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ECB to probe Watmore allegations concerning EFL breakaway talks

Ian Watmore poses for a portrait after being announced as the next ECB chairman (Photo by Barrington Coombs/Getty Images for ECB)

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has said it will investigate claims that its incoming chair, Ian Watmore, left his previous role with the English Football League (EFL) after allegations of misconduct.

In February, the ECB announced that Watmore would succeed Colin Graves as the body’s new chair at the end of the year. Watmore left his role as an independent non-executive director of the EFL, organising body of the three leagues below the Premier League, in November 2018, citing poor health.

However, the Daily Mail newspaper has reported that a week ahead of his exit, the EFL launched an independent inquiry into allegations Watmore had been involved in talks that led to member clubs threatening a breakaway league, calling into question the EFL’s contentious rights deal with pay-television broadcaster Sky.

Watmore is said to have looked into alternatives to the Sky deal after talks with Mel Morris, owner of Championship club Derby County. In November 2018, Sky was forced to defend its extended rights deal with the EFL in the face of opposition from a number of leading Championship clubs, claiming no other media company was prepared to make the kind of commitment it has shown the competition.

The EFL’s decision to approve a five-season, £595m (€676.8m/$732.9m) deal with Sky caused deep divisions within its membership. Clubs with large fanbases such as Leeds United, Aston Villa and Derby were angered by the EFL board for signing the deal.

They believed the EFL undervalued the rights and restricted clubs’ ability to sell their own digital subscription packages. They also believed the five-season term was too long. The new deal represented an increase of about 35 per cent on the league’s previous deal with Sky. It ran from 2015-16 to 2017-18, and was extended to include 2018-19. The new deal runs from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

Commenting on the report, the ECB told the PA Media news agency: “Ian Watmore was appointed following a rigorous search and selection process. The ECB board is aware of the claims made against Ian and will seek to review and understand the situation.”

Watmore told the Daily Mail: “I became chair of the EFL commercial committee in 2018 and inherited a difficult contract situation over the new TV deal, which had been developing over the previous year.

“The League was split down the middle over the deal and I sought discussions with a leading representative to explore ways we could overcome this impasse. That meeting, and conversations within it, were shared with the board and executive colleagues at the time.

“In the event, all work to bring the deal to a successful outcome was delivered on, when it was signed after a unanimous vote by the EFL board on which I sat. My resignation from the EFL role was taken after medical advice in November 2018. Since then, I have willingly participated in reviews by the EFL into the overall rights sale process and my role within it.

“During my short period at the organisation I operated with honesty and integrity and until today I have not heard any reports from the EFL that their view is any different.”

Watmore’s appointment is due to be ratified by ECB members at its AGM on May 12 and he is scheduled to officially begin the role on December 1.