Steve Baldas, the Adelaide Strikers general manager, is among 16 members of staff and seven contractors made redundant by the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) as it became the first state cricket association to reduce the size of its operation amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
The SACA’s cost-cutting, announced to its members on Thursday night, is linked to the vast downturn in projected revenue for the Adelaide Oval after the AFL season was suspended due to health risks, with the association a joint partner in the management of the multi-purpose stadium with the SANFL.
SACA and SANFL finances are further complicated by the need to help repay a A$42 million state government-guaranteed loan to the Stadium Management Authority for the construction of a new hotel at Adelaide Oval, in time for the 2020 men’s Twenty20 World Cup later this year.
Other measures confirmed by the SACA president Andrew Sinclair included the reduction of salaries by 20% among remaining staff across the board, including on the executive team led by the CEO Keith Bradshaw. The association has also frozen the search for a new coach of the Redbacks men’s state team, after Jamie Siddons departed his post by mutual agreement.
Two experienced coaches remain in the SACA system, with Jason Gillespie contracted as coach of the Strikers and the former Australia coach Tim Nielsen still on board as high performance manager.
The departure of Baldas, formerly the chief executive of Tennis SA, after one season, has taken place at the same time Cricket Australia looks closely into the declining fortunes of the Big Bash League entering its 10th season, including the presentation of a competition review by the highly regarded broadcasting director and executive Dave Barham.
The Strikers finished third at the end of the 14-game BBL regular season behind the Melbourne Stars and Sydney Sixers, before being eliminated in a knockout final at Adelaide Oval by the fifth-placed Sydney Thunder.
“These decisions have not been made lightly – people are our number one priority,” Sinclair said in a message to members. “However, we need to act in the best interests of SACA as we face one of the toughest times in our 149-year history. We will continue to plan for next year’s cricket season, with the hope that we can all return to normality as soon as possible.
“It is now apparent that SACA’s financial operating position has been, and will continue to be, severely affected as this situation continues. While we are now in the cricket ‘off-season’, the shutdown of Adelaide Oval (and all associated match/event revenues) impacts us significantly as a fifty per cent joint-venture partner in the Adelaide Oval Stadium Management Authority.
“As a response, SACA has been forced to implement significant cost-saving measures. The focus of these measures is to ensure that we can continue to operate and that we can get back to our role of providing cricket programs and matches across South Australia when conditions improve.”
Other states have not yet announced similar cuts, and all have somewhat different financial arrangements either directly tied to memberships, as is the case with the SACA and the WACA, or different models in New South Wales and Victoria where the SCG Trust and the Melbourne Cricket Club hold the memberships to watch matches at each state’s principal venue.
CA, which under its financial model provides an annual grant to each of the state associations for the running of their businesses and the development of cricket in each state, has indicated that its intent is to absorb the shock of the coronavirus pandemic into the business without resorting to staff cuts.
Summit required to stop Australian cricket’s chaos
A week ago, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison announced that the 28-year-old system of state and territory leaders meeting twice every year with the federal government was going to be scrapped. It has been replaced by more regular contact that emerged out of the Covid-19 pandemic: fortnightly or monthly “national cabinet” video conferences. This change was not just the fruit of all involved realising that regular, less formal communication was more functional and practical, it was also the result of lobbying behind the scenes and on camera, by two former state New South Wales and South Australia premiers Mike Baird (Liberal) and Jay Weatherill (Labor).
Nowhere in Australian life is there a greater contrast to this than what has overtaken cricket over the past two months. Baird has had a front-row seat here too, as a board director with Cricket NSW, and it would not surprise if he has wondered aloud at how government has leaned on greater collective communication while in cricket the conversations have been far less rounded and less effective.
Perhaps the most extraordinary single fact of a period in which Cricket Australia has stood down more than 200 staff on 20% pay, and every state but NSW has followed by cutting a total of more than 150 staff thus far, is that 49 days have passed since the chairmen of CA and the six states held their own “national cabinet” meeting. The Australian Cricket Council, a body notionally formed after a cultural review in 2018, has not met even once, having last convened in October 2019.
A mess of confusion, disillusionment, anger and mistrust has swept into this vacuum, as opportunistic decisions have been made in some quarters, survival efforts attempted in others, and previously sound relationships have frayed or cracked up altogether. CA has, based on modelling put together in March, forged on with a plan for stand-downs followed by redundancies that have undeniably talked down the game, and completely contradicted last week’s announcement of the international schedule for next summer.
