Player association news June 27, 2014

'Where will the game be in 10 years?'

Tony Irish has been elected the incoming executive chairman of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA), replacing Paul Marsh. Both men spoke to ESPNcricinfo about the challenges FICA will face in the years to come.

What is your reaction to the restructuring of the ICC that has happened over the past few days?

Tony Irish: As a players' federation, we're the only body that spans international cricket like the ICC does. So our concern is the global game and that decisions should be made for the global game. This is a movement away from that, regionalising the game. We have to work with the ICC but we want to work within certain guiding principles that are important to us as well. So we'll continue to push for those, to campaign for those. But now we've got to work in a new world order. I think that's going to be a challenge for us.

Is it a problem that N Srinivasan is now the ICC chairman, and India has a record of not recognising player associations?

TI: The status quo is that we're recognised by the ICC. Any decision that they take to de-recognise us would have to be a resolution and it would take a number of countries to do that. A lot of the countries historically understand the value of players' associations working in their own countries. For the legitimate representative of the vast majority of the world's players not to be involved in international cricket by the ICC should be inconceivable. One would hope that's not going to happen.

How much do the players around the world understand these ICC changes?

TI: I think the big picture they do understand. Some of the players are from the big three countries, some of the players are from the small countries. These changes affect players differently. We've got players that range from 35-year-old guys about to retire, across our groups to the 18-year-old player who's still going to be playing in 10 or 15 years' time. The concern is, where is the game going to be in 10 years' time? On the face of it, things might not change much in two or three years' time. The issue is really where will it be in five to 10 years' time?

Paul Marsh: Tony's point on different countries' players having different views is very much on the money. What the players most want is as level a playing field as they can get. And what they see here is the divide between the big three and the rest becoming bigger. Everyone sees that. Guys from New Zealand and South Africa look at it and go, 'how are we going to compete with these guys?' One of the sad aspects of all this is that it's become just another ICC issue. It's just been ongoing for so long now, people have almost got jaded by it. It's a shocking reflection on where the game's at.

Can you take any consolation from the fact that the ICC plans to have bilateral agreements between all nations to play each other a reasonable amount over a period of time?

TI: It remains to be seen how it's going to work. When you don't have a system which holds it all together, you don't have principles that guide those bilateral agreements. There's the principle of equity here, trying to play each country a fair number of times, there are issues of, because every little gap in the schedule is plugged, whether you can sustain that level of cricket. If you can't sustain it, then what actually happens? Do you start playing teams that are weaker simply because the volume is greater and you have to rest and rotate? Is there a situation where two countries just agree not to play each other, simply because they can?

When you have a structure in the system, everyone plays everyone every four years, you've got to play a minimum of two Tests and three ODIs - that's the system. It's geared towards greater equity or equality and playing opportunity. We'd like to ask the question of how enforceable are these agreements that the countries have between each other. I think there are a lot of potential consequences down the line when you just deregulate the structure of things. It's very difficult to set principles that everyone will buy into. It's just a free-for-all.

Is it a fundamental step backwards that the ICC has essentially been redefined as a members' organisation without the board representatives having a duty to the broad interests of the game?

TI: Yeah I think so. Because the question is, who's looking after the global interests of the game? And there are global interests. Cricket is quite a complicated game, you have three different formats. Who is thinking about, strategically, where's the game going to be in 10 years' time, how the formats fit together, whether Test cricket is still played. Who's thinking about that? That's a global issue, not a regional issue.

Everyone else has been so worn down by this thing, and also the tendency in cricket is to throw your hands up in the air and say we can't do anything about it. Although we want to continue to be guided by our principles, we've got to work with the world as it is. Hopefully there will be some positives in the role that we play.

As the new FICA executive chairman, is there anything specific you want to address that hasn't been before?

TI: I think the level of engagement that we have with the ICC is something that we can improve, in particular at the CEC [Chief Executives' Committee] level. We feel that the players are the guys that get on the field and they have the most to offer when it comes to cricket issues, playing issues. And yet we lost the person who really used to coordinate the view of the current players on the cricket committee [Tim May lost his seat on the committee last year], and that's something we need to try and address. Then there's still all the day-to-day operational stuff that we've got to do, which is done with ICC management, and we're hopeful that will carry on.

"We don't for a minute think that every view we put forward has to be adopted, but at the moment we're in a position where our views aren't necessarily being respected. They're not even being sought on key issues related to the playing of the game. We've got to change that."
Paul Marsh

I think that corruption is a big issue for cricket. Really, for players to take ownership of a responsibility as far as corruption is concerned, I think we've got a big role to play there. If there's one thing that threatens the integrity of the game and that will then go to whether people are prepared to follow the game, it's corruption.

PM: We met with the ACSU yesterday and there is a genuine desire from them to work more closely with us. They see a very important role for player associations in this space.

The ICC's chief executive, David Richardson, and N Srinivasan both said yesterday they felt corruption was being made out to be a bigger issue for cricket than is the case. Is that a dangerous attitude to take?

