By Mary Godbeer
25 October 2012
Members of the European Parliament, their aides, interpreters and some visitors to the Parliament complex in Brussels may have been surprised recently to see cricket being played in the corridors of power.
The occasion was an exhibition by ICC Europe, designed to introduce the world's second most popular sport to representatives of the European Union's 27 member states, 22 of which are members of the ICC. One of the open spaces in the Josef Antall Building was turned into a demonstration area where passers-by could not only find out something about the game but try their hand at batting and bowling into the bargain.
Many of those intrepid enough to take up the bat - interpreters from Romania, Hungary and Spain, visitors from Turkey, Poland and Japan, a Dutch MEP - proved to have plenty of natural talent, while even those who did not test their practical ability were keen to learn about a sport about which they had only heard. For many of those who stopped to chat, it was news that organised cricket was played in their country.
The event included a panel discussion, chaired by the British MEP Syed Kamall and introduced by His Excellency PM Amza, the Sri Lankan ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg and the European Union. Mr Amza stressed that cricket was "one of the things of our colonial heritage that we still cherish" and he referred to the place of the game in the reconciliation process following Sri Lanka's civil war.
The central part of the forum comprised a series of presentations. The ICC regional development manager Nick Pink discussed with Cricket Ireland chief executive Warren Deutrom the choices which led to Ireland's five-year run of international success and the changes in governance which helped make it possible. Ole Roland described Denmark's government-funded integration project and the web-based Spilcricket system which the Danish Cricket Board has developed to take cricket into the schools. Marike Dickmann, of the Netherlands, spoke about the KNCB's youth plan, which aims to expand cricket's base through co-operation between clubs, schools and local authorities. Jacqueline Morel, of the French Union Sportive de l'Enseignement du Premier Degré (USEP), described the collaboration between her organisation and France Cricket, who are introducing the game to primary school children, initially in Brittany but expanding to other regions.
All speakers agreed that cricket was proving an ideal game for development in schools, since as a non-contact sport it can be played by mixed teams of boys and girls, and an excellent medium for integrating diverse communities across the countries of the European Union. The forum concluded with an announcement by Mr Kamall of the establishment of a parliamentary interest group for cricket, which will aim to ensure that the momentum created by this initial visit is not lost.
Pink said afterwards: "This exhibition and panel discussion was an important starting point, enabling us to promote the message of cricket within the European Union, and specifically Parliament. We have managed to bring together a balanced group of MEPs from a range of countries and from across the political spectrum, and we look forward to working with them in the future to ensure that the contribution cricket can and does make to European society is fully recognised."
English clubs could consider a tour to Belgium, not least to sample the renowned beer there. Jerome Bel, the Belgium Cricket administrator, said standards were rising. "We're always happy to welcome touring teams," he said. "There is quite a bit of cricket going on in Belgium - not as much as our big cricket neighbours The Netherlands - but we have 20 clubs and around 35 teams. The Belgian national team accessed the World Cricket League this year, qualifying in La Manga after a steady progression that brought them up the rankings. Every year many English touring teams come to Belgium to enjoy a few games and a few Belgian beers with local teams."
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