The Interview By: Tristan Lavalette

LavaletteWhat is the history of cricket in Russia?

Chopra: First recorded cricket game in Russian Empire goes back as far as 1870′s. In 1875 there was a game between British expats living in St. Petersburg and Royal Yacht Osborne crew. Around 1880 there were some clubs in St. Petersburg, with some games frequently played between expats and visiting British. By 1895 there were four established cricket clubs in the capital.

LavaletteWas cricket banned during communism?

ChopraYes. As a ‘bourgeois’ sport it was banned almost immediately after October Revolution in 1917. All cricket clubs were closed and the game was considered discreditable for the working class to play.

Lavalette:  What is cricket’s perception in Russia these days?

ChopraThese days around 90% of Russian population don’t know the difference between cricket and croquet and often confuse the two sports.

LavaletteHow was cricket kick-started in recent years?

ChopraIn 1990s a group of students from the Sub-continent started to revive the game in Russia. In 2003 the Russian team toured Holland and played in their 1st overseas tour. In 2004 United Cricket league was established by myself and renamed Cricket Russia. In 2007 for the first time a team from Abroad (North Wales) visited Russia and played against the Russian National team (which was full of expats at that time).

LavaletteHow many teams and players play in Russia? How many locals play cricket?

ChopraWe have eight clubs in Moscow which play in an annual league and around 160 players out of which 30 are locals are part of these clubs. Apart from the Men’s team we have four boy’s teams and two women’s teams. All boys and girls are of Russian origin. There are many other clubs spread across the country.

LavaletteIs cricket being introduced into the schools?

ChopraWe have plans to introduce the sport to all local schools. At present we have shortlisted 5 schools in Moscow and cricket has made a very slow start there but we do have a cricket academy for youngsters and seniors too where the art of playing the game is being taught.

LavaletteIs there any mainstream cricket appeal? Is cricket in the media?

ChopraCricket is still a new sport in Russia – therefore mainstream public are only starting to learn the game. Cricket has some media attention, but more as a curiosity. Euro sport 2 has shown some T-20 matches but as that channel is not available to all Russians the impact is almost negligible.

Cricket Russia has innovative ideas

LavaletteHow is the Russian national team performing? Which division is it currently and does it receive ICC funding?

 

ChopraRussian national team has a lot of potential. Our team has participated only once with native players in the squad and finished sixth. When expats were representing team Russia we won 6 nations cup in Czech Republic, reached semi-finals and finals of euro t-20 in year 2009 and 2010 respectively. We are yet to play in any of the ICC operated tournaments but we believe that our current placement is in ICC division 3. We have not received any funding from ICC yet.

LavaletteIs cricket recognized by the Russian government? Does it help fund cricket? Is it hard for cricket to achieve funding and sponsorship?

ChopraWe have already applied for the accreditation of cricket in Ministry of Sports. But it is officially recognized by multisport association Russia which operates according to the memorandum of understanding with ARISF. We have already formed Russian Cricket federation with 44 regional cricket bodies. It’s very difficult to get government support and funding for a non-Olympic sport. As for sponsorship, since cricket has very limited followers and low media coverage compared to most other team sports, it relies on enthusiasts for funding.

LavaletteWhat are the future goals for cricket in Russia? Can it become a popular sport there?

ChopraThe future goals for cricket in Russia are to take part in the Olympics, if and when the cricket returns and to achieve ICC Associate Membership. It’s entirely up to ICC whether cricket becomes an Olympic sport or not. Realistically, it will be difficult for cricket to reach the popularity levels of Football, Ice Hockey or basketball in Russia, but these sports also started at some point from scratch here. But that was in a different era when society had less choices for leisure unlike today where cricket has to compete with rival sports. Besides cricket has to fight the lack of consciousness or Top of the Mind Awareness in Russian society to put it in marketing speak.

Lavalette: Does T20 cricket have a chance of becoming popular in Russia?

