Why cricket in Australia is at the crossroads

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    When Cricket Australia chairman Jack Clarke announced the launch of a long overdue governance review on February 8, 2011, the cricket community in Australia was in disbelief.

    The board of Cricket Australia is a 105-year-old governing body which has a history of wanting everything about cricket to improve, except itself.

    While they may be known as the board of Cricket Australia, they are in fact an assembly of fourteen members, representing six separate state cricket boards and each state representative is expected to protect that state’s interest.

    The parochial character of the board has often been an obstacle to cricket’s progress and agility.

    When the management of Cricket Australia present various proposals to the board, this involves consultation not just with the fourteen Cricket Australia board members but also with the further 55 state cricket board members that they represent, ensuring that progress is almost impossible.

    And while individual state boards choose which of their members represents them on the Cricket Australia board, it remains unlikely that the skills and experience of the board overall, will bear any resemblance to the specific strategic challenges faced by Cricket Australia.

    The governance review announced by Cricket Australia chairman Jack Clarke is being undertaken by a duo with an outstanding track record in sporting governance.

    David Crawford played a central role in the establishment of the AFL Commission, provided the national governance model for soccer in Australia and together with Colin Carter proposed the “Crawford Report”, a recommendation for the future funding and organisation of sport in Australia.

    Colin Carter has been a member of the AFL Commission, is today the President of the Geelong Football Club and co-authored a leading text on board effectiveness titled, “Back to the drawing board” (HBS 2004). Their reports are invariably insightful, forthright and succinct and Cricket Australia would be wise to adopt the expert advice they have asked for.

    Crawford and Carter are scheduled to present their recommendations to the Cricket Australia board in October 2011 and the overwhelming expectation is that they will recommend dissolving the current board and replacing it with an AFL-style commission.

    In short, a commission might include around seven commissioners acting primarily in the national cricket interest and each specifically skilled in the areas of strategic challenge facing Cricket Australia.

    Not only has the commission structure assisted the AFL to grow successfully, but others in the cricket world, including Wisden editor Scyld Berry, have advocated its suitability for cricket.

    If a commission structure was recommended, the existing Cricket Australia board must vote itself out of existence, permitting the new national commission to replace it. This would represent a massive shift on the part of the states, which today effectively control Cricket Australia.

    State boards are made up of directors often with tenure of ten to fifteen years; many have waited patiently for the day when they are chosen by their state board to go to the Cricket Australia board.

    Under a commission structure a smaller number of directors would be recruited with the purpose of drawing on their relevant skills and experience.

    Few of the current directors of Cricket Australia or the various state boards, would possess the specific skill levels required to navigate Cricket Australia through strategic issues such as global media rights negotiations or attracting the young to cricket.

    When the governance review was announced by Jack Clarke, Cricket Australia chairman on February 8th 2011, he invited questions from the gathered media. Just when it appeared the Cricket Australia board may be surrendering its parochial past, the chairman indicated that board may pick and choose which of Crawford’s and Carter’s recommendations they adopt.

    ”I don’t want to pre-empt what it’s going to say but basically the basis on which Colin Carter and David Crawford have been engaged is that they will provide a report to the board,” he said.

    ”The timing of that is not exact yet. It’s up to the board then to decide which of those issues we do and do not go forward with. It’s not just a board issue, you can tinker with the board and perhaps it won’t change a lot. It’s the structure, and how you feed into the board from the states as well.”

    Meaning the board may review the governance recommendations from David Crawford and Colin Carter, then rather than adopt the complete advice of the best and most experienced in the nation, choose only to tinker with the existing board.

    This appears to be another case of board members leaving room to place parochial interests ahead of the national cricket interest.

    In so many ways, Cricket in Australia stands at the crossroads.

    Does the game’s popularity grow or decline? Will our national team return to greatness? In the same way that team performance, player development and team selection need to be addressed, so does the governance of cricket in Australia.

    For too long state cricket boards with little strategic capability have controlled the destiny of our favorite international sporting endeavor. Given the widely recognised shortcomings of the existing governance structure and the complex global sporting environment of today, the 105-year-old board is out of its depth.

    When the board of Cricket Australia meets in October 2011, they should accept the forthright recommendations of David Crawford and Colin Carter rather than tamper with them and potentially drag cricket under.

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