Sports

Summary

It may not go down too well with the English, but there is compelling evidence that their national summer sport was, in fact, invented in Flanders.

Cricket in Flanders

It may not go down too well with the English, but there is compelling evidence that their national summer sport was, in fact, invented in Flanders.

Research published earlier this year indicated that Flemish weavers and shepherds who emigrated from the south of England from the 14th century onwards could have taken the game of cricket along with them.

The findings places Flemish "creckettes" and "weckettes" in the south of England in the mid-16th century, a time that coincides with a painting by the Flemish Master Pieter Bruegel The Elder which is said to show an early form of the game.

Fast forward to 2009, and you find 1,200 members of 17 cricket clubs in Belgium, 13 of them in Flanders. And three new clubs are set to launch later this year, says Martin O'Connor, a native of New Zealand who moved to Flanders in 1991. "Of course, it is still very much a minority sport, but cricket really is flourishing in Flanders," he says.

The first Belgian Cricket Federation was founded in the early 1900s. The first record of organised cricket, however, can be found in a painting dated 1870, which now hangs in the Pavilion at Lords, the famous home of cricket in London. This shows the opening of the Brussels Cricket Club in 1866 by the Mayor of Brussels.

Next came the Antwerp Football and Cricket Club, founded in 1880 by expatriate British workers. Early in the 20th century, the football and cricket divisions of the club parted company - the football club is now in Belgium's 2nd division, while the cricket side remains one of the country's leading clubs.

From the early 1990s until 1967, both Brussels and Antwerp played in the Dutch league. More and more clubs were formed, and today there are eight cricket grounds in Belgium. An annual sixes competition is held in Ghent, and there are also youth leagues.

As O'Connor says, cricket is now "slowly raising" its image and numbers but still has to compete with a large number of other minority sports."It's in pretty good shape here, but it can sometimes be difficult trying to promote a sport like cricket, not least because of the recent success and popularity of a sport like tennis," says O'Connor, who makes his home in Geel, Antwerp province.

These days O'Connor is a full time general manager for the Belgian Cricket Federation, which runs the game. He readily admits that the "biggest setback" for the game here was the decision several years ago by the BBC not to broadcast cricket on free-to-air TV.

"That was a real blow," he says. "Even so, we are doing our best to raise the sport's profile, and I'm confident we will."

www.cricket-belgium.com

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