In Victoria, some 60 staff, most from community cricket, have lost their jobs, while the Cricket Victoria board, composed primarily of delegates beholden to Melbourne’s club competition, ring-fenced cash and assets valued at some A$70 million. Most of the money contributing to CV’s A$1 million financial loss for 2018-19 – a primary justification for the “restructure” – had been spent on severance settlements for the ex-CEOs of the Melbourne Stars and the Melbourne Renegades as part of the previous restructure only a year before. If you didn’t laugh, you’d cry.
“Roberts has lost the confidence of a wide range of figures in Australian cricket who gave him a second chance after the 2017 pay dispute with the ACA, partly by deflecting much of the blame for that and other issues to the former chairman David Peever. Eddings, a more natural communicator than Roberts, has a greater supply of goodwill but cannot escape blame for the chaotic way the cost-cutting has unfolded, and is also distracted by conflicts and conundrums at the ICC.”
Events in South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland have been a little less dramatic but, in many cases, just as damaging to the game’s future growth. Queensland were forced, with just A$7 million in reserves, to cut some 32 staff though still disputing CA’s request for a 25% reduction in their annual grants, while SA was compelled to move first with some 23 job cuts due to the loss of immediate revenue drawn from their co-dependency on Adelaide Oval’s postponed AFL fixtures.
CA is planning to make as many as 20% of its total staff redundant as soon as next week, and is still arguing individually with NSW, Queensland and the Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) over terms of their own cutbacks. After a failed first attempt to articulate its position in April, CA’s chief executive Kevin Roberts went out on an information campaign this week, but both the dissenting states and the ACA were unimpressed at being handed forecasts more or less unchanged from those cobbled together in March.
In the simplest terms, a 50% revenue drop for the 2020-21 season may have been possible to contemplate three months ago, but now that India have committed to a tour worth some A$300 million in broadcast revenue and sport has resumed in Australia? No chance. If broadcasters had been making undeniably panicky noises in March about the need for reductions in rights fees, it was only in a moment where the loss of an Australia international summer was possible. Now the schedule has been announced, and there is a contract to honour for another four years.
This is all to say that CA, the states and the ACA have used up more than eight weeks of precious time not available to the winter football codes in squabbles over a course of action the central governing body committed to before it had any way of knowing how Covid-19 and its financial shocks would unfold. Now that much more is known, a fresh round of conversations must be had, and fast.
Undoubtedly, cricket in Australia is due a reassessment of its cost-base, but that much was obvious even before. When CA returned a surplus of just A$18 million for a 2018-19 summer featuring four Tests, three T20Is and three ODIs against India, the same programme as 2020-21, it was clear that the commitment of cash to operating activities had gone too far – beyond even the windfall provided by effectively doubling CA’s Australian broadcast rights deal to A$1.18 billion in 2018. This is without mentioning big overseas deals with Sony (India) and Sky (UK).
But such a conversation requires unity, transparency and shared purpose – anything but the dog’s breakfast of individual negotiations and arguments that have bubbled across since March. Roberts and the CA chairman Earl Eddings must have realised this much after they watched aghast at CV’s indiscriminate job cuts, which mean CA must take more responsibility for developing community cricket in the state, while also seeking a way to bring the state association’s self-destructive elements to heel.
Realisation, of course, is not the same thing as action. Plenty of scar tissue must be overcome. Roberts has lost the confidence of a wide range of figures in Australian cricket who gave him a second chance after the 2017 pay dispute with the ACA, partly by deflecting much of the blame for that and other issues to the former chairman David Peever. Eddings, a more natural communicator than Roberts, has a greater supply of goodwill but cannot escape blame for the chaotic way the cost-cutting has unfolded, and is also distracted by conflicts and conundrums at the ICC.
Inaction by CA will only add weight to the arguments of those who would like to see the Board overturned, with the current system of nine independent directors replaced by a hybrid model of six direct representatives from state boards and three independents. That model would, at least, ensure that the states are privy to major strategic and budgetary decisions in a more natural way, even as it carries the risk of what has taken place in Victoria, where the delegates have run roughshod over the bigger picture.
Such a shift would require constitutional amendments that consume time, energy and grey matter best used in a quieter moment. For now Eddings and Roberts need to be practical, seeking solutions through a method akin to that pushed by Baird and Weatherill in an opinion piece for The Guardian: “leaders of different levels of government with different affiliations gathering as peers, looking for joint purpose and creating constructive ways of managing differences.”
