Australian cricket team skipper Steve Smith and veteran David Warner are unemployed now. And so do the other professionals from their fraternity Down Under.
The Australian Cricketers’ Association executive will meet on Sunday to decide whether players will boycott this month’s Australia A tour to South Africa after a failure to strike a new pay deal with Cricket Australia.
When preliminary negotiations for a new pay deal between Cricket Australia and its players began in October, industry insiders tipped this one to be different. Even ugly. “There is a feeling CA wants to end what has been going on for 20 years. Players will need to be really careful about all of this. I am tipping a long fight,” Sydney Morning Herald has quoted one player agent as saying.
Nine months on, and the fight continues.
Under a deal initially devised in 1997 when player salaries were laughingly still poor, despite the revolution of World Series Cricket two decades earlier, Malcolm Speed, then the Australian Cricket Board’s chief, and Tim May, the former off-spinner turned Australian Cricketers Association chief, would agree to allow the players to share in the sport’s gross revenue. This being international and state-based male cricketers.
Players’ wages would instantly rise, and many would become multi-millionaires through their Cricket Australia contracts alone. To the point CA now says the average wage of an international player is $1.16 million. State-based players pocket on average $199,000, having enjoyed a 53 per cent rise in the past five years.
And that’s been one of the key sticking points leading to where we sit today, with the Australian Cricketers Association declaring this to be the sport’s biggest crisis since the World Series Cricket breakaway of 1977.
“The game just can’t afford the revenue share anymore. Times have changed,” one CA figure said, according to SMH.
Cricket Australia no longer wants players to share in gross revenue; only in surplus revenue. When CA revealed its submission in December, state players were even barred from that. “You’re kidding,” one player said when the CA plan lobbed in his inbox. That response was not only over the deal, but that CA had directly emailed players – something the players and the Australian Cricketers Association had argued against.
There have also been arguments over when each party had wanted – and agreed – to having female players join the memorandum of understanding for the first time.
Regardless, Cricket Australia’s offer – on face value – appeared tempting. International female players would have their wages immediately leap from $79,000 to $179,000, a dramatic rise at a time when the women’s game, certainly in terms of broadcasting and sponsorship, is in its infancy.
“It’s certainly a step in the right direction. We weren’t not happy with it, I guess, but … it’s a whole player agreement, and we are fully behind all players, male or female, state, international, so that’s where we are at with the players,” Australian women team captain Meg Lanning said last month.
And that’s where all players are now, heading into Sunday’s emergency meeting in Sydney. The players in one corner, Cricket Australia in the other – and the paying public wondering why our summer sport is dragging itself through the mud when, surely, it’s not that hard to divvy up $500 million owed to players over the next five years.
There has not been a meeting of substance between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers Association since December 19, and that lasted only minutes when CA accused its counterpart of not negotiating in good faith.
It’s been noted CA chief James Sutherland has attended only one meeting, leaving the negotiations to Kevin Roberts, also an experienced administrator seen as Sutherland’s successor. But why has Sutherland not been in the negotiations? His absence may have added to the deterioration in relations between the parties.
There have also been misgivings of each other’s attempts to greater finance grassroots cricket. The players have called for mediation. Cricket Australia has ignored this. There have been rumours of a “dirt file” on players and ACA officials doing the rounds, although nothing dramatic has been published.
The players say they want to remain “partners” in the sport. The CA pay offer, ticked off by chairman David Peever, a former Rio Tinto Australia boss, has been seen even as an attempt to break the union. Cricket Australia denies this.
As players and officials on Saturday began plotting their next move, one insider was moved to consider the bigger picture.
“How is any of this helping the game? Cricket has enormous challenges ahead, let alone worrying about this drama. It’s time to end the shadow boxing and start negotiating,” he said.