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July 07, 2020

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July 04, 2020

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July 04, 2020

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July 04, 2020

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July 04, 2020


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July 01, 2020

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June 29, 2020

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It may be passing unnoticed in much of the world but large pockets of the planet have been transfixed over recent weeks by the ongoing Cricket World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.

In particular, by the incredible feast of top class hitting we have seen from the likes of South Africa's AB De Villiers and the West Indies Chris Gayle, two of the most swashbuckling sporting specimens on the planet, in any sport.

But a chance to continue the global expansion and popularity of the game are hardly being helped by the International Cricket Council's decision to reduce the number of teams from 14 to 10 by the time the next World Cup rolls around in England and Wales in 2019.

The decision was made predominantly to reduce the length of the tournament and avoid the kind of mismatches seen in the past, where minnows have been invariably beaten out of sight by the world's finest. Yet, this has generally not been the case over the last two weeks, and the so called "minnow" teams, who do not play in the traditional five-day Test format of the game, have not only held their own but have been involved in many of the most entertaining matches so far.

We have seen shocks, most notably when lowly Ireland edged out the West Indies, a composite team consisting of players from the cricket-mad Caribbean Islands and Guyana which won the first two editions of the World Cup in 1975 and 1979. There have also been thrillingly close clashes between these minnows, with Ireland defeating United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan overcoming Scotland in painfully tight, topsy-turvy and nail-biting fashion.

There would surely must be better ways of reducing the length of the competition than by sacrificing the added spice that these four countries have produced.

There are nagging fears that similar changes may be seen elsewhere in the world of sport, including at the Olympic Games, where the Agenda 2020 reform process is seeking to keep the total number of athletes competing the same, while opening the door to the possibility of new sports and disciplines.

It is therefore possible the number of athletes competing in some events could be cut to accommodate changes, with the lesser participants ostensibly most at risk.

This has not been directly suggested, but protecting the smaller nations was the subject of several questions therein from International Olympic Committee members at December's Session in Monte Carlo.

But minnows are a key part of the Olympics, just as they are the Cricket World Cup and so many other sporting events. One of my best memories at insidethegames was a cricket match at the Asian Games in Incheon, where Kuwait, essentially a village team whose best players were a father and son combination, took on the might of a Bangladesh side packed with international pedigree.

Kuwait got walloped, but that was not the point. It was great to watch and nothing beat the looks of ecstasy on the faces of the Kuwaiti players every time they enjoyed any success, as they did when they won one of their earlier matches via the toss of the coin.

Similar underdogs are seen at most sporting events, from the Trinidad and Tobago rugby sevens team at least summer's Commonwealth Games, to the exploits of Equatorial Guinean swimmer Eric "the Eel" Moussambani at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games.

Further back we had Eddie "the Eagle" Edwards, the British ski jumper known essentially for being useless, but surely the most famous exponent of his sport in history.

Sometimes, arguably in the case of Edwards, and certainly in a sport like boxing, it would be dangerous for the tiniest of minnows to take on the very best, but usually it is a great component and a reason people watch sport.

What's more, it is the best way nations can improve. It is interesting that, in the first years of professionalism in many sports, the top players were getting so much better, contests were becoming more and more lopsided. But a trickle-down effect, in coaching, officiating as well as in players, appears to have taken place, and that is why contests are becoming closer, with cricket one good example.

Another is rugby union, where, although a handful of nations still dominate the 15-a-side game, rugby sevens has got and more competitive, with teams like Kenya, United States, Russia and Brazil competitive along with the likes of New Zealand, South Africa and England.

Although rugby sevens is a sport that lends itself to upsets more than others, the experience these nations have gained by being able to take on the world's best regularly has undoubtedly been a key part of their evolution.

This was a point brought home to me today when attending the formal launch of the bid process for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, where Durban, the sole city left standing following the surprise withdrawal of Edmonton last month, is poised to become the first African host of any major global multi-sport event.

No continent symbolises the underdog more than Africa, and, after hosting World Cups in rugby, cricket and football, the Commonwealth Games would be another step of huge significance.

The last edition of the Games in Glasgow, also produced one of the great victories for a minnows when Kiribati weightlifter David Katoatau triumphed in the under 105 kilogram division.

A wonderful sporting moment predominantly for its unpredictability and significance to a tiny nation of just 100,000 people, unaccustomed to global success.

That would not happen if we did not encourage new countries to participate and it is therefore imperative that, as so many changes are played out across international sport, the plight of the so-called minnows is something that does not get overlooked.