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Colin Graves says Yorkshire must seek private ownership to survive
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Colin Graves says Yorkshire must seek private ownership to survive

Colin Graves will start the process of attempting to demutualise Yorkshire CCC this year after telling members that “without swift and decisive action” the club “will be fighting for its survival during 2024”. But it quickly became clear he will face stiff opposition, with one local MP asking members to “hold their nerve and oppose” the move.

When Graves returned to the club in February members were told his arrival would secure Yorkshire’s financial future and he denied any intention of ending its status as a member-owned cooperative, telling the DCMS select committee that he had “no ambition to own Yorkshire County Cricket Club”. However, on Monday he wrote to members telling them the current status “continues to prove a blocker to attracting private financing” and that “demutualisation appears essential for the club’s future”.

Graves’s move comes despite the imminent possibility of Yorkshire being given a 51% equity share in the Headingley-based Hundred franchise Northern Superchargers, which they could sell on.

In his letter, Graves wrote: “Unfortunately, there is no doubt that without swift and decisive action, YCCC will be fighting for its survival during 2024. The club is approaching borrowing limits and owes crucial operating partners considerable sums, all while being consigned to further financial losses in 2024. We urgently need to take appropriate action to ensure that YCCC is financially stable, fit for the future, and never put in this position again.”

Alex Sobel, the Labour MP for Leeds North West and prospective candidate for the new constituency of Headingley, pledged to fight the move. “I will oppose the attempt to take the club from members and make it a private entity as it will be done for profit and to weaken accountability and long-term viability,” he said.

“Mr Graves … said he had no future ambition to demutualise. Today he demands the members hand the club over to unnamed private owners. Yorkshire members have been made many false promises over the last few months. I ask them to hold their nerve and oppose demutualisation until at least after the awarding of the Hundred franchise. At the DCMS select committee the ECB said they would not allow Yorkshire to fall into administration. I call on the ECB to keep their promises and assist Yorkshire members to retain their club and investigate whether the board have breached the county governance code.”

Colin Graves pictured in 2019View image in fullscreen

All but three of the 18 first-class counties – Hampshire, Durham and Northamptonshire – are member-owned. In order for demutualisation to take place at least 50% of Yorkshire’s 6,000 members would have to take part in a vote, of whom 75% must vote in favour. If those hurdles are cleared, Graves would take full control of the club and could then sell any or all of it as he wishes.

Members were told that they were “securing the long-term future of the club” when they voted to accept Graves’s takeover. At the EGM where his return was ratified Harry Chathli, the outgoing chair, said: “The question is, are we going to hit this [threat of insolvency] again in 18 months’ time? When we examined the offer we felt that this will enable the future of this club. It made financial sense and ensured the financial security of this business going forward.” Less than four months later the members are being told that threat has returned.

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As the board sought investment in the process that led to Graves’s return several potential bidders – including the owners of multiple IPL franchises and Graves, though he returned with a new bid – were dismissed because their offers were contingent on demutualisation. “We had to look at demutualisation,” Chathli told the DCMS select committee in February. “Simply because there were a significant number of parties out there who sought to purchase the club. But it was never, ever taken seriously, simply because we felt that was not in the best interest of the members or the creditors.”

But when Graves returned with a second offer, and with the need for investment becoming urgent, they did not ask him to clarify or formalise his position on demutualisation. His new position is that if it is agreed he would ensure “that members’ current rights are protected and that [it] would represent no change to their current interaction with YCCC”.

Source: theguardian.com