Steve Elworthy interview: Visionary wants Surrey to be much more than just a cricket club

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Steve Elworthy joined Surrey as CEO after 14 years with the ECB  (Getty Images)
Steve Elworthy joined Surrey as CEO after 14 years with the ECB (Getty Images)

A theme of recent years in English cricket has been the butting of heads between the governing body, the ECB, and the biggest county, Surrey.

So when Steve Elworthy was appointed Surrey’s CEO after 14 years working on the other side of the Thames at Lord’s on global tournaments and much more besides, it appeared to signal a thawing of that tension. Elworthy has been in his new role for three months, and that sense has not changed.

Elworthy, 57, has worked in administration since retiring as a South African seamer 19 years ago, and has a hard-earned reputation as a force for collaboration, not conflict.

He ran tournaments, from the World T20 in 2009 to the triumphant men’s 2019 World Cup, then saw a “special projects” role created for him. Initially that meant bringing some credibility to The Hundred, then the pandemic struck, and he was charged with keeping cricket afloat. He came up with the biosecure bubbles which saved the summer of 2020, and are still being used to some degree around the world.

Since moving south, he has been “understanding the breadth and depth of the role” and what comes next for Surrey.

“It didn’t matter how much research I did before the interview process, there has been so much more,” he tells Standard Sport. He is delighted to be “back closer to the game” in that his organisation now runs teams, not tournaments, and has an influence on the club game and the community around the Kia Oval, too.

In terms of performance, things have got off to a good start this season, with a high-scoring draw against Warwickshire and a thumping victory over Hampshire for the men’s team.

Elworthy heaps praise on his successor Richard Gould, who was never shy of offering an opinion on the ECB or The Hundred, and his sidekick Charlie Hodgson, whom he beat to the role. Hodgson has now left to run South Australian cricket, and is a loss.

That duo and their team, he says, “performed unbelievably well” to keep things afloat during the pandemic, but he believes we are now coming out of that phase, and the club are hiring for various roles once again. Now he is looking at what comes next.

“Hopefully at the end of April I will be able to present to the board our new long-term thinking for the club, to 2031,” he says.

“We have been looking at where we can make subtle changes, because we can’t do what we do now forever. The phrase I use is I see the club as more of a social enterprise than anything else. We have a responsibility to cricket, but a responsibility to Surrey the county and significantly the local community around us.

"The world is changing. London has changed, people have changed, in terms of what is important to them, what their values are.”

Elworthy is thinking in terms of the development of the ground, sustainability – Surrey have pledged that the Oval will be net zero by 2030 – and EDI (equality, diversity and inclusion). He believes Azeem Rafiq’s testimony has provided a “catalyst for change” across the English game. Headed up by Ebony Rainford-Brent, Surrey have a new Culture and Values Board, while the ACE Programme has gone national.

"There’s a lot that contributes to success,” he says. “How do you define it? Performance world, our teams. Social enterprise, our stakeholders are members. We don’t pay dividends. Every pound we earn goes back into the club, the game, or out into the community.

“There’s a balance between social, financial, sustainability, community. Ensuring that 8-10 years time that we got that right, that we invest money in the right areas.

“It’s about being good corporate citizens, but also good neighbours. Flattening the wall mentally that runs around the ground as far into the county as possible.”

Surrey are approaching 16,000 members, the biggest in the county game and a record for the club. Elworthy wants that to keep rising, but only as fast as facilities for members improve (the new Galadari Stand being an example of advances in that department).

“There is no point driving the membership number through the roof and then not being able to give them a fantastic experience when they come to the ground,” he says.

And what of that relationship with the ECB?

“I have thought about this a lot,” he says. “My overarching comment is that I don’t see how an antagonistic relationship with the governing body is going to benefit us in any way.

“I understand both sides of the coin. I have been at the ECB for 14 years, front and centre in some of those conversations. I get the tensions. But as a game, to move forward, the counties, the ECB, everyone has to work together.”

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