So that’s it. The cliff has been gone over. For months, the precipice of 30 June has been looming in the decreasing distance – the deadline for resolving the pay dispute between those who administrate cricket in Australia and those who play it professionally.
For the last few months, that deadline has been used as an admonishing finger by both sides of the disagreement. That both sides must get this sorted before the expiry of the current memorandum of understanding, by which player contracts are drawn up. But at this stage, the disagreement has degenerated into a full-blown fight.
It’s not accurate, as per some reports, to say that Australia’s cricketers are on strike. Nor is it entirely accurate to say that they’ve been sacked. But effectively the latter is true, after Cricket Australia declined to renew any contracts of cricketers at national and state level.
Much of the reporting seems to have missed one point: that this dispute is not about international stars. Sure, we’ve been hearing from Steve Smith, David Warner and friends, because they have the highest profiles. But their pay is not the point at issue. All international players were offered new deals with the same conditions of their old ones.
The international players are instead rebelling against the idea their state counterparts should be excluded from revenue sharing, which all professional cricketers have been part of the for the last 20 years. There has been a completely united front thus far between all current players.
What is at contention is not how much players are paid, but how those numbers are arrived at. Since 1997, cricket administrators have signed an MoU every five years with successive player groups dictating how pay is devised. Central to that has been a revenue sharing model, where players are guaranteed a certain amount of the game’s income over and above a basic salary.
The theory here is that Australia’s top line cricketers help produce most of the sport’s income, via broadcast rights and ticket sales and merchandising and every other stream of cashflow, therefore they should share in that revenue.
Approaching the current negotiations, Cricket Australia decided that revenue sharing as an idea should be defunct except for the top handful of international male players. CA would offer substantial wages, but no share in revenue, for domestic men’s and all female players.
Australia’s cricketers have a 100% unionised workforce via the Australian Cricketers Association, the organisation tasked with representing players. Some members of Cricket Australia’s board are antagonistic against the union, believing it shouldn’t have the power to represent players. This has been reinforced by CA attempting to negotiate with players directly, even while players have been uniform in insisting that any negotiation should happen via the ACA.
Cricket Australia’s public position is that revenue sharing must end so that more money can be invested in grassroots cricket. However, there has been no explanation as to why that money must come from the 26% of CA revenue paid to players, rather than the 74% of revenue used elsewhere.
Australia’s women are playing in their current World Cup under temporary contracts that will expire after the final on 23 July, at which point they will be effectively sacked as the male players were sacked at midnight on Friday. Australia’s women were offered massive pay increases, but that is compared to the previous deal they had when they were not included under the men’s MoU.
Under any new MoU, they would be included. So even though the current CA offers look tasty, those players and women in the future could stand to benefit more if they hold out and are included in revenue sharing.
So for both male and female players, employment by Cricket Australia is over. But then, this is exactly what the dispute is about: the ability to be recognised as partners in the game rather than seen as employees of bosses who run it.
For now, Cricket Australia is trying to appear tough and send out warnings. Players have been told that they are unemployed and will not be back-paid for this period should a new deal be reached later. But they’ve also been told that they could be banned from international cricket for six months if they play in any unofficial matches in the meantime, and that they would need a “no objection certificate” from their home board to play in any overseas Twenty20 tournaments.
These are the very options that Australian players have proposed to earn a living while the dispute drags on – to play in overseas leagues, or to organise their own games under the auspices of the ACA. Now that contracts have expired, the union also controls the intellectual property pertaining to players’ images. Expect to see legal challenges under the principle of restraint of trade, if any of Cricket Australia’s threats are put to the test.
For now, the dispute means that all Australian cricket is on hold. This includes the Australia A tour to South Africa due in a couple of weeks, the Test tour to Bangladesh at the end of August, an ODI tour to India in September, and potentially the start of the domestic season in October.
Obviously attention has been fixed on the Ashes at the start of November. Surely, some resolution to the dispute will have been agreed by then. But if preparations for that series are disrupted, via the cancellation of any early domestic games, the consequences will be far-reaching and final. In short, this impasse must be resolved within a very short space of time, or heads will metaphorically roll.
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