MICHAEL THORN. Cricket Australia: Culpable without consequence

Australia’s disgraced cricket trio, Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft, may have engineered the ball tampering scandal in South Africa this year, but the damning cultural review released yesterday has found an arrogant and controlling Cricket Australia essentially to blame.

And I for one am not surprised.

If there was one positive from the shameful incident in March, it was always the hope that a far-reaching review of Cricket Australia might result in the sport’s top administrators being held accountable. Instead we have a limited report based on survey responses of no more than 500 cricket insiders. Seventy per cent of players were unresponsive.

Our top sporting codes are billion dollar juggernauts sucking up every available broadcast and sponsorship dollar with the only consideration – how best to enrich the business. Scant regard is given to with whom to associate, making it easy to cozy up to addictive alcohol, gambling and junk food interests and certainly no regard for the way children are exposed to these unhealthy brands.

Games are watched by millions; those numbers matched neatly by the salaries of the sporting administrators who are paid handsomely if not excessively. As reported by Michael West, Cricket Australia’s key management were collectively paid $6.1 million in 2017.

With great power should come great responsibility but, conveniently, not if you are a sporting administrator.

Our corporate captains of major sport – the AFL, NRL, and Cricket Australia – to date, have been adept at side-stepping responsibility whenever their code is caught out. The hammer always drops swiftly on players behaving badly. But the sporting codes are consistently loathe to look beyond the player and consider whether the organisational culture may in fact be contributing to players’ behaviour.

The release of the Ethic Centre’s scathing review into Cricket Australia’s culture, Australian Cricket: A matter of balance (29 October), sadly doesn’t appear likely to have been worth the wait.

In short, it’s a guilty verdict that sees no punishment. Cricket Australia’s top administrators are clearly culpable, but seemingly without consequence.

Review author Simon Longstaff found that while players cop bans for their transgressions, there are no penalties for those who administer the game.

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because it’s the exact observation we make every time a sportsman disgraces his team, his code and his family in another alcohol-fueled misadventure.

With the clockwork precision of a cuckoo; here enters the sports administrator. Standing proudly in front of a strategically-placed media banner, plastered with alcohol advertising, he reads the player the riot act. “This behavior will not stand”. He scratches his head, genuinely puzzled as to how this could possibly have happen again, and then retires to the Boardroom for a boozy lunch with the next prospective alcohol sponsor.

So what hope is there that from this review we might have someone other than Smith, Warner and Bancroft falling on their sword?

While we’re only one day out from the report’s release, Cricket Australia Chairman David Peever shows no willingness to budge from the crease.

The report found Cricket Australia arrogant, dictatorial and controlling. Showing his leadership style is at least consistent, Peever secured himself a new three-year term, days ahead of the release of the report.

So much for transparency!

Whether he withstands the growing pressure for his resignation, only time will tell.

As reported by news.com.au, former Australian test bowler Geoff Lawson told Fox News, “We need a serious cricketing figurehead, not a corporate cricket figurehead”.

That was a sentiment shared by many of those surveyed by the Ethics Centre and quoted extensively and anonymously in the report.

Said a member of the Board of State or Territory (cricket) Associations, “[…] money is not the answer to cricket’s challenges. A love for the game, and a love for the community that exists around the game is what is best for cricket.”

A former Australia team player observed that, “CA has become about numbers/commercial and have lost connection with the human element of what they are charged to steward”.

There are lessons here for the administrators of all Australian sporting codes:

You have a duty of care to the communities you are part of and to the children who play and watch your code.

You have a duty to stand for something nobler than the pursuit of the mighty dollar and to hell with the cost.

You have a duty to stop peddling harmful products; to walk away from your alcohol and gambling sponsorships; and in so doing demonstrate that you place a greater priority on the health and welfare of the children and families who love your game and worship your players.

Regrettably, time has stood still waiting for the Codes to do the right thing. But as a community we can take action today. You can have your voice heard by joining the campaign to End Alcohol Advertising in Sport led by some of Australia’s true sporting heroes. Join the majority of Australians who agree that children shouldn’t be exposed to alcohol advertising in sport, and create a brighter and healthier future for all Australians.

Cricket Australia should take heed.

Michael Thorn is Chief Executive, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education.

Note: An earlier version of this was published on Drink Tank.

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2 Responses to MICHAEL THORN. Cricket Australia: Culpable without consequence

  1. Greg Bailey says:

    Even with the resignation of the CEO of the board of Cricket Australia, the deliberate and tardy lack of responsibility taken by the board of Cricket Australia for the “culture” leading up to the ball-tampering affair is an integral part of the behaviour of top management in most corporate organizations. A lack of institutional responsibility is a direct expression of the culture of neoliberalism where the welfare of the–usually hyper ambitious–individuals at the top always comes first, and any responsibility for the group is simply not recognized.

    As elite sport always represents the ideological beliefs and accompanying practices of the corporate and political elite, it was inevitable that a sense of irresponsibility would eventually be reflected in cricket at the top level. For this to be altered there does not just need to be a change in Cricket Australia, but a fundamental transformation of the underlying cultural forces that produced this attitude. Community interests are just as important as individual interests, and some kind of balance between them must be found.

    This process of corporatization of cricket was helped along dramatically by Kerry Packer’s development of World Series Cricket which both professionalised and cheapened the game as well. Television of elite sport is always fundamental as it allows the mythic themes redolent in the game to be tied in with those promoted in the advertisements accompanying the TV broadcasting and also with the comments of the commentators. The process becomes a kind of whole into which the dominant ideology can be communicated and Cricket Australia has done this very successfully.

  2. Scott MacWilliam says:

    David Peever is not just any `corporate figurehead’. As Greg Combet pointed out in the long-running cricket pay dispute, Peever polished his ethics under the Robe River management thug Charles Copeman. Copeman’s achievement, according to his acolytes, was to make productivity gains by sacking over 1,000 workers and ultimately replacing people with machinery, regardless of the effects on the lives of the workers displaced. Ethics of another variety at CAS with Peever as chair? Laughable!

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