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Cricket: a chance for Hungary's Roma to shine

The story of cricket in Hungary started out as just a bunch of guys getting together on a Saturday to knock a ball around, and has led to the brink of affiliation to the world governing body, the International Cricket Council.

Cricket has been played in an organized way in Hungary since 2007. “A group of us, a few expats, met about six years ago in an Irish pub in Budapest to talk about the possibility of reestablishing cricket in Hungary,” communications director of the Hungarian Cricket Association (HCA) Adrian Zador tells the Budapest Business Journal. “Within a few weeks, we already had our first games.” 

The HCA is now an official sports entity with its own dedicated cricket ground developed by KPMG partners Michael Glover and Mark Bownas, an investment in excess of €200,000 in Sződliget (near Budapest). Glover also serves as HCA treasurer and International Cricket Council (ICC) affiliation director when not in his day job. In addition, there are several smaller grounds, specific training nets and indoor practice areas in the country. 

It has taken a while to get cricket officially recognized as a sport in Hungary. The turning point was a visit from the International Cricket Council in 2011. “We find out in June or July whether Hungary can be affiliated to the ICC,” Zador says. Glover notes that, “We are very hopeful, as the people responsible for European development, who helped us, do not tend to forward applications to the ICC unless they have a very strong chance to get it through.” The HCA already has good connections with the ICC, but membership will take cricket in Hungary to the next level. 

Finding the future

“There is consistency here, as many of the expats that helped us solidify the structure are permanently in Hungary,” Zador says. He cited the example of other countries in the region where many players end up leaving or moving to other jobs. “The difficult thing is that everyone involved in cricket has busy lives, work life or family life, so every year we lose a few players due to family or work commitments,” he notes.

But a bunch of expats playing cricket is not enough any more to develop the game in Hungary. Therefore, the HCA has been trying to promote the sport to Hungarians. This is not easy, as it is still a curious game for some in Hungary, while Indians, Australians, and Pakistanis grew up with the game. Currently, there are about 250 active senior players in Hungary. The proportion of Hungarians is approximately 10% of the total. “There is already one dedicated Hungarian team, the Danubian Kangaroos, set up by the Török brothers, who fell in love with cricket when they spent some time in Australia,” Zador says. 

“Without some sort of long-term plan we will die off, eventually,” Glover warns. The HCA is trying to grow by targeting sports-oriented schools and training teachers how to train their students. “If we are going to make this successful over the long-term, we need to get cricket into schools in Hungary. We need children growing up with the game, understanding the game and wanting to play it, because we clearly can’t keep the organization going on the back of only some 250 people forever,” says Glover. This does not seem hopeless, as there were already eight junior teams competing at the last tournament in Szolnok, with an all-girls team winning that tournament. 

To reach its long-term goals, the HCA needs equipment, which is not too expensive, coaches who speak Hungarian, the openness of schools and teachers, as well as the time and energy put into it, says Glover. The association needs more coaches, as it cannot rely on only a couple any more; it needs a whole team of trainers, he adds.

Pushing for sponsors

In order to reach its ambitious goals, the HCA needs to find the funding to back up the organization and be able to pay coaches. Glover expects that the ICC will provide part of this, because it wants to see the game develop in Hungary. The HCA plans to put forward a development plan to the ICC this month and the ICC will allocate funds from the international budget to Hungary. “The more development of children we do, the more funding we will get,” Glover says. “We are trying to be in a position where we can show the ICC that our main aim is development.”

In the first year, Glover expects to get funding in the value of $25,000-30,000 maximum, which could grow later. There are three different tiers of membership at the ICC. The introductory level, affiliation, is what Hungary is looking for. The next is associate membership, while full members are at the top level. These include the big international teams of England, Australia, South Africa, India and Pakistan, among others. The group of full members gets the most funding and brings in the most revenues. The majority of these come from broadcast rights, with cricket the second biggest sport in the world for spectators, after football. The revenues are then spread around the different countries at various levels. 

The HCA will not have to pay a membership fee to the ICC but it is required to ensure 10% of the funding. “If they give us $25,000 we have to find $2,500 but this is not a big challenge really, because we have found more than that already,” said Glover. The HCA had HUF 3.2 million revenues in 2011, up from HUF 2 million in the previous year. 

Currently, there are match fees, some HUF 2,000 per player, that cover the cost of the ground and the umpires, while the remainder goes to the association. In addition, each club pays an annual membership fee. “Some of our members, the owner of an Indian restaurant or of a property development firm, put in more money, but we still operate on quite a small budget,” says Zador. 

“We have not systematically approached sponsors yet, because we did not have a very good story to tell,” Glover says, adding that until they get close to ICC affiliation, they are still seen as just a group of guys playing cricket. Zador agrees, noting that when they approach companies in Hungary that don’t know about cricket, they don’t see what the potential benefits are. “But when we say that we will get ICC affiliation this year and we have our own full-size cricket ground, then all of a sudden it takes on a different dimension,” Glover explains. 

Thus, this season seems to be the right one to push for sponsors. One idea is to approach the Hungarian representatives of the biggest international cricket sponsors, such as LG and Pepsi, through the ICC. Cricket in Hungary currently has two major sponsors, including KPMG Advisory and property company MPI. 

Roma cricket initiative

One of the HCA’s new ideas, which came up at a board meeting at the end of last year, is the Roma cricket initiative. The idea is to find a mechanism for helping out disadvantaged people, but it is still in the initial stages of planning. “The benefits of that from our perspective is that we get more people to play cricket, but from their perspective, they learn a value system based on fair play and rules that are followed properly,” explains Glover. 

“In Hungary this is a huge problem, but through sport, especially cricket due to the nature and the spirit of the game, we could not only offer cricket to one community, such as the Roma, but get Hungarians to play together with the Roma in villages and towns all over Hungary,” stresses Zador. He believes that while football is more of a divisive sport, cricket might be one way to bring people closer. “In our team, for example, we have Australians, Hungarians, Bangladeshis, Indians, people of all backgrounds, races and religions playing together.” Last year a group of Afghan refugees set up a team in Debrecen. The nice thing is that cricket is ‘all-inclusive’, with men, women, girls and boys of all ages playing it, he notes.  

It is a game of various aspects, with lots of things happening at the same time, Glover explains. It is not just a game of hand-eye coordination, or throwing or passing something. It is a thinking game, not just an active game, you have to use your brain, build a strategy and add a bit of psychology. 

One way the association could help make cricket available to the Roma community is providing cheap or free equipment, if necessary. “To start playing, you need only a bat and a ball,” Glover notes. This will certainly not happen overnight. “This is hard work, but a lot of us are pushing it forward,” says Zador. The HCA is trying to create links with NGOs dealing with the Roma and to work together with institutions, such as the Central European University and the Open Society Institute. 

To prove his point that cricket could turn lives around, Glover mentions a story about a gang in Los Angeles that started to play cricket and ended up establishing a team. The Compton Cricket Club, more informally known as the Homies and the Popz, has toured the UK several times and made history as the first all-American team to tour Australia. “This gang got out of the violence and crime because they understood the rules and fair play and they started to respect themselves through playing,” Glover stresses. It is a model that could equally apply here.