After months of negotiation between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association — which included the previous Memorandum of Understanding expiring on 1 July, some 230-odd professional cricketers around Australia are now employed again. The drawn-out and often bitter negotiations saw both parties start to lose the backing of the Australian public, and the players in particular will undoubtedly be happy the issue has been resolved and they can get back to focussing on the cricket, starting with the upcoming tour of Bangladesh, followed by a limited overs tour of India and then their summer showpiece — the Ashes.
The ACA, which represents the players, wanted CA to maintain the same pay structure and revenue-sharing model that had been in place since 1998, which would allow domestic players and women cricketers to share in cricket’s revenue along with the elite men players.
In the end, the ACA and CA have come to an agreement that CA chief executive officer James Sutherland described as a "modernised revenue-sharing" model in a joint press conference with ACA CEO Alistair Nicholson. Under the new agreement, players will receive 27.5 percent of forecast revenue, estimated to be around $500 million over the next five years. Women cricketers are the big winners with their share of the pie set to increase from $7.5 million to $55 million. All that is left now is for the players to vote to agree, which is a formality.
The big question being asked after this long and drawn-out process is: Who is the real winner?
Well, in some ways there are no real winners. If anything, in an attempt to win the public relations battle and get the fans and supporters on their side, both Cricket Australia and the ACA/players have done a pretty good job of alienating and annoying cricket fans right around Australia. The general public in Australia just wants their team to play cricket, and more importantly, win. And while most fans were empathetic to the plight of the players and ACA with regard to funding for grassroots cricket and for domestic and women's cricket, they became more and more disenchanted the longer the negotiations carried on.
Many fans found it hard to feel sorry for the country’s cricketers when they saw the likes of David Warner driving around in a Lamborghini and Mitchell Starc signing a sponsorship deal with a local Audi dealership. What they didn’t understand was these negotiations were about so much more than money.
In fact, the top cricketers like Warner, Starc and captain Steve Smith stood to earn more from Cricket Australia’s proposed pay structure and maintain a share of CA’s revenue. However, they and the ACA went in to bat for all cricketers in Australia, men and women, in order to come up with a model they believed was fair for all parties and maintained the players' role as partners in the success of the game in Australia.
The ACA’s message was about doing the right thing for all professional cricketers in Australia, as well as doing their bit for grassroots cricket in the country. Under the previous pay agreement, Australia’s cricketers saw themselves as partners in the game with CA. Under the board's proposal for a new agreement, they felt they were being reduced to employees — something that did not sit well with them.
The ACA and the players are certainly claiming victory as they have managed to maintain some form of revenue-sharing under the new MoU, as well as a greater say in scheduling and grassroots investment. Certainly from the outside, it appears as if CA has caved in to the demands of the players’ union.
So while the ACA and Australia’s professional players can be happy with the outcome, the lasting effects of such a bitter battle remain to be seen. Trust between the players and the governing body is all but shot, particularly after CA’s threats to take the issue to arbitration and Sutherland’s reluctance to get involved with the negotiations until such a late stage.
While Sutherland is confident that come the first ball of this summer’s Ashes series, all will be forgotten and forgiven, there is no doubt it will take quite some time for the feelings of ill-will and tension to dissipate between the players and the administration. The bitterness of the negotiations were certainly a low point for Australian cricket and even the fans were sick of it by the time a resolution was found.
It might be a while for supporters of the game in Australia to forgive CA and the players for dragging the process out, but it would have been so much worse had this affected any of the national team’s upcoming tours, or heavens forbid, the Ashes series.
The finer points of the MoU still need to be sorted out, and negotiations will continue for some weeks yet, but an in principle agreement has been made and that is a huge step forward and a victory for all lovers of the game in Australia who just want to see their men and women get back to doing what they do best.
Finally, everyone can get back on with the cricket, and that’s the most important thing.