Contrary to initial reports, there remains some distance between the Australian Cricketer’s Association and Cricket Australia as talks continue and the two warring parties move closer to an agreement and an end to the ongoing pay dispute.
The governing body and the player’s union have been locked in a stalemate for some time but news coming out of the respective war rooms suggests there has been some ‘really good progress’ in negotiations between the ACA and CA and that things are moving in the right direction.
The current landscape
As things stand, almost 230 players are out of contract, unemployed, awaiting an agreement and a signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in order to be paid.
Cricket Australia has gone on record to suggest there would be no thought given to back pay to cover the period of unemployment which began after the June 30 deadline though there is a school of thought that suggests there could be considerations along these lines should a settlement between the parties be reached.
While some high-profile stars, such as captain Steve Smith, have been sharing holiday snaps via Instagram and Twitter, the players have continued to train and prepare for upcoming commitments during the stalemate. With the men’s national side due to meet for a training camp in the Northern Territory capital of Darwin next week, the goal will be to maintain fitness and team unity.
The main casualty of the dispute so far was the Australia A tour to South Africa which was meant to start on July 12. As key players confirmed they would not tour or take part in any Cricket, Australia sanctioned tours until an MoU was agreed. Ultimately, the decision was made to scrap the tour. While Cricket Australia plunged the saved dollars in to grassroots cricket in an attempt to get a leg up in the public relations battle, fringe stars like Usman Khawaja and Glenn Maxwell gave up their chance to press cases for selection in the end-of-year Ashes series in order to stand solidly with their colleagues.
Next on the chopping block
The next commitment that could suffer the same fate as the Australia A tour to South Africa is a two-Test tour of Bangladesh which had been slated to commence on August 27. The tour had already come under fire and intense scrutiny for the safety concerns Bangladesh would hold for a touring Australian side before the pay dispute, but now seems completely dependent on an agreement being rushed through in the next few days to go ahead.
Captain Steve Smith today confirmed that the players would be unlikely to tour Bangladesh without a resolution being reach beforehand when he appeared on Fox Sports show ‘The Back Page’ last night.
“As we’ve said for a long time, we need to get the deal done first.”
“I don’t think it would be fair for us to go away after the (Australia) A guys were very strong on not going away on their tour, for us to then go away, I don’t think that’s fair.”
Beyond the tour to Bangladesh, the big concern, particularly amongst the Australian public is the possible effect the dispute may have on the Ashes series against England, scheduled to commence in late November.
The ACA has said during the negotiation period that the Ashes could be under threat even if an agreement was reached depending on the timing and the logistical turnaround afforded all parties on the back of reaching a deal, but it would be expected that, should an agreement be reached in the coming days, the Ashes will go ahead.
The same boat
Despite out-achieving their male counterparts at the World Cup in the UK last month, reaching the semi-finals before a humbling loss to India, the Australian women now find themselves in the same circumstances as the men, namely unemployed and unpaid by Cricket Australia until a deal is done.
There had been a special interim deal in order to see the women through to the end of the World Cup, but with that now expiring there comes added urgency from all corners for a resolution to be reached as soon as possible for the benefit of all parties and the need for there to be no impediment on the preparations for the Ashes, which remain the jewel in the crown of the cricket world.
There remains the possibility that, should negotiations continue to drag and the recent progress prove a false dawn, that players could seek alternative employment options within the game.
Cricket Australia has previously said that any players pursuing contracts with ICC-approved overseas clubs, such as those in the lucrative Indian Premier League or the many franchise-based Twenty20 leagues around the world, the players would need to the governing body’s approval to take them up.
Previously, the union has advised this could be subject to a legal challenge on the grounds of restraint of trade though this could see a longer, messier process as parties get potentially bogged down in legal battles and would likely prove more hurtful in the long run.
As an added concern, Cricket Australia has warned that under ICC rules, players taking part in ‘disapproved cricket’ such as exhibition matches, could be barred for a minimum of six months, further limiting player’s options.
The ACA has set up and is maintaining a hardship fund which is available to all players except internationally contracted men and is helping with the financial burden of the dispute.
The corporate game
A concern which may linger well beyond a resolution to the dispute is the ownership of the player’s intellectual property and sponsorship arrangements and agreements Cricket Australia has in place with some of the biggest companies in the country.
Previously, CA owned the rights to the player’s intellectual property, things like the right to use names, images and likenesses for advertising, but those have now been taken by a company created by the Australian Cricketer’s Association.
The move means that players will be free to have their agents and representatives take care of personal arrangements with companies but that group licensing rights are no longer under the control of CA, meaning they cannot use players in advertisements or pursue further arrangements which may include images or footage of the players.
The players having the right to enter their own agreements with companies could raise significant conflicts with the current stable of sponsors aligned with Cricket Australia, including Toyota, the Commonwealth Bank and Optus among others.
This has already been tested somewhat by Mitchell Starc using social media to promote a Mercedes Benz dealership in western Sydney, much to the chagrin of Toyota and may make overall sponsorship of tournaments such as the Big Bash League and ODI series untenable moving forward.
The next step
While things like maintaining thriving sponsorship deals will be a huge carrot for Cricket Australia, that remains firmly at the back of the queue for the people that would be hurt the most if the dispute rages on, the fans of the game.
It is those of us who consume cricket beyond all reasonable comprehension, who adore the game and who were in the midst of preparing for a triumphant summer of Ashes delights that wait with bated breath on word of a resolution so that we may once again return to day-dreaming of Australia taking on England this summer.
The recent signs have been positive, the leaks trending more to good news than bad, but for the love of the game, we want this thing sorted, and we want it sorted as soon as possible.
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