All in a day's work?
An Employment Law expert who read my previous post contacted me today. He provided me with some interesting perspectives on whether abuse on the cricket field (in the professional game) might one day finish up in the law courts.
Rugby has already seen instances of players suing each other for high tackles and punches that caused serious injury. Referees have been sued when scrums have collapsed which resulted in spinal injuries. Fast bowlers might have to re-think the old threats of “I’ll knock your block off” lest that be interpreted as premeditated assault. Likewise, sledging and verbal abuse in a professional work environment. Perhaps even selectors might one day be sued for unfairly terminating a career. Where might it end?
It motivated me to do some research on the topic. Here’s a link to a self-help guide to Workplace Bullying in Australia Most countries would have similar rules and laws that govern the workplace.
A hypothetical situation then: what happens if a professional cricketer in Australia encounters any of the behaviours described above? Can he file a case for workplace bullying or harassment against individuals or against the organisation that runs the competition?
He may well be able to take action against any opposition player who engaged in abuse, psychological harassment or intimidation. The umpires could possibly be in the firing line for being unable or unwilling to control a workplace that was under their jurisdiction. The governing body (eg: Cricket Australia) could also be liable for failing to provide a workplace that was fair and free of harassment/bullying practices.
The aggrieved party could argue that their career has been adversely affected or prematurely ended because of the systemic workplace abuse that has been allowed to go unchecked. The court case could see team-mates (witnesses) testifying against each other under oath. Prosecution lawyers would certainly remind them of the penalties that apply for perjury, even against their best friends!
Umpires will be expected to maintain a safe workplace because they are in control of that environment whilst play is in progress. In some senses, it will be no different to the CEO being held responsible for the behaviours that occur in the office, especially if he/she knew about it and did nothing to stop it!
The company itself (governing body) has a responsibility to run a workplace that is free from systemic bullying, harassment and intimidation. Most legal jurisdictions are unlikely to swallow a defence that is based around arguments like “it’s a man’s game, what happens on the field stays on the field, it’s all part of the game, we play it hard but fair etc”.
Cricket is now a multi-million dollar business, from highly paid administrators to umpires, match referees, legal counsel, team managers and the cricketers themselves. When it suits them, they justify their salaries and self-importance by referring to it as a bona fide business operation. Fair enough too. What they must be prepared for now is to be judged in that same legal light when it comes to running the business of cricket.
In today’s increasingly litigious environment, it will only be a matter of time before a cricketer files a law suit of this nature. Lost earnings, lost career, mental stress, nervous breakdowns…the list is endless. Already we are seeing a proliferation of legalities entering the game with High Court judges presiding over appeals and talk of “natural justice” and other such high-flown legal jargon. It’s no longer the amateur game of yesteryear where an umpire or administrator’s verdict was final and they didn’t have to justify everything from a legal standpoint.
The governors of the game might one day have to recognise the seriousness of this cancer and put clear policies in place to make it a decent and fair workplace. Forget the whimsical yearnings for the spirit of the game and all that rubbish. Sadly, those romantic ideals died some time ago. It’s now a serious business, played for high stakes and lucrative livelihoods.
The ICC is full of lawyers who should be able to see this train wreck coming. Will they pre-empt this futuristic scenario or will it be the usual case of policy on the run? One simple question for the administrators – would they tolerate this sort of verbal intimidation and harassment in their plush offices in Dubai, St John’s Wood, Melbourne and Mumbai? If the answer is an indignant and self-righteous “of course not”, then how can they allow it on the ‘factory floor’?
Michael Jeh is an Oxford Blue who played first-class cricket, and a Playing Member of the MCC. He lives in Brisbane