TI: I think the amount you've seen in the media recently about the issues that have come out tends to indicate that it's continually prevalent and it's not going to go away. You've got to keep working and getting better.

PM: If you have any corruption issues then it's an issue for the game, because it just brings into question every game that's been played. It undermines the public confidence in the game, and there are issues on and off the field. It is a massive issue because of the potential damage it can cause, and we want to work with the game to help fix that.

TI: From a player's point of view, a couple of things are really important: obviously trust in how it works and in the ACSU, consistency, and confidentiality. Players have got a massive role to play. There are a couple of basics that need to be in place for them to play that role. We're very keen to make sure that happens. Anything that damages the game is a problem for everyone.

Paul, what was the process within FICA by which Tony got the job of replacing you?

PM: I think it was relatively obvious that Tony was the right man. It was my strong view and I tabled it and it was supported unanimously. He's been involved in the game for ten years, started the South African Cricketers' Association up from scratch, under duress at the time - it was very difficult for him to get that up and running and he's done an amazing job. He's a general statesman of South African cricket and world cricket, so we couldn't have a better man coming into that position.

TI: You always have issues but our [SACA's] relationship with Cricket South Africa is good. I think that's the real challenge of players' associations. You always get more done by co-operation than you do by fighting. Whilst we feel there's certain fundamentals that we need to stand up for, if you can do that in a way that is cooperative you're always going to get more done. That's what we're hoping our relationship with the ICC is going to be - cooperative.

PM: The whole thing is about respect. At no point has FICA or any of our individual associations wanted to run the game. It's about getting the game to understand that these are the players' views. And we want them to be taken seriously and respected. We don't for a minute think that every view we put forward has to be adopted, but at the moment we're in a position where our views aren't necessarily being respected. They're not even being sought on key issues related to the playing of the game. We've got to change that.

Having lost two senior player advocacy figures in the space of just over a year [Tim May and Paul Marsh], how well placed is FICA going forward?

PM: I think FICA is in a good position. Tony will be an outstanding man for the job. They are challenging times but it's been challenging for the last few years, with the changing governance structure of cricket. We're not as close to the ICC as we want to be. There are challenges there. We've got good people running the associations, and that's what FICA is built on. We've done some great planning work the last three days on what FICA will look like going forward and we've decided on a player advisory group, which will involve current players talking about game issues and we think that's a significant step forward. I think we're well placed.

Do you think it's the job of the countries where you have good relationships with the cricket boards that can advocate strongly for FICA at ICC level?

PM: I hope so. That's how it has worked historically. There's five particularly strong relationships there with the players and the boards and I think that's been very helpful to us. This last 12 months has been trying, because of changes that we fundamentally disagree with. But as Tony said, it has happened, we've got to get on with doing our business and we can't get distracted by that and become a one-issue organisation. I think we're looking forward to it pretty positively going forward.

TI: I think that we view ourselves as the global body for players. Well, people may argue that we don't represent Indian players, there's no Indian players' association. True. But we represent the player groups from eight out of 10 Test playing countries. That's a significant representation. I think we see ourselves as a global organisation. We're looking at things in global terms. We genuinely try to look at it from a point of view of what's best for the collective of players from whatever countries. That's our responsibility.

Tony, how do you intend to handle the challenge of domestic T20 leagues and the lure that offers for players for the smaller countries?

TI: The interesting thing is that there's another market for players now. It used to be just mainstream cricket, the domestic cricket in your country and international cricket. Now there's another market. If we were just about the players only and not about the game, we'd be saying just go and do it, go make as much money as you want. But if you think about where all the countries make money to reinvest back into the game, it's from international cricket. So the thing is to keep international cricket as strong as possible. There are a couple of basics about doing that. Money, yes, is important for players. But it's also about trying to make international cricket as attractive as possible for players.

I think a lot of that is about the context that you play international cricket in, and the schedule, and then there are local factors like how well your team is performing and the culture in your team, and how happy the players are. Generally, from a FICA point of view, the challenge is to try and make international cricket for all players as attractive as possible. The money you can make by just playing in T20 leagues, that's a big challenge, because it's human nature that someone from the smaller countries can earn two or three times what they can earn playing for their country, playing for a shorter time, shorter burden on your body. That's a big challenge.

We saw recently Sunil Narine chose to stay with his IPL team rather than making himself available for a West Indies Test series.

TI: If you want players to sustainably play both, then you need to work with a global vision. Where does it fit? How do we make sure international cricket is strong and domestic T20 leagues, especially big ones like the IPL, are strong? That's about working together with a global vision. That's where the challenges now lie. If everyone is just thinking regionally and for themselves, I'm not sure that it's as easy to achieve that in the long run. In the short term it's about money, it's about scheduling - if you're able to schedule around the IPL, great. But that's a challenge for a lot of countries. You can see in the use of the schedule … countries creeping into the area where the IPL is and that's going to cause friction.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig