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According to records in the French national archives, 'criquet' was already being played in the north of France by 1478. That year, an incident during a match resulted in the death of a batsman, and was probably the first recorded case of pitch invasion. By the mid-1700s, a number of clubs were established in the north, and a visit by the MCC planned in 1789 was regrettably cancelled at the last minute because of a revolution in progress. Records exist of matches played in the Bois de Boulogne just outside Paris in the mid-1800s and of tours by the MCC (successful this time) and by teams such as the Warwickshire Knickerbockers and I Zingari. Towards the turn of the century, cricket grounds existed at Lille, Boulogne, Chantilly and Courbevoie, and also at highly-fashionable places such as Cannes, Nice, Deauville and Pau. In 1899, a Parisian selection went on tour to Nottingham.
In the years before World War I, a number of international games were played by France, mostly against Belgium; and in 1920, with cricket in France flourishing, the Fédération Française de Cricket was formed. But after the Second World War the situation changed: with France reasserting herself internationally and resisting foreign influences, many clubs folded. France's withdrawal from NATO in 1966 (and the consequent removal of allied forces teams) was the last straw. The 1980s saw another upswing in the fortunes of the sport: fuelled by the arrival of immigrants from the UK and the Indian sub-continent, many new clubs were created.
The years since 1987 have seen a series of changes in the administration of the sport. The Association Française de Cricket was revived in 1987 and the following year France became an Affiliate Member of the ICC. The need to gain recognition and funding from the French government obliged AFC to forego its independence in 1990 and to join the Fédération Française de Baseball & Softball. The renamed FFBSC assumed France's ICC Affiliate Membership.
By 1997, the perceived limited opportunities for progress as a sub-committee of the FFBSC prompted the formation of a separate body: France Cricket. One year later, the country was elected an Associate Member of the ICC. But once again, France Cricket had to forego its independence, this time in order to comply with ICC requirements concerning government recognition. Ties were re-established with the FFBSC, the body to which the government had delegated responsibility for cricket in France. Since then, an agreement has been negotiated with the FFBSC, duly approved by the government, confirming sub-delegation of responsibility for the sport to France Cricket.
The only time cricket was included in the Olympics, in Paris in 1900, there were just the two participating countries: France was one of them and is very proud of her silver medal. More recently, France won the European Cricket Federation (ECF) Championship in 1993, 1996 and 1997, effectively the European Amateur Championship; and came second in the 2004 ICC European Division 2 Championship. In 2006, France won fourth place in the ICC European Indoor Championship held in London. The high point for the senior team was fifth Place in the 2007 World Indoor Cricket Championships in Bristol, finishing ahead of Pakistan whom France beat twice in the competition.
In 2011, France finished 6th of 12 in the ICC European T20 Division 1 Championship, qualifying for WCL8Q tournament which took place at La Manga, Spain, in June 2012. "Les Bleus" missed out on that occasion, and Belgium qualified for WCL8. The national side will try hard to give a better performance in July 2013, no doubt with the new support gained from our friends at Kent CCC.
France tries to enter all available youth competitions in the ICC European calendar, where its most notable achievements have been winners of the U17 Championship in Corfu in 2001, and second place (behind Israel) at the 2001 U15 Championship held in France, at Saint Astier. In 2012, unable to participate (although invited) in the ICC Europe U17 Division 2 tournament in Denmark, the youngsters won the 4-Nations German tournament in front of Germany, Luxemburg and Belgium, thus reconciling the junior side with tournament glory after 3 years of plate finals.
French clubs have done well in European competitions. Château de Thoiry won the ECF European Clubs Cup in 1992 and in doing so were the first French club from any sport to win a European title. It also reached the final the following year. Paris Université Club reached the final of the ICC European Clubs Cup in 1998.
France has a keenly-contested national championship structure organized in three divisions. The 1st division, called SuperLigue is played by the top 9 teams (2013), all currently based in the North or in and around Paris. The rules for the SuperLigue require each participating club to provide at least one team to take part in the youth leagues.
