Signor Passione

Simone Gambino

A man who epitomises what ICC President-elect Percy Sonn cites as “the passion and energy necessary to carry cricket forward into the 21st century”, Simone Gambino speaks authoritatively about the challenges facing the countries in which cricket is a minority sport.

Having attended every ICC AGM since 1984, he is one of the most experienced administrators in world cricket. The ACC Chief Executive suggested Simone Gambino be interviewed by us, saying “he is quite a colourful character at these meetings.” Quite an understatement.

We spoke during Italy’s game against Nepal in the ICC World Cup Qualifying Series in Kuala Lumpur.

“Cricket is a matter of culture.”

We spoke during Italy’s game against Nepal in the ICC World Cup Qualifying Series in Kuala Lumpur.

The first question has to be, how does an Italian like you come to be so much in love with cricket?
My American grandparents went to England and when I visited them there as a boy in the early to mid-70s during my school holidays. I spent a lot of time watching cricket on television and was fascinated by it. My grandfather with his American background saw it scientifically, I saw it as art!

At the time was there any cricket played in Italy?
It was based around Rome and it was only played by expatriates. I quickly realised you couldn’t just have expatriates play if the game was to grow in Italy. We formed a league and then in March 1983 made the Federation and toured England. We became an ICC Affiliate in 1984 and then became an Associate in 1995.

The 2004 Italian Squad

How do you think your experience in Europe relates to that of the emerging Asian countries?
You can’t play serious cricket in a country without a structure. With a structure the game is bigger than the players and they have something which encourages them to do better. As soon as Italy had a Federation there was a quantum growth in the country in terms of the number of clubs and their quality.

Many member countries tell the ACC they have no money and are overly reliant on us for handouts, how does Italy pay for cricket in an environment where everything is so much more expensive than in Asia?
We have a healthy balance of four funding sources: 1) The ICC 2) The Italian government 3) Internal revenue 4) Sponsorship.

We are never totally reliant on any one source as that would be unhealthy.

No one in Italy is trying to suggest that the game is to compete with football or that it exists in order to provide a livelihood to the players, we simply aim to create the conditions in which cricket can be played in a competitive and attractive environment.

Attractive as in…?
Drawing people to the game. Italy is in an unusual situation compared to many other ICC members in that it has an absolutely different culture from the Anglo-Saxons and their influences. We are aware of our history as a nation and we are always keen for our national team to be truly representative of Italy. There’s an awareness now, people know what cricket is. But we still have more players than spectators at our games!

In Japan, cricket’s very ‘Ralph Lauren fashionable’ and has quite a cult following, is it the same in Italy?
I have done everything possible to fight the style ethos. Cricket is the second-most popular sport in the world in terms of numbers who play. There are 500,000 Indians in Italy and they bring an appreciation of how important cricket can be to those who appreciate sporting endeavour.

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