I have decided it is time to retire this Blog and put it out to archive. I have never settled down to getting this Blog to be what I wanted it to be – though I have enjoyed being Anti-Trump (not that I am in America by the way). I have been running a number of Blogs day in and day out for years (except when taking a break for sickness, holidays, a rest, etc) and I think it is now time I look to focus on those that mean the most to me, while also giving me more time for reading, enjoying life, etc. So it has been a good run, but it is time to move on from here. The site will stay up as an archive of those past years. Thanks for stopping by and enjoying the site.
The most telling part of the long-awaited review into the rotten culture of elite Australian cricket is what it doesn’t say. Or more correctly, what it does say, but what the establishment that owns and controls professional cricket won’t let us read.
Even a chunk of the executive summary of the report is redacted, like state secrets from a confidential intelligence dossier.
A further 22 other pages in the report also have redacted material, in some parts quite extensive. There may be other reasons for the dozens of redactions, but it’s hard not to conclude the principle motivation is that some criticisms of Cricket Australia, and of specific individuals, are just too close to the bone.
The redactions are at odds with the “complete transparency” talked about by Cricket Australia chairman David Peever.
They are emblematic of Cricket Australia’s lack of accountability to the game’s most important stakeholders – the cricketing public.
A very public scandal
The report stems from the ball-tampering scandal in March 2018, when the leaders of the Australian men’s cricket team were involved in a brazen attempt to cheat during a match with South Africa. Three players, including captain Steve Smith and vice-captain Dave Warner, were given unprecedented 12-month suspensions.
Cricket Australia then commissioned the respected Ethics Centre to conduct an independent review covering “cultural, organisational and/or governance issues” related to cricket’s administration.
The investigation has spanned the entire organisation (including the member state associations that are essentially the shareholders of Cricket Australia). It has looked at selection processes, values, leadership and the financial arrangements involving players, sponsors and broadcasters.
Sins of omission
The report says the leadership of Cricket Australia should accept responsibility for several failures. We don’t know what the first failure is, because it has been redacted. But the second is an “inadvertent (but foreseeable) failure to create and support a culture in which the will-to-win was balanced by an equal commitment to moral courage and ethical restraint”.
The review does – as far as we can tell – save Cricket Australia from blame for promoting a “win at all costs” culture. But it levels a charge almost as serious.
In our opinion, CA’s fault is not that it established a culture of ‘win at all costs’. Rather, it made the fateful mistake of enacting a program that would lead to ‘winning without counting the costs’.
It is this approach that has led, inadvertently, to the situation in which cricket finds itself today – for good and for ill.
A series of unfortunate events
Several significant and controversial decisions were made in the weeks prior to the report’s delayed release. After a “global search”, the board appointed Cricket Australia insider Kevin Roberts to replace retiring chief executive James Sutherland. It then re-appointed long-time board chairman David Peever for a further three-year term.
These decisions suggest Cricket Australia’s highest echelons just aren’t taking responsibility. Doesn’t the buck stop with the chairman and board? How can a significant review finding cultural problems across the entire structure not lead to any meaningful changes in its leadership and governance?
Cricket Australia says it will adopt most of the independent review’s 42 recommendations. It accepts “sin bin” measures for cricketer bad behaviour, that annual cricketer awards take into account sportsmanship and character, establishing an ethics commission to strengthen accountability, and to finally include sledging in an anti-harassment code.
There are, however, two notable rejections.
One is that, “subject to issues of confidentiality (commercial and otherwise)” the board publish the minutes of its meetings, as is done by the Board for Control of Cricket in India. Another cross marked here against transparency.
Operating in a parallel universe
All this points to a critical problem with Cricket Australia’s governance and leadership.
On page 13, the report includes a definition of cricket’s stakeholders: “All parties who hold a stake in the success of CA and Cricket-in-Australia (the general public was not included in the scope for research).”
This seems to sum up Cricket Australia’s attitude perfectly: it pays lip service to the fans, but in practice treats them as a cash cow, not real stakeholders.
