Editorial | Echoes from the West Indies in Australian impasse
The fact that Australia's cricket is in a long-running wage dispute that could, in 10 days' time, leave its elite players without contracts, and/or lead to a strike, has largely failed to animate the Caribbean voices that like to pontificate on such matters, usually with the conclusion of how badly the game is managed in this region compared to other countries.
We suspect that their relative silence is largely because to say something would mean having to acknowledge the broad parallels between the Australian situation and what happened in the Caribbean three years ago, and concede that Cricket West Indies, or the West Indies Cricket Board, as it was then, was not so stupid after all.
The basis of the dispute is the attempt of Cricket Australia's (CA) way to remunerate the top 300 or so elite players, moving from a guaranteed share of revenue, which has been in place for two decades, to one that caps wages, albeit with substantial increases in pay over the next five years, to around A$500 million, or more than 35 per cent compared to the previous period. Women players and men at the state level have been offered substantial increases.
Between 2012 and 2017, the life of the current agreement which ends June 30, the guaranteed salary spend ranged between 24.5 per cent and 27 per cent of revenue.
The issue, according to Cricket Australia, is that it spends 70 per cent of its revenue supporting the elite game, including the salaries of top players, and 17 per cent on running the sport. It spends 12 per cent of income on the grass-roots game, which is the foundation and nursery for cricket in Australia.
The Australian Cricketers Association (ACA), however, doesn't like the proposed deal. It believes that CA has understated its projected revenue and overstated the ratio that goes to the top players. They are also against the proposal that only the very top players, excluding those at the state level, would share in the 'surplus' if television-rights revenue outperforms projections. There are calls by some ex-players for an independent review of CA's revenue.
By their analysis, they believe that 22.5 per cent of future revenue could go to players' wages, but still ensure players' increase beyond what has been proposed, leaving the managers with substantial amounts of money to run the game, including investing at the grass roots.
As the talks with the ACA has deadlocked, Cricket Australia's chief negotiator had been taking the case directly to players, while the CEO, James Sutherland, has come under increasing attack from some senior and former players, for, his critics claim, his hands-off approach to the problem. In the meantime, Australians are growing jittery, worried about a possibility of a lockout or strike that could impact the Ashes series against England, starting in November, if a deal is not struck. The country's federal sports minister, Greg Hunt, has said that he will step in to help find a solution.
The echo from the Caribbean is from 2014 when the West Indies cricket authorities, having negotiated with the players' union, raised contract and match fees for Test players, but ended the automatic right of this handful of players to the lion's share of sponsorship income. The revenue was redirected to territorial franchise teams, inclusive of contracts to nearly 100 players. The aim was to expand and professionalise the regional game.
The senior players objected to the initiative and loss of income, leading to the walkout of the tour of India and criticism of the administrators. Perhaps there is something to be learnt.