Twenty20 – Sustainable Cricket?

This week has been a bad one for the newest form of our most dearly beloved game. It seemed that 2008 was the absolute watershed moment for the T20 format. The first season of the IPL, the Stanford Millions competition in the West Indies, and of course the T20 World Cup, won, appropriately, by India. But 2009, and particularly this past week, has proved a real test for the form known as ‘Hollywood Cricket’

The man at the center of all of this is the American businessman Allan Stanford. Back in 2008 Stanford famously rolled into the home of cricket, Lords, with a basket full of money, and won quick friends.

His inaugural tournament, at the ground named in his honor in Antigua, saw a bunch of West Indian teams, play the best County side in England, and the England cricket team itself. From the get-go the competition had the real feeling of a farce. Why were West Indian players playing for a team called Stanford Superstars? Why would a national team involve itself in what was set-up as a franchise competition? The answer was of course the mighty dollar…in fact $20 Million or so.

The first sign of problems should have been that the game of cricket was being sold-out to a man who professed to have no interest in the actual game. But the cash strapped West Indians, and for some reason the Poms, jumped straight into bed with the Texan. Another sign of the problems with Stanford was the extraordinary footage of the billionaire cavorting with the English players wives during a competitive game.

But still, although the players made it clear that the situation was becoming increasingly uncomfortable, the lure of the mighty T20, and the dollars that came with it were too much to refuse.

When word first came out last week that Stanford’s millions were in fact based largely on fraud, it really should have come as no surprise. Suddenly the egg on the face of cricket administrators was so apparent, that even they couldn’t shrug it off. Much has now been written about the incredible lengths that the game will go to, to attract corporate funding. The cash cow of T20 was previously unquestioned. Now, of course, the Stanford Millions will be called off, and reports suggest that many of the West Indian players had been talked into investing their prize money back into Stanford’s fraudulent business practices, thus they now had not even the dollars to show for it.

Another blow to T20 is the increasing range of players who are nominally pulling out of the upcoming IPL tournament. Already Australian stars Mitchell Johnson and Michael Clarke have reaffirmed their disinterest with the competition, and now Ricky Ponting, who was admittedly quite poor for the Kolkata Knight Riders, has pulled out. With the cricket schedule so packed, it is increasingly going to be a conscience call for players juggling monetary and national interests. In fact, speaking of juggling, what is to be said of the England cricket team, who heard of their upcoming riches after they had been allowed to be involved in the IPL, and then subsequently got skittled for 51 by one of the weakest teams in the world. Surely players are now seeing that perhaps the juggling act is increasingly difficult. What seemed easy money is now certainly something else.

T20 came around incredibly quickly. Sure it has had a life at English county level for quite some time, but the fact we had an international world cup and the inaugural franchise competition so soon after the game’s inception, is extraordinary. I wonder about the true longevity of the shortest game. The games are certainly exiting, but there is little room for subtlety or intrigue, players either smash it and get a boundary, or smash it and get out. If one of the major arguments against ODI’s has been their sameness, surely the same is only multiplied in T20. For every ‘David Warner’ Moment, there is a myriad of relative sameness. Smash…Six…Smash…Out.

As money dries up worldwide the only real incentive to be involved in the game will diminish also. So far there are no real outcomes to one-off International T20’s as we have seen between Australia and South Africa and New Zealand, this summer. These games are almost International Friendlies, as the main attraction for the game has been the IPL and its riches. But, as I stated, if the dollars dry up, or are lost in fraudulent situations such as that of Allan Stanford, then not only will the administrators have to think about the real purpose of the game, but they will also have to question their decision-making before they jump into bed with any gung ho businessman with a buck.

Short Term Profits versus Sustainable Long Term Gains

It’s a market obsessed with making short-term returns. As a result, the past decade of what is perceived as ‘regeneration’ has been dominated by speculative investor bulk-buying, killing off any chance of creating vibrant communities resulting in a legacy of absentee owners, and an oversupply of one and two bedroom identikit apartments.

You can’t blame the house builders, developers or agents; after all, they represent the private sector which has to answer to shareholders who want to maximise annualised profit.
But what about the next 20, 50 or 100 years? Is such a short-term approach really the best financial model? Does it create vibrant and healthy communities and great urban places? The answer to these questions has to be no.

Until we adopt a long-term approach to creating communities and vibrant places rather than an obsession with buildings and short-term profit, the property market will not deliver sustainable city living in line with the European approach. I believe the answer lies with the larger financial institutions and the public sector. Both can afford to think long-term, as they don’t answer to private shareholders.

Currently, property only represents a small percentage of pension funds’ total investment. Traditionally, the financial institutions have avoided more exposure to property perceiving it to be volatile and management intensive. However, the city’s financial institutions are now starting to look at property as a long-term alternative for the creation of excellent returns. Morley, one of Europe’s largest property fund managers, set up The Igloo Regeneration Fund in 2002. This is the UK’s first urban regeneration fund investing for a commercial return in mixed use, environmentally sustainable, well-designed regeneration projects on the edge of the top 20 cities in the UK. The fund is managed by Morley on behalf of Norwich Union without pressure from shareholders.

The public sector is also starting to recognise that it can take a long-term approach to value creation and the generation of public benefit through quangos like Communities England (English Partnerships and the Housing Corporation) and British Waterways. For example, British Waterways established ISIS Waterside Regeneration at the 2002 Urban Summit held in Birmingham in order to use its assets to create long-term returns and sustainable new waterside destinations. ISIS is now revitalising more than 170 acres of land in seven towns and cities across the UK, designed to attract a wide range of occupiers, including families. Icknield Port Loop, one of the most significant regeneration opportunities this decade is one of these sites.

When the public sector take this long term approach, they often are faced with a dilemma given the need to cover short term costs, for example British Waterways are responsible for a 200 year old system that constantly needs to be maintained and suffers from years of under-investment. The current costs are more than British Waterways receive. British Waterways require consistent funding to be able to maintain the waterways for public benefit and as a catalyst for regeneration without having to sell off the family silver. Over the past weeks the national news has reported that it may be privatised; this would be a huge shame. British Waterways has the opportunity to continue to act as a force for good in regeneration, rather than being forced to dance to the tune of the shareholder.
We need to encourage the government and financial institutions to get behind the property market and set up more of these funds. We only need to look to northern Europe for an example of how this can work very successfully.

In the UK, young people have a stark choice – 25 year mortgages are likely to be replaced by much longer terms and if the idea of creating huge debts for others to inherit is not attractive they are forced to rent average quality and poorly designed apartments from private, relatively unregulated landlord. If pension funds invest in well designed apartments built as part of a thriving community and well managed by responsible investors such as Morley, places with long-term value can be created, which occupants can then buy-in to as part of their pensions.

This will be a challenge, as we need to overcome the stigma of renting on a long-term basis. In addition, if pension funds do invest in developers like ISIS, which puts sustainability at the heart of its approach, there is an opportunity for large numbers to acknowledge and address the challenge of climate change. If there were more communities living in residential schemes like ISIS ones which have sustainability built-in to the very fabric of the development, then a critical mass could develop into combating the effects of climate change.

An excellent case study of how the public sector can work with long-term funds, as I have described, is represented at Icknield Port Loop. Birmingham City Council, Advantage West Midlands and ISIS together with other key stakeholders are bringing forward plans to put this long-term approach to community and value creation into practice. It can’t come soon enough.

Sustain America’s Greatness – Reject American Exceptionalism

When I was in high school, I confronted my European History teacher with a statement made in a book by former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brzezinski that at the beginning of 19th century China produced as much steel as did England. My teacher ridiculed the statement, claiming that nobody had anything close to England’s industrial capacity until late 19th century. I later found out through independent research that Brzezinski’s statement was true, and that in early 19th century England and China each produced 30% of the world’s steel. But even to this day many people in the West, including Harvard-educated historians such as my teacher, know nothing of this fact.

There are candidates in politics now who want to turn American educational system to Eurocentrism and American exceptionalism. And the answer to all these people is that in doing what they do they are in weighing against the very things that the Western Civilization, and America in particular, the leader of the world in the first place. The Western Civilization (and United States in particular) achieved its greatness through science; technology; ingenuity; innovation; knowledge; democracy; freedom of information; and fact. And in militating against such things the right-wing candidates are undermining the very things that made their country great in the first place.

In 18th century, a Chinese emperor rejected England’s offer of trade with China, saying that his “celestial empire” already had everything, and that there was nothing that the pathetic island of England could offer it. Pursuant this decision China entered a period of decline and stagnation as the Western civilization blossomed through scientific and technological innovation. This disastrous decision led China to fall steeply behind – a catastrophic decline from which China is only now beginning to recover.

And in choosing to ignore reality and embrace a factually wrong view of history and encourage a crabby, arrogant attitude on the part of American people, the right-wing politicians are at risk of putting America in the same position as the Chinese emperor had placed his “celestial empire.”

It does not help that there are ideologies out there that claim that there is no such thing as real innovation or originality, or that anyone who has any idea other than that of the people around him is a narcissist or a sociopath. It does not help that there are ideologies out there that claim that only good comes from Christ and that everything else is the work of the Devil. The world will not stop practicing intelligence and innovation, even if America does. And that will unquestionably lead America to decline in relation to the rest of the world for as long as its people practice such attitudes.

To actually be an American patriot and benefit the country in a meaningful way one must know what made it great in the first place. Ingenuity, innovation, knowledge, fact, and freedom of information, are at the root of everything, material and political, that America has. Other countries had Jesus; other countries had armies; other countries had capitalism; other countries had people willing to die for them or to work hard or to pledge allegiance to the flag. America is not exceptional in this regard. It is exceptional in its embrace of ingenuity and innovation, and it is to this that are owed America’s greatest accomplishments.

Those who want to embrace a factually wrong view of history, like those who want to misplace credit for America’s greatness, claiming it to be based on “traditional values” that existed in Europe and Middle East and in only a slightly different form in China and India long before they existed in America, are militating against the very things that are responsible for America’s accomplishments. And for America to remain an exceptional country, it must reject the factually wrong Eurocentrism and the equally wrong American exceptionalism, along with the other lies of the American Right that are contributing to this error.

To the people who would from this expect me to be a Marxist, my response is that the Marxist view of history is as wrong as the right-wing view of history. Besides describing China and India as feudalist and Native Americans as stone-age tribes, Marx offered no real informed insight into any of these societies. His linear conception of history is wrong in light of basic human reality as much as it is wrong in light of historical fact. At the time that Europe was in the Dark Ages, China had half the world’s GDP; India and Middle East had great architecture and advanced mathematics; and Africa had a city of a million people. While the Western Civilization progressed as a result of Renaissance and then later as a result of European Enlightenment and American Revolution, all of these civilizations declined and are only now getting back on their feet. There is no such thing as linear history, and there is no such thing as historical inevitability. Human choice makes it possible at any time to change history of any place in any direction. And in all cases, these choices bear logically predictable results.

Rejecting Eurocentrism and American exceptionalism will enhance and sustain America’s greatness. It will take away from people the intellectual crutches that they are using to sustain their pride as citizens of a great country while they are doing nothing great for their country themselves. It will give people incentive to actually add to their country’s greatness, instead of relying on the work of their ancestors to maintain their national pride while themselves doing nothing that merits pride. And that will do much to result in America remaining a great country instead of following 18th century China’s path to failure and decline.