Cricket is a sporting monopoly, like other sporting codes. Cricket Australia is a company limited by guarantee, and owned by the state and territory associations. It controls the game as a lucrative business. The general public might love the game, but we have no ownership or direct influence over it.
The only means we might have to effect meaningful reform is by voting with our feet.
On the face of it, there is much to celebrate about Australian cricket right now. The sport has money to burn thanks to recent large pay-TV deals, the Big Bash has strong TV ratings; the women’s cricket team is one of the most successful and highly regarded Australian sporting teams. There has been a surge in junior participation, and many Australians still regard it as our national sport – it is certainly the dominant sport of the summer.
By contrast, cricket in the media is lurching from one crisis to another, with the fallout from the now-infamous ball-tampering episode still reverberating. Yesterday, the sport was dealt another blow.
An independent review of Cricket Australia’s culture was released, concluding that “winning without counting the costs” was largely responsible for the recent ball-tampering scandal and sledging – the on-field verbal abuse and taunting – that has been an entrenched habit of the Australian team for decades.
The review found the sport was riddled with cultural problems that exerted so much exerted pressure to win that it manifested in cheating and sledging, covertly sanctioned by the administrators. With 42 recommendations, it is clear Cricket Australia needs to change.
The biggest cultural issue for the sport at the moment is sledging, and one of the recommendations calls for cricket’s anti-harrassment code to address abusive behaviour.
While niggling a player might have been an acceptable part of the game, sledging has reached a point where a strict code of ethics needs to be drawn up and adhered to. While this may take away some of the unique nature of the sport, in the long run it will bring the focus back to the play.
Sledging matters because it is a type of cheating. The rise in cheating, whether it be via match-fixing or sledging, is linked to the rise in commercialisation and gambling in sport.
Australian cricket has formed commercial relationships with major sport betting agencies and an official partnership with Bet365. There have been numerous accusations regarding international match-fixers. And the ball-tampering scandal has confirmed that Australians no longer hold the moral high ground.
The relentless pressure to win has infected the sport at all levels. Sledging is but one of the symptoms.
Why does this matter so much to Australians? A clue may lie in what else is going on: a recent bank inquiry, fears related to immigration, contempt for politicians, growing distrust of public institutions, poor performance and declines in international educational testing, wage stagnation and declines (despite a world record run on economic growth), concern over high house prices and power bills. In 2018, Australians have much to be anxious and angry about.
Cricket has always been held above everyday concerns, and has been a source of national pride and a salve in times of fear. Throughout the history of colonial Australia, cricket has been a source of inspiration, an institution that has provided strong links to our communities (school, geographical district, state and territories) and helped define Australian identity.
Modern Australians’ first organised sport in both schools and the community setting was cricket. Our first sporting wins against the “home country” – England – were in cricket Test matches. Cricket was responsible for giving us legitimacy.
Our best cricketers became heroes. Generations looked upon Don Bradman, Dennis Lillee, Steve Waugh and Mark Taylor as role models. It was the hegemonic sport and the cricketers best represented what Australian masculinity was about. If you played the sport, you played in a tough way (even though it is not a contact sport) within the highly revered rules; cricket could help you learn that gracious defeat is as admirable as victory.
Also, especially from about 1990 onwards, the Australian men’s team was outstanding. They won Test series and one-dayers with continued all-round brilliance, producing some of the greatest players the game has ever seen.
But, in the past few years, Australian cricket’s legitimacy has waned. Many of us who love the sport and all it represents have felt disillusioned by recent events at the elite level. This was confirmed to us yesterday with the report – which, thankfully, did not sugar-coat the diagnosis.
So what is the cure? A revised, strict and well-policed ethical code for staff and players will not be enough. Cricket needs to work with commercial partners, or abandon them if they can’t meet high ethical standards too.
Commercial and betting agendas create pressures to cheat, yet Sport 2030, our national plan for sport, under the banner “strengthening the sector’s integrity” suggests:
organisations… adopt a more efficient, model of governance which can best position sports to be able to drive greater commercial outcomes, reduce reliance on funding, increase autonomy and support innovation.
And there is the dilemma.