A sporting chance: challenging corporation cricket

Isabelle Westbury Columnist

15 Have your say

    Alongside universal healthcare, gun control and Mexican border walls, the player pay dispute raging in Australia between Cricket Australia (CA) and the Australian Cricket Association (ACA) is one that many Brits find hard to comprehend.

    Perhaps the comparison is a little exaggerated, but the ongoing fist fight is one which is viewed with a mixture of awe, intrigue and even a sense of relief, safe as we are in the knowledge that this is an issue that will likely never reach our island.

    Nothing quite like the ACA exists in England.

    There is the PCA, the Professional Cricketers’ Association, but their focus tends towards the pastoral side, their function more a supportive one than of active intervention. They play an important role, offering guidance to individual players in contract negotiations, but the idea of collective action, and the formation of an overarching Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, is one confined to Australia alone.

    There is the TEPP, the Team England Player Partnership, an exclusive group open only to contracted male England players, but the majority of professional cricketers – those jobbing fellas on the county circuit, not to mention the handful of women in possession of England contracts – negotiate individually.

    Perhaps that’s the way it should be; demure and understated, a stereotype of English identity, not wanting to cause a commotion, nor undue fuss. For fuss is what is unravelling under CA’s watch, and one helluva lot of it too.

    Only this fuss didn’t really register in the Northern Hemisphere, not, that was until David Warner alluded to the CA-ACA negotiations’ potential impact on the Ashes. Only then did we cock our heads, our own interests suddenly threatened. How very human of us.

    Australian batsman David Warner

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Still, maybe this relief, that this is on the whole an irrelevant spat happening to other people in a land far, far away, is misplaced. That the ACA, a minnow to CA’s clout and resources, is refusing to succumb to CA’s ultimatum that the country’s professional cricketers depart from the player revenue-sharing model shows that someone, somewhere, is holding a powerful sporting body to account. Perhaps we English should be having a closer inspection of our own backyard.

    “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” lamented the 19th century historian, Lord Acton, of the doctrine of papal infallibility. Few will see James Sutherland, CA’s enduring CEO, as a papal figure, yet while in a position of power, it only follows that he and CA are doing what they can to retain it; ultimatums have been issued, and businessmen thrust in to ensure that this end goal, an irreversible shift in the model used to pay for a player’s livelihood and future livelihood is achieved.

    Both Gideon Haigh and Mike Atherton recently argued, eloquently as ever, that CA only finds itself facing such stern opposition because they are too business-like, too process-driven and too far removed from the intricate relationship between professional athletes and the public they serve.

    Yet there is a compelling argument that the opposite is, in fact, true – that cricket’s governing bodies, including the ECB and CA, are in fact not business-like enough.

    This is because accountability in sports governance is notoriously poor; one only need look at the issues facing FIFA, the IAAF or even British Cycling to understand the opacity with which these organisations operate. It is beyond anything contemplated in normal business practice. Banks, financial service firms and other corporate bodies are far more closely regulated – and far more readily admonished when they fail to abide.

    All of the ‘big three’ boards – the ECB, CA and the BCCI, Indian cricket’s governing body – hold governance records few companies would tolerate, not least their shareholders, or the public.

    By no means an exhaustive list, but examples of this bad governance include executive positions filled by the same individuals for decades at a time with only cursory scrutiny (James Sutherland has been CA’s CEO for almost 16 years), directors rewarded with similar uncontested longevity, the ability to seamlessly segue from a board’s Chairman to a newly constructed role of President (the ECB’s Giles Clarke), or even sanctioning an individual’s right to own a franchise governed by the very board which they chair (which was the least of the governance issues facing N Srinivasan, as it turned out).

    The checks and balances that these bodies must, or must not, adhere to are written on a blurry canvas, etched in shades only of grey. Both CA and ECB are companies limited by guarantee, removing both the liability of shareholders, of which there are none, and its members. It’s a common model for not-for-profit organisations, whose intent may be noble, but which leaves greater opportunity for exploitation and operation without due scrutiny.

    Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland and chairman Wally Edwards

    (AAP Image/Julian Smith)

    Not only is accountability a concern, but competition – or lack thereof – too. Sports governing bodies, by their very nature, hold monopolies over their area of practice – the sports which they govern. This is a concept unheard of in any conventional business.

    It could, however, soon change; the growth of domestic franchise competitions, beyond the control of any national governing body, means that these bodies’ overarching grip on players may soon be a thing of the past.

    Late last year, the European Commission sent a ‘Statement of Objections’ to the International Skating Union, the ISU, after finding that the ISU’s eligibility rules prevented skaters from competing in a number of events, specifically those not approved by the ISU.

    The Commission’s preliminary view was that such rules “restrict the athletes’ commercial freedom unduly”, raising concerns that the ISU’s “eligibility rules are not aimed at preserving high standards in sport but rather serve to maintain the ISU’s control over speed skating.”

    Control. That’s the key word. That’s what the governing bodies want to retain, but in a landscape that they know is changing to their detriment.

    Such a case draws strong parallels to the power struggle within cricket, with domestic T20 leagues springing up the world over. It is this concept too – of control, of power – which lies at the heart of CA’s stance to date.

    The amount that top international players may be set to achieve in the short term is almost irrelevant, a sweetener even, for what is more highly sought is the power and control that CA will gain should they oust the majority of players from any revenue-share. If (and when) they do, they hold the purse strings indefinitely.

    Far from rejoicing in the knowledge that this is an issue irrelevant to England, the ongoing negotiations should act as a timely reminder that there is much still to be improved, on the accountability, visibility and power invested in England’s own board.

    After all, good governance needs strong opposition, and we must ensure that that opposition exists.

    Isabelle Westbury
    Isabelle Westbury

    Isabelle Westbury once got a duck in an ODI and since then has found a more fruitful career penning columns than hitting runs. She does, however, captain English County side Middlesex, albeit from the lower order. Follow her on Twitter here.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • June 7th 2017 @ 8:32am
      Sideline said | June 7th 2017 @ 8:32am | ! Report

      I can foresee a time when domestic T20 leagues start to challenge international cricket associations over players and scheduling. It’ll start in India, most likely: it’s where the money is.

      The only result I can see coming out of it is contracts baring players from participating in certain leagues if they want to play international cricket, or vice versa.

      The more long term result of this, I fear, is an increased divergence in style between T20 and traditional cricket, as players start to concentrate purely on one form. Even within our generation I can see T20 skills being less and less transferable, to the point that players really can’t play both and T20 verges on a new sport.

      • June 7th 2017 @ 11:27am
        Bakkies said | June 7th 2017 @ 11:27am | ! Report

        ‘I can foresee a time when domestic T20 leagues start to challenge international cricket associations over players and scheduling. It’ll start in India, most likely: it’s where the money is.’

        The BCCi holds too much political clout and they have yet to be held to account over corruption allegations. This also exists in the IPL teams where teams have been blacklisted from the competition due to pushing the brown paper bag. That includes the Chennai Super Kings.

    • June 7th 2017 @ 10:02am
      Republican said | June 7th 2017 @ 10:02am | ! Report

      ……money is the root of all evil.
      Simply, the abject commoditisation of sport has rendered it an oxymoron.
      This will continue unabated until a day when we, the prosaic punters demand a revolutionary change by opting out of our unconditional support of this obscene corporate television devolution, in restoring some semblance of virtue to the culture of sport.

    • June 7th 2017 @ 10:04am
      Ken said | June 7th 2017 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      James Sutherland would not hold his job in the real world, and the cricketers are a bunch of greedy individuals who deserve a lot less than what they already get. All in all, this just turns me off cricket; a sport I have followed for most of my 72 years.

      • June 7th 2017 @ 10:24am
        Sideline said | June 7th 2017 @ 10:24am | ! Report

        Don’t really agree about cricketers being greedy people.

        The fact is that the CA is making a certain amount of money, and the cricketers, as the people responsible for bringing the money, deserve a fair percentage of that money. It’s not up to us, or the CA, to judge that they have been given enough, it’s about them getting a fair percentage of the total income.

