What began as a difference of opinion between Cricket Australia and Australian Cricketers Association has now unfurled into a full-blown firestorm that threatens to spiral out of control, plunging Australian cricket into its worst crisis since Kerry Packer came calling with white balls and coloured clothing. The prevailing impasse has long ceased to be a financial dispute, but has assumed a more toxic hue, with strained egos and a power tussle at the heart of it.
The crux of the dispute
The dispute is not only about how much the players are being paid but also about how the figure is arrived at. Since 1997, Cricket Australia and Australian Cricketers Association have conformed to a revenue-sharing system, reviewed and renewed once in five years, wherein the players are allocated a quarter of the national body’s revenue. Now, the CA feels the prevailing MoU is a burden in funding developmental programmes at the grassroots.
Concurrently, the ACA sought a clearer definition of gross revenue — which for the next five-year-cycle is estimated to be around A$400 million — and whether it’s inclusive of digital rights. So amidst mutual cynicism, the CA devised a revenue-sharing pattern in November last year, which virtually shunned the prevailing agreement by proposing a fixed wage for the players.
The reason the players are distraught
Contrary to public perception, it’s not the bigwigs of Australian cricket who would be affected, though they have been the most vocal rebels. In fact, the top players were offered a package with the same clauses and conditions, which means several of them would stand to earn substantially more than what they are presently. For example, Australia skipper Steve Smith will get more than $2 million and the top 20 contracted players will average more than $1.2 million annually. But the reason they are rebelling is that the proposed system alienates domestic and women cricketers. While CA has put forth a revised package for them as well, they would be no longer be entitled to the revenue-sharing pie. Though they will be guaranteed a more-than-decent amount, they wouldn’t earn as much as they would under the two-decade old system.
The ACA is puzzled as to why the chunk for grassroot development programmes should be extracted from their share — they have also suggested an upgraded model, with 55 per cent share set apart for CA and 22.5 per cent each for players and grassroots cricket. ACA’s bigger concern is that CA would gradually snatch their representation powers — an apprehension swelled by CA’s direct, though futile, negotiations with individual players.
CA reckons the current pay model is dated and “effectively rules out any normal investment strategy aimed at growing the game”, as the players get a share of the revenue and not the profit. For example, if CA’s revenue is $100000 and manages a profit of $15,000 from on investment, they will be left with only $86,825 of the original amount, which is akin to a loss. CA claims that any investment requires an unrealistic profit of 32 per cent just to break even and that more than 70 per cent of Cricket Australia’s expenditure is investment in elite cricket. The system, they argue, made sense during the time of Steve Waugh, when CA’s revenue was around $50 million, but now it’s around $400 million. So by 2021, the players would be earning astronomical sums, even domestic players getting a steep 25 per cent hike. That’s CA primary concern, the millions the domestic players would earn, even if they are injured or don’t perform.
The fallout’s ramifications
With both parties unbudging, all peace-brokering attempts have gone futile. The deadline for an MoU was June 30, and since no agreement was forged, the top 230 players in Australia are presently contract-less. This effectively implies they are unemployed and international cricket featuring Australia is put on hold. In immediate jeopardy is the A tour to South Africa, which also features a triangular limited-over series featuring India. Also lined up are Australia’s tour to Bangladesh, a whistle-stop ODI series in India and the Ashes that begins in November.
CA is hopeful they can bury the hatchet before the Ashes. But it has flexed its muscle, insisting the players wouldn’t be paid for non-contracted months even if they patch up, that they would be banned for six months from international cricket if they play in any unofficial league and won’t be given the NOC for playing in T20 leagues or county cricket, thus snuffing their revenue-garnering streams.
The impact on global cricket
In his 19-page proposal to the CoA, former India coach Anil Kumble has warned about an Australia-like impasse if the board doesn’t clarify what constitutes gross revenue and doesn’t increase the salary of players and support staff. The arrangement for players’ compensation was 26% of gross BCCI revenue with 13% for international players and 13% for domestic cricketers. The original agreement meant “all gross BCCI revenues.” But he points out that the BCCI calculates gross revenue after deducting 70 per cent of the media rights income that goes to the state units. Kumble feels there was a lack of clarity on whether “IPL media rights are part of the media rights income”. If the Australian cricketers have their way, players of other boards too would take a cue from them.