owners of the original T20 Global League (GLT20) are considering legal action against CSA, further complicating the organisation's plans to launch a new T20 league.

CSA has been pushed so far back that it has been unable to announce domestic fixtures for a season that should start in a month, unable to address the parliament's sports and recreation committee earlier this week, and has asked for a postponement while preparing for next month's AGM while being unable to provide any detailed information to the provincial affiliates, players or fans. It aimed to put the last of those right with a lengthy statement on Friday afternoon, the crux of which is that CSA believes it is in a healthy enough financial position to minimise the need for a T20 league.

"It is important to highlight that CSA is a profitable sporting federation and that much as we believe in the product, we do not have to host a T20 league to assure financial sustainability," Moroe said. "The game of cricket in SA is in a healthy state as demonstrated by the growth in cricket development at grassroots levels, a healthy pipeline of young future talent, as well as women's cricket that has progressed with leaps and bounds."

Despite losses of over R200 million (USD 14.1 million) following the failure of the inaugural GLT20, CSA said its annual financial statements would still show "substantial reserves". Given that CSA's research has shown that a T20 tournament can take anywhere between four and seven years to break even, it is no longer looking at a league as a way to obtain financial independence away from ICC grants, in the same way former CEO Haroon Lorgat was.

Lorgat, who conceptualised the GLT20, believed CSA could lessen its reliance on "Big Three" tours (hosting India, England and Australia are the only profitable series for South Africa) by launching its own IPL-style league. That was one of the key reasons Lorgat sought private investment. Now that CSA does not regard a T20 league as a major cash-cow, its approach to the concept is completely different from Lorgat's.

The release mentioned a "toned-down" event from the original GLT20, which could accommodate for private ownership at some point in the future. It also noted that an equity investment was "not a prerequisite" for a tournament of this nature, indicating it could be completely in-house. Though CSA remains committed to pursuing "every possible opportunity" to launch the league this year, time pressures and the absence of any exact deal - be it equity, broadcast or sponsorship - means South Africa could go a second summer with a massive gap in the calendar.

"CSA believes that this can become a global sport event on the national calendar. However, the desire to host such an event cannot be considered at all cost," CSA's release read. "In this regard the CSA approach to cautious optimism might not be a popular approach. As a responsible governing body, CSA must ensure that an aspirational event is not to the detriment of the bulk of many cricketing activities that currently serve players and supporters."

The T20 league is pencilled in for November-December, when there are no other international fixtures in the South African calendar. After hosting Zimbabwe until mid-October and a short white-ball trip to Australia in early November, South Africa do not play any cricket until Boxing Day, when Pakistan arrive.