Coronavirus: Lancashire Cricket Club CEO says safety must be guaranteed

By Dan RoanBBC sports editor and Adam Williams
We have to answer questions about safety first - Lancashire CCC's Daniel Gidney

Daniel Gidney, chief executive of Lancashire Cricket Club, is in no doubt of the number of challenges they face. "People use the word unprecedented but we are in genuinely uncharted waters for sports clubs and cricket clubs in particular where you don't have a season starting as it normally would," he said.

County cricket must wait until the government identifies a clear path out of lockdown before it can plan when to start its season.

The domestic and international calendar is postponed until at least 1 July because of the coronavirus pandemic while the inaugural season of The Hundred has already been delayed until next year.

Gidney says safety must be guaranteed, above anything else, before cricket can resume and behind closed doors initially.

"Testing has to be front and centre of any strategy," he told BBC Sport.

"Deaths are still high and it's difficult to have the conversation around sport resuming at a time when we still don't have a clear path out of lockdown.

"We have to work very, very closely with the government's medical team and come up with a plan that can be very clearly and categorically safe for elite athletes, backroom staff and broadcasters."

Medical representatives from cricket were involved in the first cross-sport meeting with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on Friday where protocols for the potential resumption of sport were discussed.

But Gidney says there is still much more clarity and detail required and a staged return to action must be followed.

"One of the priorities has to be elite athletes returning to training," he said.

"For that to happen, you will need social distancing guidance to be relaxed slightly. I think we need to be in a position as a country where everybody is tested who needs to be tested.

"That will be the absolute central point to the ability to open some sport behind closed doors, sooner rather than later."

From strength to weakness overnight

Despite the postponement of the season, Lancashire's Emirates Old Trafford ground is still due to host an England T20 against Australia on 5 July and a Test match against Pakistan in August.

But Manchester Originals' potential money-spinning matches for the new Hundred franchise have already disappeared from the fixture list.

An added concern during the ongoing lockdown, in terms of the red rose county's financial outlook, has been the loss of income from its diverse business operations such as in-ground hotel and conferencing facilities.

"Our biggest strength was reducing our reliance on governing body distributions and match day revenues to growing a hotel and conference events business that, on its own, grew to just shy of £10m turnover," Gidney said.

"Our biggest strength became our biggest weakness overnight.

"Literally, the phones stopped ringing. You've still got all the costs there, such as payroll, but you've got no revenue and you have to find a way of navigating that."

Lancashire expect to miss out on a previously forecast £4m operating profit for 2020 because of the ongoing suspension of on and off-field business activities.

Gidney revealed that amount "was effectively wiped out in front of my own eyes within five days".

But despite those short-term cashflow concerns, he does not believe any of the 18 first-class counties will fold as a result.

An existing five-year broadcast deal is providing support and a cushion compared with some other sports.

"That gives the ECB some room for manoeuvre," Gidney said.

"I don't think there's anyone in danger of going out of business, but there'll be some significant short-term cashflow issues to manage probably until the end of the (financial) year.

"That's the challenge that we need to work through."

Is cricket better placed to return to action before other sports?

While Lancashire have not taken the decision to furlough their players, a large proportion of non-playing staff have been placed on the government's job retention scheme.

But the county ruled out making permanent redundancies during lockdown to ensure it would be "able to mobilise again" should cricket get the green light to start later this summer.

Emirates Old Trafford could be chosen as a key venue with its potential to act as a "biosecure" environment with the in-ground hotel.

But Gidney stresses relaxing the guidelines around mass gatherings will need to come before any date can be set for even behind-closed-doors cricket.

"You're going to need, I believe, at least 300 people to stage a game and for that to happen, that's quite a significant shift from where we are," he said.

"Cricket's been quite stoic about this," he said. "It's not really about commercial or home advantages but 'how do we holistically find a way that can support the continuation of broadcast revenues?' They're the bedrock of all governing bodies.

"Playing cricket behind closed doors protects those revenues.

"As long as we can get an environment that is proved to be medically and clinically safe, then there are jobs on the line here that broadcast revenues can continue to maintain and support."

Keeping the 'Lancashire family' together in lockdown

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on players and staff at Lancashire.

In March, chairman David Hodgkiss died after contracting the virus, a loss Gidney says has been felt right across the club, particularly with regards to the mental health of his colleagues.

"David was so loved by so many people," he said. "He was a big character and a great businessman.

"I miss his acumen, calmness and positivity in challenging situations. He was always saying we would find a way.

"He gave that confidence to other people and we've all been hit very hard by that.

"It's very challenging in a normal business environment to deal with financial problems, but then you get the emotional side of losing a close friend and colleague who was such a part of the Lancashire family.

"In terms of staff morale, mental health is often under-reported but it's really important. We've been very active with staff on social media groups and keeping them engaged.

"Our decision not to furlough the players has enabled them not only to continue their training schedules, but also take part in various community events and outreach programmes and keeping our supporters involved.

"For players and non-players, we're trying to do as much as can to keep them positive."

Gidney says when the cricket is able to return, it can play a significant part on boosting morale and public confidence in the long-term.

"If we can get some T20 Blast cricket on at the back end of the season, that will really help not just us - our players, staff and members - but also the public as a whole in terms of sport helping the recovery of the country.

"But only when it is safe to do so."

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