ChopraYes T20 cricket does have a very good chance of becoming a popular sport in Russia. But then Cricket Russia cannot make this happen on its own. ICC has a huge role to play if they are genuinely interested in bringing cricket to the fertile grounds of Eastern Europeans who have traditionally done well in all sport – especially in the Olympics.

Lavalette: Do you have some initiatives to promote cricket in Russia?

Chopra: We firmly believe that below mention points will act as a catalyst in the development of cricket here and in most of the countries in world.

1. OLYMPICS

Inclusion of cricket as a participatory sport would make a huge positive impact on cricket in Russia as it would then become a sport financially supported by the Russian Government.

2. INDIGENOUS PLAYER TOURNAMENT (IPT) EVERY TWO YEARS

We at Cricket Russia are actively training native Russian youth in cricket but they need encouragement to play against similarly newly recruited indigenous players of other countries.

If not these indigenous players might get bored with cricket and soon give up the game. They need some incentive and are constantly asking us as to when they could take part in an ICC tournament.

Russia is proposing an indigenous player tournament every two years. These teams would NOT comprise passport holders and would be 100% indigenous and under 25 years.

In other words every single player would be born in the country they represent and would have learnt their cricket in that country as well.

Eg – If a Russian player though born in Moscow has lived his childhood in Australia and learnt his cricket in Australia would not be able to return to Russia to play in the IPT.

3. RUSSIA HOSTING ICC DIVISION 3 TOURNAMENTS

Moscow has three cricket grounds and would be adding a fourth in the next couple of months and we are keen to host some of the ICC Division 3 tournaments.

4. DEVELOPMENT FUNDING FROM ICC – GEOGRAPHY and POPULATION

While we understand that ICC development funding is based on the Development Scorecard system, ICC should also take into account the size and population of a country when allocating funding.

Eg A very small ICC Affiliate gets the same amount of funding as a large Affiliate as Russia and Russia is the largest country in the world with a population of 143 million.

I believe the Development Scorecard should consider the geographical area / population / future potential of a country when allocating points.

5. JOINT SUB-REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT OFFICE OF ICC EUROPE / ASIAN CRICKET COUNCIL (ACC)

It is also our belief that a joint sub regional development office should be established in Moscow, both ICC Europe and ACC could promote cricket in the 15 countries that constitute the former Soviet Union straddling both Europe and Asia.

All these 15 countries have a strong tradition in sports coming from the communist era and have always done well in the Olympics. Cricket could take root with a joint effort from ICC Europe / ACC and the sub office in Moscow could coordinate efforts with an European and Asian Wing.

Cricket Russia would very much like to see the ICC Euro/Asian Sub-Regional Development Office in place during the next ICC Strategic Development Cycle (2016 – 2020).

6. RUSSIAN TV and CRICKET

Russians hardly see cricket on local TV and we at Cricket Russia are prepared to coordinate should ICC be interested in working with Russian TV channels. For that purpose ICC would have to come up with a Proposal. It is upto ICC to negotiate with Russian television channels (esp terrestrial TV stations) to broadcast live cricket matches (esp Twenty20 matches) Should T20 and ODI cricket regularly appear on Russian TV, there is no doubt that it would catch the imagination of Russian youth. However ICC has to take the initiative to actively engage with Russian TV channels. We at Cricket Russia are prepared to coordinate. But then ICC should show some interest.

Television is the most popular media in Russia, with 74% of the population watching national television channels routinely and 59% routinely watching regional channels. There are 330 television channels in total. 3 channels have a nationwide outreach (over 90% coverage of the Russian territory): these are First Channel, Rossiya and NTV. Now if ICC could negotiate with these 3 channels to show cricket regularly the impact would be huge. The initiative should come from ICC Commercial Department and I am willing to assist them should ICC be interested.

Now, ICC has its work cut out. It will have to show these 3 channels how and why broadcasting regular cricket would benefit these channels.


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