Australia’s Cricket pay dispute turning ugly

By Zaheer E. Clarke

Published May 22, 2017

Cricket Australia CEO James Sutherland said, “In the absence of a new MoU, CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.”
© Getty Images

Cricket in Australia and Australians playing international cricket might come to halt after June 30 if issues regarding an ugly pay dispute are not resolved between the Board, Cricket Australia (CA), and the players’ association, Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA).

The stump of contention for both parties, the CA and the ACA, lies in a wrangle over the current fixed-revenue-percentage model that has been in place for 20 years. Simply put, the CA wants to replace it while the ACA wants to retain it. This revenue-sharing model or Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between both parties is due to expire on June 30 of this year.

 

Australian Cricketer’s Association CEO Alistair Nicholson says he is “disappointed that CA is threatening the players” and what he called CA’s attempt to “drive a wedge in Australian cricket”.
© Dominic Lorrimer

The ACA wants to keep the current revenue-sharing model and make only slight modernised tweaks to it as according to them the current model “allows players to share in the ups and downs of the games and its revenue.”

On the contrary, CA believes the current model is antiquated and that a new model which incorporates greater equality in salaries between the genders and which focuses also on grassroots cricket and the future of the game is primary and urgent. According to the CA, the current plan “denies female cricketers the opportunity to share in the game’s revenue.” In addition, an unapologetic CA believes that its proposed plan would “secure [Australia] cricket’s sustainable future” and address the “urgent need to invest more in the grassroots of the game, particularly junior cricket.”

West Indies cricket is not foreign to pay disputes and strikes. 
© Getty Images

As the looming June 30 deadline approaches for negotiations to conclude, parallels are being drawn to the Major League Baseball (MLB) strike of 23 years ago that saw no baseball being played for 232 days. The fallout from that strike saw a huge drop in revenue, attendance and ratings for baseball and the MLB, much of which is just being recouped to pre-1994 levels. Interestingly, the cow bells are being rung by the Australian players and the administrators of CA and ACA, which would indicate that with daggers drawn by all parties, a work stoppage is ominous and ineluctable.

Unsurprisingly, West Indies cricket has had much experience in work stoppages and strikes with the latest being in October 2014. The ramifications of which are still being apparently seen or felt in the selection of teams for the different formats of the game and in the relationships and agreements between the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and other boards.

Table 1.  Most Popular Sports in Australia

Rank Most Searched Most Attended Most Participants
1 AFL Australian Rules Football Aerobics
2 Cricket Horse Racing Golf
3 Football Rugby League Tennis
4 NRL Motor Sports Lawn Bowls
5 Golf Soccer (outdoor) Netball
6 Rugby Cricket (outdoor) Swimming
7 Soccer Rugby Union Cricket (outdoor)
8 Tennis Harness Racing Martial Arts
9 Basketball Tennis (indoor and outdoor) Basketball
10 Rugby League Dog racing Tenpin Bowling

Source: Topend Sports (2011)

Cricket is one of the most popular sports in Australia according to Topend Sports, ranking in the top-7 among sports searched for online (2nd), watched by spectators (6th) and played by athletes (7th). Internationally, Australia is one of the ‘Big Three’ countries in cricket revenue generation along with India and England. Thus, both the international body and full member boards rely on Australia’s visiting teams to generate much-needed revenue, especially through television rights demand. Therefore, the implications and causata of such a stoppage for Australian cricket and international cricket are troubling. In fact, any stoppage, for any period, could have spiralling effects both locally and internationally for the overall popularity and viability of the game.

The Ashes, which is the premier contest and revenue generator between the oldest foes, Australia and England, in the oldest format, Test cricket, is already being threatened. Additionally, the Women’s World Cup which is to be held this June/July might also be affected if Australia women players pull out before or midway.

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

According to the CA’s proposed model, all players would see an increase in their salaries. The average pay for female players would increase by over 125 percent with international women players’ salaries increasing from $79,000 to $179,000. Furthermore, domestic male players would see their salaries increase from 199,000 last year to 235,000 by 2021-22, with the minimum and average hourly wages the same for domestic men and women cricketers. Also, international men cricketers would see their average central contracts rise to $816,000 by 2021-22, with match fees up to an average of $1.45 million from $1.16 million in 2016-17. With all this additional money, you wonder why all parties cannot come to some agreement before June 30. The answer lies in mistrust and how Daniel Brettig’s article titles the stand-off as a “long build-up of bad faith.”

Cricket Australia’s chief executive, James Sutherland declared that in the absence of a new MoU, “CA is not contemplating alternative contracting arrangements to pay players beyond 30 June if their contracts have expired.” Henceforth, “players with contracts expiring in 2016-17 will not have contracts for 2017-18,” Sutherland scribed, in a letter.

James Sutherland believes the CA’s pay proposal will secure the future of grassroots cricket in Australia for years to come.
(Photo credit: Getty Images)

Despite the more-money-for-all proposal by the CA, the staunch stance by their CEO Sutherland has had a predictable response from the players and the ACA. Alistair Nicholson, the ACA chief executive, declared last week, “The point lost on CA is that the players will not respond to threats, whilst broadcasters and sponsors need certainty. That’s why we state again, for the good of the game, that it is time to sit down in mediation rather than make unnecessary threats and create such uncertainty.”

Australian vice-captain David Warner, remarked last week in The Age, “If it gets to the extreme, they might not have a team for the Ashes.” A chilling thought for world cricket and the fledgeling format of Test cricket. Warner went on to declare, “I really hope they can come to an agreement… we don’t really want to see this panning out like that where we don’t have a team, we don’t have cricket in the Australian summer. It is up to CA to deal with the ACA.”

David Warner and other Australian players hope that a resolution to the pay dispute can be reached. 
(Photo credit: PA)

This rhetoric from all parties have parallels to pay disputes in West Indies cricket which saw the likes of Clive Lloyd, Brian Lara and even Dwayne Bravo giving up or being relieved of the captaincy. We have seen West Indian players walk off tours or venture to other tours or forms of cricket like the World Series of Cricket and T20 cricket. I guess it is Australia’s turn.

For Australia and world cricket’s sake, let’s hope that ample amounts of antiseptic can be applied to this toxic stand-off so that healthy and productive negotiations can stave off an unnecessary stoppage and damage to cricket.

Until next time…

© Zaheer Clarke

Zaheer E. Clarke is an award-winning opinion journalist, blogger and author of the award-winning blog, Zaheer’s Facts, Lies and Statistics.

In the middle of a match, Zaheer’s father once asked him to name West Indies’ current strike bowler. Zaheer named the West Indian opening bowler. His father said, “Based on how he is bowling, he must be on strike.”

He can be reached at zaheer.clarke@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook at Zaheer Facts, Lies & Statistics, or on Twitter at @zaheerclarke.

This blog article was republished in the Western Mirror on May 22, 2017.

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