By Anand Kulkarni
In the wake of the ball-tampering incident in March (“sandpaper gate”) featuring key Australian cricketers, and general behavioural issues, Cricket Australia, the game’s governing body in Australia, commissioned the Ethics Centre to conduct a major review of culture and governance frameworks in Australian cricket. Since the review came out, respected and senior figures in Australian Cricket’s hierarchy have resigned, on top of the earlier suspensions of the cricketers. In short, turmoil prevails.
The review, based on survey and face-to-face interviews of those connected to Australian cricket, was scathing in its assessments of the administration and the players. It painted a picture of a system which has lost its balance and a playing group who live in a “gilded bubble”, disconnected, among other things, from the grounding influence of community and immediate support.
The review, in its condemnation of Australian cricket administration, speaks of a controlling culture, and one that puts a greater weight on the “price” of its product rather than its “value” wherein the latter reflects the best traditions and ideals of the game. In essence, money speaks all languages in cricket, and that players are treated as and feel like commodities. Furthermore, only just over one half of survey respondents thought that Cricket Australia lives up to its values of the spirit of cricket and a significant one third thought that the values of respect were mostly not lived up to. The review further found that a culture of “winning without counting the cost” was prevalent throughout the game.
Some 42 recommendations have emanated from the report including: the establishment of an Ethics Commission; establishment of an Australian Cricket Consultative Council and other means to engage stakeholders more fully; player awards should take into account character and behaviour; umpires should rate sportsmanship of teams from local to national teams; interestingly, that there should no presumption that the vice-captain is the heir apparent to the captain to ensure total support and harmony within the team environment; promotion of greater gender diversity within Cricket Australia; and the need for improvement of communication skills and associated training for senior management.
Cricket Australia has agreed to adopt most of the recommendations. The players themselves have initiated and agreed to a separate but related “Players’ Pact” to reorient their behaviour and attitude, to improve their standing in the eyes of the public, and to follow the spirit of the game more closely.
These are certainly challenging times. It will be interesting to see how and to what extent Cricket Australia and the players themselves walk the talk, and reform their playing and management styles. For instance, can Australian cricket can walk the fine line between its traditional aggressive approach to playing while being cognisant of its broader responsibilities, especially when match situations become tough? How exactly are the new “character” criteria to be identified and enforced? What will the role of the vice-captain look like in the future? Are the recommendations for new bodies simply going to inflate red-tapeism?
The implications of this review are definitely far-reaching for Australian cricket. It is equally important for cricket authorities in other countries to pay attention to what is happening in Australia, especially when the shorter form of the game, Twenty20, is becoming increasingly commercial. In addition, the game’s governing body, the International Cricket Council, could also reflect on the Australian review as a guide to its oversight of international cricket.
Anand Kulkarni is the Associate Director for Planning and Performance at Victoria University, Australia.
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