Cricket, which was originally called ‘criquet’ in France, reportedly began playing the sport in the north of France by 1478. By the mid-1700s, several clubs were established in the north. In the mid-1800s matches were played in the Bois de Boulogne just outside Paris and later at Lille, Boulogne, Chantilly, and Courbevoie.
The arrival of players from the UK and the Indian sub-continent in the 1980s led to many new clubs being created. A revived Association Francaise de Cricket became an affiliate member of the ICC in 1988.
The new CEO of France Cricket Marjorie Guillaume, who was appointed earlier this year, is keen to take the sport in the country ahead and is working tirelessly. In an exclusive interview with Cricfit, Marjorie highlighted how she and her team are working on the development of France cricket and putting the players on the international map.
Q. Give us a brief account of how cricket has changed in France from winning silver in the 1900 Olympics to this day?
Marjorie Guillaume: Not known to the general public, but cricket has indeed been in France for a very long time and has been played competitively here for over a century, but it is mainly viewed as an amateur sport. It seems also that, it’s in France where one can find the oldest world record linked to the game of cricket which goes back to the time of King Louis XI of France. How amazing! However, professional growth and development have been very slow despite cricket’s deep historical root in France and because the sport is not well understood here. Not that many people are aware of cricket being at the Olympics during the Paris Games of 1900, and that France then won the silver medal at the cricket competition.
For a sport rated as the second most popular in the world and reaching over 2.5 billion people worldwide, and for a country like France with such an appetite for sports in general, there is a serious need to level up and bring more people to play cricket in France. Nonetheless, if cricket is still being played in France that’s because some efforts have been made over the last few years by France Cricket and the clubs in order to keep the sport alive. Cricket remains an amateur sport and a real restructuring is tremendously needed!
There are only about 2000 fully registered members of the association although there exist over an estimated 10,000 practitioners of cricket in the Paris region alone. In addition, in areas such as New Caledonia where cricket is a national sport, as well as in places like Martinique and Guadeloupe there is also an estimated 20,000 plus cricket players who are not yet registered with the national body of cricket.
The potential for growth is enormous! In addition to CRIIIO https://www.criiio.com used to initiate youths to cricket, the T20 format is the most popular in France, but some old-timers still play Test matches for leisure. In addition to encouraging the creation of new clubs every year, our scheme to grow cricket also includes a partnership with USEP Le cricket à l’école – USEP which facilitates cricket practices among young people in schools.
Q. How is the domestic structure? How popular is the sport in the country?
Marjorie Guillaume: Since I took on the position early this year, we have been reviewing our governance model aiming to improve our communication with the clubs and also to ensure that the promotion and development of cricket remain at the centre of all of our actions and resource allocation. We are also reinforcing our foundation via school & youth programs and further developing our talents with the elite teams (men, women and 19U).
In addition, we are placing lots of emphasis on training for new coaches and umpires. However, reviewing our current structure at the national level is perhaps one of the most important keys that will enable France Cricket to further develop the sport in France. The sport remains in the Paris Île-de-France region and our goal is to expand beyond that border.
Q. How is the participation of women in cricket? They recent played a quadrangular tournament alongside Austria, Spain and Jersey, how was the response among the fans?
Marjorie Guillaume: Increasing and securing the presence of women in sport is problematic in all sports disciplines for various reasons, but I do believe that France Cricket is doing great in this area. 25% of France Cricket licensees are women, 40% of participants in mainland France and overseas territories are women, over 3,000 young girls were introduced to cricket in schools thanks to USEP in 2021 (10,000 the previous year) and nearly 4,000 of them via clubs despite the COVID-pandemic.
It is worth noting that, 73 women’s matches were organized in 2021 and 91 women’s matches were organized in 2022. 35% of elected board members of France Cricket are women, 30% of technical teams at France Cricket are women and 50% of France Cricket employees are women.
There is always room for improvement but I think that we are on the right track when it comes to women’s participation in the sport. The quadrangular tournament of May 2022 alongside Austria, Spain and Jersey was an outstanding opportunity to put cricket on the spotlight! Lots of hard work was put into organizing this event and we look forward to doing more of that in the near future. I have to admit that I expected a greater response among the female fans in coming to see the match, but the reality is, the ground was quite a distance from public transportation, so accessibility to the ground could have been a problem.
Q. The men’s team recently lost to Guernsey in the T20 World Cup qualifier. However, they have put up a brave fight in the league phase. How happy are you with their performance?
Marjorie Guillaume: Of course, we all would have wanted the first place, but the French team has given it so and I am very proud of them. All of this has been done without having a proper home ground for training our teams. In over a century old of existence France Cricket is yet to acquire its own training facility.
In addition, we are not receiving any government support because cricket is an amateur sport. Therefore, we are literally doing the impossible, so I couldn’t be prouder of their performance. Yet, it is a very frustrating situation because they want to and can do more if we are able to offer them better training conditions. This is at the very top of my priority list and hopes to soon have better news on this matter.
Q. Gustav McKeon broke the headlines with a breathtaking knock and put France in the international map of cricket. Do you think these individual performances will help cricket gear up in France?
Marjorie Guillaume: Absolutely! He is such a talent. We are fortunate to have a player like Gustave McKeon on our team. His performance this past summer has been nothing short of pure excellence and has indeed helped put some lights on France Cricket. We look forward to continuing working with him.
Q. What are the immediate goals that you are preparing for?
Marjorie Guillaume: The list is long, but in the short to medium term, acquiring a cricket home ground and fine-tuning our restructuring process are among my top priorities. I am lucky to have a team with a great passion for cricket, so with their support, I also want to welcome more cricket competitions in France. We will identify opportunities to increase France Cricket’s visibility at least at the European level and why not internationally. My goal is to see more and more people talking about cricket in France in the coming years.
Q. Is there a plan for more home and away matches? How do you wish to achieve this?
Marjorie Guillaume: Absolutely! One of the best ways to grow cricket in France is to organize cricket events regularly until cricket becomes well-known to the general public. In addition, the ideal way to offer greater opportunities to our cricketers is to have them play as often as possible whether it is at home or abroad. But, the few existing cricket grounds in France are either privately owned or belong to specific clubs, hence; hard to welcome matches and build a solid calendar of events when you don’t have your own ground.