Australian international players may populate South Africa’s new Twenty20 competition and even play exhibition or charity matches among themselves in the event of an extended pay dispute between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association.
With ten days remaining until the expiry of the current MoU, the sort of chaos to result from an lengthy period without an agreement between the board and the players is becoming clearer, following the launch of the new CSA competition that will clash with the start of the Australian season in a similar fashion to the way the IPL impinges on England’s.
More than 400 players have registered their interest in the new tournament and its privately-owned teams, including numerous Australians. ESPNcricinfo has learned that these include some recent ODI representatives, though the group is not believed to include any players in contention for the home Ashes series. CA would need to provide No Objection Certificates in order for these players to take part, though their rights over the players may be legally tested in a post-MOU environment.
The new tournament represents a challenge for CA even without the fact of the concurrent pay dispute, as for the first time there will be competition for Australian players who would otherwise be playing domestically in the Matador Cup and the Sheffield Shield leading into the home Test season. In that sense it leaves the board with a level of complication familiar to other countries who have been less able to firewall their own home season in the manner CA have become used to.
Before the Ashes takes place, an Australia A tour of South Africa, a two-Test visit to Bangladesh and a limited-overs tour of India are all under threat due to the dispute. The abandonment of a tour to India would be hugely damaging to CA’s relationship with the BCCI, while the Bangladesh tour is significant given the current jostling for votes ahead of ICC meetings set to decide on a new constitution that CA supports.
While CA has stated that it will press state players currently on multi-year deals to honour their contracts and continue to train and play in official competitions, it is expected that a lack of progress in pay talks would mean every contracted player is unavailable for selection. This would be both in solidarity with those out of contract but also on the premise that all contracts were signed to sit under a working MOU.
A report in the Sydney Morning Herald has also indicated that some of the game’s top players have discussed the possibility of playing unofficial matches outside those usually organised by CA. The players, according to the report, “have discussed the possibility of putting on exhibition or charity games among themselves if the saga drags on, in what they believe would serve as a powerful message that they can continue to play outside the umbrella of CA.”
Such a move would mirror events during the 2011 NBA lockout, when numerous players took part in exhibition tournaments, including one staged in Las Vegas that was composed exclusively of elite NBA players and dubbed “the lockout league”. Equally, numerous NBA players took up the option of playing overseas during this time, signing contracts that allowed them to return to the league whenever the dispute concluded.
Exhibition matches would present a further challenge to CA’s authority, in line with the ACA’s recent establishment of The Cricketers Brand to manage the players’ intellectual property rights in the event of a new MOU not being finalised. At the launch of the new company late last month, the ACA’s chief executive Alistair Nicholson said the association had not yet contemplated the staging of matches.
“That’s not something we’re looking at, at the moment it’s how do we support the players, we put in some commercial structures around the game post June 30,” he said. “What happens in regard to a cricket game, that’s not something that we’re necessarily planning for, but we’ll wait and see once we get past where negotiations are at.
“This is around getting the commercial structures around [IP]. I’m not saying necessarily that the commercial demand for that will come right away, it’s about getting the right structure in regard to that. The key thing is if there are opportunities out there in regard to players’ intellectual property, we’ve got something there to support that.”
The ACA have staged cricket matches over the past nine years under the banner of the “ACA Masters”, a travelling troupe of past and present players who have made annual tours to country regions in all states. They have also hosted events to create awareness of the program in capital cities, played matches against state representative teams, development programs and special squads, and established relationships with a host of country and suburban clubs.
The parlous state of pay negotiations between the board and the ACA was further highlighted on Tuesday when the AFL (Australian Football League) announced a new six-year collective bargaining agreement with its players, for the first time linking their wages to the league’s revenue after the fashion of Australian cricket’s existing MOU. “This is a great outcome for our industry,” the AFL chairman Richard Goyder said, “delivering certainty and stability, respecting our players, and allowing the AFL to invest in the future.
“We are very proud to work in partnership with our players to protect and grow the game, and I thank the [players’] Association for their strong advocacy on behalf of their members, and their commitment to the whole game.”
A CA spokesperson said the AFL agreement was different to the cricket’s current model. “First, it only contemplates a share of revenue above budget forecast, rather than a fixed percentage of defined revenue streams. Second, it takes the costs of generating that revenue into account, whereas the current cricket model does not and is simply a gross share. So this model is very different to cricket’s and in important respects is much closer to the modified model that CA has proposed.”
Talks between CA and the ACA are continuing.