        • June 7th 2017 @ 2:13pm
          Republican said | June 7th 2017 @ 2:13pm | ! Report

          …….the culture of Cricket is greedy Sideline and as such ‘Cricketers are symbiotic of any perceived avarice.
          This is not exclusive to the sport of Cricket…….

          • June 7th 2017 @ 3:41pm
            Sideline said | June 7th 2017 @ 3:41pm | ! Report

            I don’t grudge sportpeople being a little greedy. The average professional athlete has to earn a career’s worth of money in a far fewer number of years, with sketchy prospects afterwards at best. So I’m happy for them to fill their boots, it’s no bother to me.

        • June 7th 2017 @ 3:19pm
          Ken said | June 7th 2017 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

          So 23% of total revenues is not enough ? Don’t forget CA have to pay all the bills (travel, ground fees etc) out of their share. This talk of “players are the game” is just nonsense. The game is bigger than any of them, and would survive without them, but most of them wouldn’t survive without the game.

          • June 7th 2017 @ 3:38pm
            Sideline said | June 7th 2017 @ 3:38pm | ! Report

            I’m in no position to say what is or isn’t a fair percentage. However, the ACA does has a vested interest in knowing. And more than this, they also have a vested interest in not taking more than the CA needs to function effectively. I suspect it actually largely comes down to a pay dispute between players and executives, and personally, I’m with the players. There could be an argument that the executives need big salaries to attract the best people, but I don’t think it follows.

            As to the players being the game, of course they are. I’m not talking about any particular players, or any group of players, but just the notion of players themselves. These (abstract) people play the game for the punters to enjoy, and therefore are the core of the sport.

            Of course the game would not survive without any players.

    • June 7th 2017 @ 11:25am
      Bakkies said | June 7th 2017 @ 11:25am | ! Report

      ‘It could, however, soon change; the growth of domestic franchise competitions, beyond the control of any national governing body, means that these bodies’ overarching grip on players may soon be a thing of the past.

      Late last year, the European Commission sent a ‘Statement of Objections’ to the International Skating Union, the ISU, after finding that the ISU’s eligibility rules prevented skaters from competing in a number of events, specifically those not approved by the ISU.’

      French and English Rugby both allow separate bodies to run their club competitions. The club bodies both have agreements with their players in regards to availability for internationals. England has an Elite Player Squad system in agreement with the clubs and the French now are pushing towards central contracts which will limit the amount the amount of club games those players can play.

      Under French law the FFR can only govern Rugby in France, the clubs weren’t willing to test this in court when they were disputing the Heineken Cup agreement. The FFR aligned with the ERC body mainly formed by the unions to run that competition whereas the clubs sided with the English equivalent to form a club run competition. As soon as the FFR came down with the arm of the law the clubs went in line with their union.

      As a side in less than two years time the EU will be irrelevant to the ECB and the County Championship. That also includes the dubious Kolpak agreement which the counties benefit from to sign South African players on contracts as local players that rule them out of playing international Cricket.

    • Roar Guru

      June 7th 2017 @ 3:04pm
      sheek said | June 7th 2017 @ 3:04pm | ! Report


      I hate that word ‘corporatisation’, especially when related to sport. But unfortunately that’s the reality.

      I wish we could observe the Buddhists & follow the “middle path”, being neither too stingy on ourselves, nor too greedy.

      But unfortunately, human nature doesn’t work like that, it’s either boom or bust.

      Also, it was Gandhi who said “the world has enough resources for everyone’s need but not enough for everyone’s greed”.

      We could build magnificent sporting comps if only the players, coaches, administrators, broadcasters & sponsors, etc each took a reasonable slice. But of course, everyone wants more & more.

    • June 7th 2017 @ 8:00pm
      davros said | June 7th 2017 @ 8:00pm | ! Report

      it would be great to see a breakdown of the corporate spend on salaries boards and travel accomodation etc etc and also the future salaries and perks they will vote themselves

      i dont think many would be saying the cricketers are greedy then !

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