CA’s leaders must show humility about their own actions, and curiosity about the needs of their owners and partners. Fire up Microsoft Teams, Zoom or even House Party, get the state and ACA chairs together, and work out how to move forward in a sporting economy that, for the first time in decades, is less likely to shrink than to grow. Australian cricket’s health depends on it.
WhatsApp messages should not have led to Alex Hepburn rape conviction, Court of Appeal hears
The lawyer for Alex Hepburn, the former Worcestershire cricketer who was last year convicted of rape, has argued that WhatsApp messages boasting of a sexual conquest “game” should not have been submitted as evidence in his trial.
Hepburn, 24, was jailed for five years in April 2019, after being found guilty of oral rape following a retrial. The court heard how he had attacked a sleeping woman in the bed of his former team-mate, Joe Clarke, with whom the victim had already had consensual sex.
The prosecution put it to the jury that Hepburn had become “fired up” by the challenge of sleeping with more women than his team-mates, and had carried out the attack at his flat in Worcester on April 1, 2017.
However, the same jury also cleared Hepburn of a second count of rape, and at London’s Court of Appeal, David Emanuel QC argued that the two verdicts were “inconsistent”.
“The idea propagated by the Crown, that he was so desperate to win the game this year that he would ignore true consent if he had to, is just not supported by anything in the messages or by the fact of the game itself.
“I accept it would be different if there was talk of sex against will, or trickery to gain a point, or taking a chance, but there’s nothing like that in the messages.
“They are too far removed as to be able to be to do with the facts of the alleged offence.”
Hepburn’s appeal is being heard by a bench of three senior judges, including the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, who said that the court would give its ruling at a later date.
Miranda Moore QC, representing the Crown Prosecution Service, argued that the WhatsApp messages were not merely an example of “boyish banter”, but a “deep-seated and long-running game between a number of professional sportsmen”.
“It wasn’t, as suggested, motivation on the part of the prosecution to generate disgust,” Ms Moore added. “The motivation on the part of the prosecution was to shine a light on the appellant’s state of mind.”
At his sentencing at Hereford Crown Court in April last year, Judge Jim Tindal described the game as “pathetic”.
“You probably thought it was laddish behaviour at the time. In truth it was foul sexism,” he said.
Counties remain hopeful of two overseas players for 2021
Counties are likely to be able to field two overseas players in the County Championship next season, despite the impact of Covid-19 on the finances of English domestic cricket.
The Kolpak loophole is due to close on December 31 when the UK’s transition period with the European Union ends, and the Professional Cricketers’ Association (PCA) has recommended increasing the number of overseas signings permitted in Championship and 50-over cricket from one to two to enable affected players to extend their county careers.
Any change would need to be discussed and ratified by the ECB’s cricket committee and then approved by the board. The issue is an ongoing topic for discussion internally, and a PCA spokesperson said: “Our focus is on retaining jobs for our members and that means all players, including the 134 out-of-contract players and Kolpak players.”
The majority of counties have already cancelled or deferred their overseas players’ contracts for this season due to the uncertainty surrounding the domestic season, restrictions on international travel, and the financial implications of the pandemic.
But some counties have already made plans to employ two overseas players in the Championship next season. Essex, for example, deferred Peter Siddle‘s contract to 2021, and Simon Harmer – currently on a Kolpak registration – has guarantees in his deal that mean he will become an overseas player next year.
“It sounds more and more as though that has been agreed,” Derek Bowden, Essex’s chief executive, said. “We’re still hopeful and being told that two overseas players will be permitted. There’s no reason to believe it won’t be.”
Harmer is one of several players on Kolpak deals known to have a clause in his contract meaning he will switch to overseas status next season. Dane Vilas has an agreement whereby he will become an overseas player at Lancashire, with the club retaining an option to sign New Zealand’s BJ Watling after cancelling his contract for this season, while Duanne Olivier has similar guarantees at Yorkshire.
There are 10 players who won contracts to play as domestic players in the Hundred that are highly unlikely to be eligible to do so next year, Brexit permitting, with a handful more or less clear on their status having qualified through EU passports. Discussions regarding contracts for the tournament are ongoing, but it is understood that adding an additional overseas slot per team is unlikely at this stage.
The PCA announced on Monday that the collective agreement that has seen players take salary reductions of up to 20% since April has been extended, with special dispensation for the 134 players whose contracts expire at the end of this season.
Players in the final year of their deals have been permitted to talk to other counties since June 1, but the transfer market is likely to be limited as teams look to cut costs rather than add to their wage bills.
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