Time for cricket’s real owners to get a voice

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AS THE GREAT cricket pay war rumbles on with no sign of resolution, former player IAN CALLEN goes into bat for the pawns in the game, the multitude of players and supporters at grassroots level:

CLUB cricket at all levels has been my lifelong passion as a player and a coach. Yes, it provided me with a platform to enjoy a successful career in first-class and even, briefly, international cricket but I have never lost sight of the reality that the grassroots game is where the vast majority of Australians participate in the national sport. The many thousands of players, administrators and unpaid enthusiasts who make this possible are the traditional owners of the game – but regrettably, they seem to have lost more and more control of it and are less and less able to make their voices heard. In my opinion – and this is a view shared by many of the kindred souls I talk to about it on a weekly basis – it is unacceptable. It is well past time for this to be addressed.

The scandalous standoff between Cricket Australia and the elite players, through the Australian Cricketers Association, has taken this issue off the back-burner and thrust it into the harsh light of day. The welfare and maintenance of grassroots cricket has become a key debating point in the unresolved war over how CA should spend its massive revenue, with both sides insisting it is a priority, but neither putting forward a convincing argument that they really have the best interests of the rank and file at heart. There is a strong school of thought out there in clubland that they have become merely bargaining chips, pawns in a chess game if you like, in a game being played well above their heads.

Even the State associations seem to have been relegated to little more than observers. Indeed, there is reason to wonder whether CA is bent on putting them out of business, or at least negating their influence to the point where the national body effectively has full and utter control.

You have to wonder whether the states – in some cases, anyway – are willing participants in all this, just blindly following the leader, or whether they are losing their way, and their sense of purpose, for whatever reason. Certainly, there is a huge amount of unrest in Victoria, even though it has proven itself the most successful state on-field by winning the last three Sheffield Shields and by supplying a steady input to the national teams. Given that rosy front window, an explanation is needed as to why, at Cricket Victoria’s annual general meeting next month, several clubs will support a motion of no confidence in the board. It would seem this is a clear case of the grass-roots traditional owners reasserting their primacy, and from information that I have had for some time now, with very good reason. There have already been behind-the-scenes calls for key personnel to resign — retire hurt? – over governance matters and it is surprising they have not made it into the public domain, especially as at least one major newspaper was put in possession of explosive documents some time ago. Why they did nothing with them is a mystery.

The big picture should always be how the Australian teams are faring on the field but now it’s not. Indeed, they’re not even on the field, the A Team tour of South Africa having been cancelled in an unprecedented – and extremely damaging – show of defiance by the players. So, the biggest issue, instead, is how badly the game is travelling off the field, and that’s very sad.

I firmly believe the players are not at fault. The blame lies within the Board offices across the road from the MCG, for their responsibilities are to the players who make the game not only remarkable but marketable. CA’s Memorandum of Articles plainly sets this out as the process available to the state associations should the game be brought into disrepute – as it appears to be on more than one level.

Packer’s World Series Cricket was just a hiccup in comparison to the MOU scandal that continues to embarrass the game, with no end in sight. I say this because the MOU involves all the players from around the country not just 20 or so handpicked mates who at the time left the rest of our nation’s cricketer’s bemused and in the dark. I know – I was one of them.

Since that time the sport has become obsessed with money and so it attracts many types in search of a cut. I call them “the back-room boys” claiming to be concerned for the grass roots of the sport, when in fact they couldn’t be found when the Indian Premier League was an infant. Did anyone hear or see them up on their soap boxes screaming loud and clear that there should be a “monetary return” for grass roots cricket? No! And so, it really gets on my goat when I read an opinion referring to those involved in this dispute as being “incredibly good operators” If they were, this whole sorry situation would have been avoided!

It is the District clubs and their associates from the six states who are the rightful owners or benefactors of Australian cricket, made up of ordinary cricket people working hard to foster the game for future generations. This ideology had been passed on for nearly a century, facilitated by their representatives around boardroom tables. But money changes everything except for one common denominator, the players, and the score book records stand as testament to that.

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Author: Ian Callen

IAN CALLEN is a former Victorian and Australian fast bowler, Test cap No 291.

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