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ECB launches £61m aid package for English cricket in response to virus

London (AFP) – The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) announced on Tuesday a £61 million ($76 million) aid package in response to the “once in a generation” challenge of the coronavirus outbreak.

The 18 first-class counties and their boards, as well as the MCC, will immediately each receive a share of some £40m in their respective bank accounts on Wednesday, with a further £20m available in interest free loans and grants.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the biggest challenge the ECB have faced in the history of the game, the modern era certainly,” said ECB chief executive Tom Harrison in a conference call.

“We won’t know the full impact for a few months… We are trying to work around the clock to understand that impact and take some short term steps to help counties and recreational clubs to get through the immediate impact.

“Preparing yourselves for something like this is incredibly difficult, it is a once in a generation scenario.”

– ‘More pain’ –

All domestic cricket in England has been postponed until at least May 28, raising questions about whether a full campaign featuring several competitions, including the new Hundred tournament, as well as tours by West Indies, Pakistan, Australia and Ireland is possible as officials contemplate the nightmare prospect of scrapping the season completely.

“There are a number of different scenarios –- we don’t want to make decisions too early,” said Harrison. 

“There are huge implications in bringing international players and teams over (to the UK).

“In our modelling there is no cricket at all… There is more pain ahead if we lose a substantial portion of the season. We are building scenarios where we can take further steps as needed.”

Meanwhile Harrison said there were no plans to cut the pay of centrally contracted England players.

But Harrison, who earns an annual salary of some £720,000, said he would be joining administrators in other sports by taking a wage reduction.

“Of course I will,” he said without specifying the extent of the cut.

Harrison made it clear priority would be given to the most lucrative matches — internationals, the Twenty20 Blast and the inaugural Hundred.

A new format franchise competition, the Hundred has been promoted by the ECB as a way of attracting a fresh audience to the game.

But if fans cannot attend for health reasons, it could be delayed until 2021 rather than deny a lot of its purpose by being played behind closed doors this season.

“It is not just about being behind closed doors for The Hundred, (but) it is one of the issues we are grappling with,” said Harrison.

Meanwhile Harrison said he hoped cricket could bolster national morale should some part of the season go ahead despite the pandemic.

“We are thinking creatively about what this moment might be like when the nation comes back out and to have cricket be part of that,” he said.

“Cricket can be part of that healing process.”

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