INTERVIEW: Cricket Ireland’s Participation Director on growing the game during COVID
The completion of the competitive domestic cricket season in Ireland at the end of September closed what was one of the most challenging seasons at all levels of the sport. However, despite these challenges, many people within the local and international cricket community came together to deliver a range of projects that will benefit the sport going forward.
We caught up with Cricket Ireland’s Participation Director Elaine Nolan to discuss a number of these achievements.
Elaine, that was a season like no other - what are you most proud of?
EN: “While 2020 has been a very difficult year with normal development activity being disrupted, Provincial Unions and Cricket Ireland have found innovative ways to deliver in the development space even without access to schools and community groups during periods of lockdown and social distancing.”
“It’s a testament to the work and commitment of Provincial Unions and Clubs that so much cricket across junior and senior cricket was played in such a difficult and shortened season, and it shows how well the cricket community can come together in challenging times, incorporating the new COVID-19 protocols.”
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, how was the domestic game supported by Cricket Ireland?
EN: “Despite financial constraints, Cricket Ireland continued to directly support the domestic game by funding a range of activities at Provincial Union level, enabling the Unions to invest the money they generate from clubs and the inter-provincial series back into clubs and grassroots.”
“Cricket Ireland maintained its funding of a range of activities, such as administration and development officer staffing, office and administration costs, basic programme funding, inter-provincial series event costs – to enable Provincial Unions to spend the money they generate from clubs and inter-pro revenues back into clubs and grassroots.”
Image: A visit to Adamstown Castle Educate Together
The key for domestic cricket at all levels is a strong partnership between Cricket Ireland and Provincial Unions. What pleased you most about that relationship over the last six months?
EN: “There are key areas that Cricket Ireland and the Unions continued to work on during ‘lockdown’ with regular group meetings across a range of topics between Cricket Ireland’s Participation team and the Provincial Union Development staff, looking at areas such as Coach Education, the Club Connects programme, National Programmes for Juniors, and Women’s and Girls Cricket. There is plenty of collaboration and discussion on how to effectively support and grow the game as we move forward.”
“If lockdown has taught us anything it is how important sport is, and how important it is to find new ways to engage. We are working toward having new programmes in the junior space and working on initiatives in the school’s space too. For example, we recently run a Teaching Cricket & Hockey pilot course in partnership with Hockey Ireland with plans to expand this nationwide from 2021.”
“In the women in sport space we launched CricHIIT online – Cricket Scotland’s ICC award-winning programme - and we launched the On the Front Foot Webinar series. This latter series was originally planned as a face-to-face leadership programme for females across Ireland who are involved with cricket from playing to officiating to committee members and boards. Unfortunately, COVID made this impossible for 2020, but instead, the webinar series was developed. It was hosted by RTE 2FM’s Marie Crowe and took place over three weeks, and discussed specific topics around the importance of diversity, inclusion, leadership and visibility.”
There was some recent good news about a funding grant as well?
EN: “Yes. We have just been awarded €106K from Sport Ireland through Dormant Account Funding – the funding will go towards a number of key initiatives.”
“Firstly, €85K will be dedicated towards a Sports Inclusion project which recognises the complex challenge of increasing social cohesion and physical activity in some communities, understanding that new approaches need to be considered. This project will innovate cricket delivery and adopt a values-based and locally-led approach in order to create a ‘Cricket for Good’ model for participation.”
“Secondly, €15K is available to deliver a Volunteer Training & Support Programme under our Club Connects Programme. This programme aims to build the capability and capacity of volunteers in cricket clubs so that they can provide the kind of positive experiences that will aid growth in ways that matter to the club, the community, Cricket Ireland, and Ireland as a whole.”
“Lastly, €6K will be invested in a Youth Leadership programme - in partnership with Local Sports Partnerships we will promote the Sports Leader Programme within the network of schools in the region, designing and facilitating additional cricket-related training modules to add to the existing leadership programmes, providing a local and national perspective on the need to consider the diverse range of communities are understood and met.”
Sounds good, but how specifically will these initiatives benefit the grassroots of our sport?
EN: “The Dormant Account Funding, in particular, will enable cricket to create and develop new programmes to expand beyond our current reach and deliver opportunities beyond the current traditional footprint. This will hopefully increase awareness of cricket across Ireland and will also allow Cricket Ireland to support Provincial Unions, Clubs and communities by growing capability and capacity through new programmes.”
“In order to monitor the impact on our work within the area of social cohesion, we have developed a relationship with University College Cork - Community Academic Research Links (CARL) and will be collaborating with them to bring a research lens to investigate the fact that sports change lives – with student researchers under the supervision of a UCC academic engaging with residents in the Kinsale Road Direct Provision Centre to examine and understand their experience of engaging with sport - cricket in particular - to try to identify the factors that make a difference for people at the margins of Irish society.”
Sounds like it has been a busy time, but what of the future plans?
EN: “There’s a lot in the pipeline for the coming months and years - and all of which will be focused on supporting Unions and Clubs and, of course, growing the game. I think the evolution of the Grassroots Cricket Committee underpins the importance of a renewed focus on the grassroots game – with its own focus being core areas of the game.”
“The Committee will oversee progress of the organisation’s strategic objectives around the growth and development of grassroots cricket, look at participation in the sport across a number of targeted growth areas, assess and recommend community engagement strategies within the broader sporting community both here in Ireland and around the world.”
“The work in the Participation space is also going to be a key piece of the new Cricket Ireland Strategic Plan – much has been done, but we know there is a lot more to do. We have spent the last few years building the capacity and programmes to deliver at a grassroots level, and I’m excited about what is to come.”