The 2nd division is the Ligue Nationale (2013, 9 teams), based on regional leagues whose winners qualify for the final knockout stages. There is promotion and relegation between the three divisions. Clubs in the Paris area who do not yet qualify for the Ligue Nationale play in a 3rd division regional league (2013, 12 teams) from which they may claim promotion to 2nd division.
In addition, other regions, such as the South-West (8 teams) and North-West (6 teams) organize their own internal league and cup competitions, often with region-specific sponsors. Youth age-group leagues are played in the Paris region, but in the provinces the distances between clubs limit inter-club youth cricket; although annual 'inter-league' events are a regular part of the provincial calendar.
Clubs in the North-West and South-West are also very keen in organizing winter indoor tournaments, as they have easier access to gymnasiums. This allows them to maintain activity, both social and sporting, between October and May.
Development programme-Primary schools scheme
The France Cricket Development Plan has to take as its starting point the fact that the sport is practically unknown - especially to today's younger generation - in a country which has no cricketing culture or tradition, despite all the historical background. Development therefore means creating visibility, which involves much leg-work: visiting schools, colleges and leisure centres; educating teachers and other staff in basic coaching techniques for a sport they have not grown up with; and calling on members of our clubs to an extent that may well not occur elsewhere. Development efforts are being concentrated on the young, both boys and girls, and on the indoor version of the game. It is the indoor version which fits better with the school year; youngsters grasp the main principles much faster than in the outdoor version; there's more involvement on offer to the players; and it requires more intense periods of concentration.
Since 2011, a huge effort has been made toward the inclusion of cricket as "just another" primary schools sport. France's main national association for sports in primary schools, USEP, and France Cricket, signed in March 2012 a development agreement supported by ICC funding: schoolteachers will be coached to teach cricket basics to their pupils in order to engage in activity cycles leading to regional gatherings, and even international outings (a Brittany school was thus invited by Jersey counterparts, schoolchildren of the deprived North Paris area were invited to the June 2012 France v MCC matches). It is expected that children in excess of 20,000 will have been exposed to cricket by the end of 2014. The next step is having them join clubs, as well as reaching similar agreements with the secondary schools equivalents of USEP.
A major inhibiting factor to development in the Paris area is the lack of grounds. Although some clubs have obtained the use of municipal grounds, fixture congestion in and around Paris remains a serious problem. In order to solve this serious difficulty, all championship matches in the Paris Region will be played in Twenty20 format from 2013. Elsewhere in France there's more open space available and new club projects can take root more easily. However, the catchment areas for regional clubs are often much larger and so youth programmes and membership plans have to be built quite differently from what happens in and around the capital. Regional development has to be a high priority, in keeping with government decentralization of social programmes.
Officials - Generalization of French language
In terms of officials, France Cricket is responsible for the constant renewal of the umpiring corps. Steps are being taken to refill the pool of qualified umpires, for too long dependent upon the goodwill of a body of volunteers from an earlier generation, without whom no national or regional matches can take place. The development of scorers is also a current priority. The same scenario applies to the coaching community, which needs to grow to match the country's development objectives. As more of the cricketing population is becoming homegrown, of either French stock or 2nd-generation immigration, nationally recognized courses are being developed and delivered in French, according to national law and school development needs.
In keeping with government policy, girls are involved in the schools cricket programme on equal terms with boys. Mixed teams are the norm to U15 level. Mature women do play in some clubs alongside their male counterparts, but efforts are now being specifically directed to involving women of all ages in the sport as part of the high priority being given to the development of women's cricket.
As part of a continuing commitment to the women's game in France, the "Coupe de France Féminine" has been established in May 2011. The first ever representative France women's team, les "Dames de France" played against Jersey Ladies (2011, Saumur and 2012, Jersey). The newest development is the creation of an Indoor Women's National Championship, involving four teams over four tournaments in 2013.
A new team in place
Starting in the second quarter of 2013, a newly-elected management team will be put in place in French cricket. The challenges are substantial but so, too, are the opportunities which come from the necessities of professionalizing the structure of French cricket, and the developing USEP scheme. The key challenges are well understood and the team will need the energy, the desire and the commitment to meet them.