As the days roll by and July 1 gets ever closer, increasingly I am being asked: ‘Why are the negotiations for a renewed memorandum of understanding between the players and Cricket Australia dragging on?'
The answer is simple: Cricket Australia want to end the long-standing partnership with the players and the players just won’t have it.
The players have been partners with Cricket Australia since Tim May and Malcolm Speed negotiated the ﬁrst MOU in 1998. They agreed a model, about a century in the making, which gave both parties what they needed: a ‘revenue share’ allocating about 25 per cent of pool of revenue to the players and player programs, and the much larger remaining share to the running of the game.
A fair arrangement as the foundation for a 20-year partnership of success and growth for Australian cricket.
It’s a model allowing both parties to share risk and reward, triumph and failure and crucially a shared responsibility for growing the game from the grass roots all the way up. It fosters productivity and limits dispute or unrest and it has created sufficient trust so the players even feel comfortable to license their image and IP rights to Cricket Australia for the betterment of the sport. A trust which extends to the players having confidence that CA will work with them to improve player health and safety in what can at times be a very dangerous occupation where time in the spotlight can end abruptly.
The model also creates the right incentives to attract and maintain elite talent and ﬁght off challenges from other sports or rebel leagues. This alone should be reason enough to preserve the model because a hard, modern commercial truth is this is the ﬁrst MOU where an elite Australian player could potentially earn more playing ‘club’ or ‘franchise’ cricket, than playing for their country or heaven forbid, another sport. And on this point, playing for a ‘club’ or ‘franchise’ may also allow players to have less onerous commercial restrictions placed on their ability to exploit their own intellectual property.
So, when it comes to the MOU, the adage ‘if it aint broke don’t fix it’ actually doesn’t do justice to a partnership which has produced far more ‘thriving' than just ‘surviving'.
But driven by a desire to further improve the model, the players, over a 12-month consultation period, developed these proposals:
- The inclusion of women and men in one agreement;
- A revenue sharing model to include women;
- A greater investment in grassroots cricket than the current 12 per cent of revenue;
- Maximisation of player wellbeing during and after their careers;
- Better communication delivering improvements to scheduling; and
- A more balanced approach to innovation in the sport, reflecting the players' desire to respect the game’s traditions and character.
These are fair, progressive, reasonable and future focused proposals.
For reasons, yet to be justified to the players and the public, Cricket Australia wants to jettison the partnership. They reject the need for closer discussions with the players on scheduling, on life after cricket, on the creation of the right remuneration model for women cricketers and even for the financial transparency the player's negotiating team needs.
To offer reasons for Cricket Australia’s motivation would be to speculate. But what seems clear is that a new philosophy has emerged at Cricket Australia. A new language of 'control' in which increasingly the players seem to be regarded as cost centres or not generating enough return on investment.
To view Sheffield Shield cricket and the players who play it, the traditional powerhouse of Australian cricket, in this manner is particularly grating.
There seems to be an ethos regarding players as a tax on the game rather than the living and breathing investment in both the present and more importantly, the future. All of which is a bit odd in what is after all, a not for profit enterprise enjoying an income tax free environment and with no requirement to produce cash dividends for shareholders. And certainly, a new take on what the goals have always been and should always be: to win games of cricket, do our country proud and grow the game for everybody. These are the dividends we should be collectively striving for and these are the dividends which only the cricketers can help to grow.
From the players point of view, this language is one they will not and should not speak.
They are curious as to why a successful model would be tagged for the scrap heap, especially on the eve of battle with the old enemy.
And they are resolute in a way which I haven’t seen since 1998 to remain as partners in everything required to win for their country and to grow the game for the next generation.
That's why, more in sorrow and frustration than in anger, the players instructed their Association to carry the message as plainly as we can: the partnership matters and we will fight for it!
And so, to end this piece where I started: Why is the negotiation taking longer than anyone would really want? It’s because there is a genuine non-meeting of the minds between the parties fuelled by this new approach at Cricket Australia.
The message to Cricket Australia from the players is simple: the players must be regarded as partners in an enhanced and modernised MOU, not merely figures in the over - zealous Jolimont accounts.