There’s an unfortunate dispute going on in Australia in the great sport of cricket which could well affect the most sacred of sacred cows – the Ashes Series. For those not familiar with it, this is the regular Test Series between Australia and England. It’s sort of the equivalent of El Clasico but rather than meeting twice a season over 90 minutes, the teams meet about every 18 months over five five-day Tests.
An Ashes Series is due this southern hemisphere summer, but senior players have given a warning shot across the bow that it might not happen.
The issue is, of course, money.
The governing body of the sport, Cricket Australia (CA), wants to shift the basis on which players are paid. Since 1997, all players – including those who do not play at international level – have been paid a set proportion of revenue.
CA wants to change that so first-class players who play in the state-based Sheffield Shield competition, but who don’t play for Australia, get a fixed salary. The Sheffield Shield struggles for media and fan attention, but it is the nursery for Australian cricketers and an essential part of the elite player pathway.
CA says it’s necessary to change the model in order to give more resources to the women’s game and grassroots.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association disagrees. They say the most effective way to get more money into other levels of the game is to stick to the same model: that is, continue to grow the number of people playing the game, attending matches and watching on TV and, importantly, sharing a piece of the pie around the entire cricket ecosystem.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association and the elite playing group who play for Australia say the current model is best way to continue to nurture the game and players at this level.
The shift from CA comes at a time when revenue is set to receive a turbo boost. Fuelled by the sensational popularity of a short form of the game known as Big Bash, the next TV rights deal is expected to reach a minimum of $750 million over a five-year period, up from $550 million.
The Cricketers’ Association has been backed vocally by the household male stars of the game who say they’re taking the position of adhering to the proportion of profit on behalf of the whole game and on behalf of all players.
What’s happened now? It’s no surprise. The pay dispute has now become unpleasant.
In the manner of governing body corporate communications, when they’re not getting cut-through on the basis of the argument, they get personal. In recent days, we’ve seen stories about ‘millionaire players’ – who just happened to have been advocating the Australian Cricketers’ Association’s viewpoint – living a generous lifestyle, referring to them as “greedy” and positioning the pay dispute as being all about them. We’re told the Australian cricket captain – popularly regarded as a more vital role than the Prime Minister – is on a retainer of $1.2 million and receives $14,000 every time he appears in a Test match. Another player drives a Lamborghini and “once sold a house for $7 million.”
Wow. Real tabloid stuff from the national broadsheet paper. I am sure it’s purely coincidental that the newspaper is owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch, whose pay-TV channel is vying to buy the TV rights.
The fact is that under the new deal from CA, these very players would actually receive more.
But it’s not about them. It’s about the game’s future. And that’s what these elite-level cricketers are standing-up for on behalf of women players and domestic competition players.
I love cricket. It’s my favourite sport. I’d hate to see the Ashes Series not happen.
However, unless and until sport administrators are prepared to be more transparent about the game’s finances, and prepared to be more respectful towards the playing group who are responsible for bringing-in the money in the first place, as well as acting in the best interests of the game they administer, there is no reason for those who play the game to trust those who run it.
There are so many instances of poor management, corrupt management, wasteful administration and disrespect for sportsmen and women in world sport, why would players have any confidence in such a fundamental shift in their financial model without any insight or input into financial decision-making?
That is not to say this is the case in cricket. I don’t put CA in the same basket as, say, FIFA, the IOC, the IAAF and others. But there is no doubt that greater transparency, more openness, and a less rigid approach by CA would be a good first start to solve this dispute.
One thing is for certain. There’s enough money to go around for the good of the game.