Cricket today is awash in money like never before, especially in Australia. With lucrative Twenty20 competitions springing up around the world, sponsorship deals for everything from sports cars to tooth paste, cricketers can now do more than make a living from playing the game—they can get rich!
For many, it doesn’t end when they hang up their boots and ride into the sunset of retirement, there seems to be an insatiable demand for ex players as commentators or for giving their opinions on late night television.
But, a whole generation of cricket fans it might seem impossible to believe that this is not the way it has always been. For a long time, the majority of cricketers needed to have a job to support themselves and find a way to make that work around cricket. Some were lucky enough to find a position with a sympathetic employer willing to let them go on tour, but many struggled to make a living.
For many years, any attempts by players to approach the board seeking more money was immediately squashed. To be fair, those running the game may have genuinely felt that they needed to be good stewards of the board’s revenues, but there is no doubt that players had genuine reason to feel hard done by. Being told things like that if they weren’t happy with their compensation there were a million Australian’s who would happily play for free—especially coming from someone who did so well from his career as the Don—didn’t help matters.
It was only after the outright rebellion of World Series cricket, when Kerry Packer saw how much money could be made from cricket, that players realised the leverage they had. People weren’t just turning up to see anonymous ciphers playing cricket, they were going to see Thommo crushing toes or Hookesy…well, hooking. With most of the stars on strike, the official teams weren’t just uncompetitive, they were uninspiring. The power balance had shifted, forever.
Nothing New Under the Sun
While that might seem like ancient history, we are currently in a similar situation, with a very real possibility that we might not have a team for our next scheduled tour. Cricket Australia and the players are at odds about a new pay deal but, the difference is, that players are now firmly in the driving seat. A change in mindset means that many players don’t necessarily see playing for their country as the pinnacle of their career, and there is plenty of money out there waiting.
Whenever something like this happens it is very easy to take a simplistic view and see the differing sides in black and white terms. Some people are labeling players as mercenaries, more interested in money and the flashy allure of competitions like the IPL than in the good of the game. Others see the governing bodies as greedy corporate suits who devalue the importance of the players. The truth is, both sides have valid concerns.
A Fair Go for All
Even though it is the men’s team that brings in most of the revenue, the board has a responsibility to ensure that grass roots cricket gets the support it needs, because without it the game will wither on the vine—it’s where the superstars of tomorrow are playing today. And, women’s cricket is only just starting to get its due, pairing games in the Big Bash has opened a multitude of eyes to the quality of women’s cricket, and how it shouldn’t be treated as the neglected sibling.
But, the players who bring in the sponsors and the massive television audiences can’t be blamed for wanting to be compensated accordingly. The days when all players had to settle for a tiny percentage of the revenue pie are gone. For the average working Aussie it might seem greedy for players to be asking for a multi million dollar package, but the truth is if I was responsible for bringing my business millions of dollars worth of billable hours I would feel entitled to a share of that, so why shouldn’t a cricketer be any different?
The Most Good for the Most People
In the end there is no simple answer, no easy right and wrong. One can only hope that both players and board can come to an agreement that is good for everyone, including the fans. We want to see the best players playing the best cricket possible. And, we want to see our local clubs remain part of the fabric of Aussie society.
It might mean that the board has to bend on some demands, or that players are willing to see more money go to other areas of the game. All sides need to be willing to look towards what is best for cricket because short term greed or inflexibility will only mean that the game will suffer in the long term—and I don’t believe anyone wants that.
David Goodwin is the Editor of The Salvation Army’s magazine,War Cry. He is also a cricket tragic, and an unapologetic geek.
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