June 6, 2013

Farewell, Tim May

May's greatest achievement in his decade at FICA was to oblige administrators to take some of the players' concerns seriously

"You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore," declared a self-pitying Anthony Hopkins in Oliver Stone's biopic. Tim May, who has tendered his resignation as chief executive of FICA, the global association of players' unions, might have even more justification for expressing that same lament.

"It's time for me after sacrificing my family time for all these years to put them in front of cricket's priorities," he told ESPNcricinfo a month before today's official announcement. Behind that understandable sentiment was a man at the end of his tether.

May actually decided a year ago to leave his post in the second half of 2013, but recent events convinced him to bring this forward - in particular his ouster from the ICC Cricket Committee in favour of the TV commentator and former Indian legspinner Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, following a vote by the very players whose interests the former Australia offie has toiled to protect. Allegedly. Fellow player reps demanded that the case be referred to the ICC's ethics committee; in a stern, some might say pompous statement from Dubai, the allegations of BCCI interference were more or less ridiculed.

If cricket's administrators, historically, have never been overly bothered with those who make their jobs possible, May's greatest achievement in his decade at FICA has been to oblige them, however occasionally, to take some of the players' concerns seriously.

It has not been an enviable job. Consider the earthquakes on his watch. Not for a nanosecond could he have suspected, upon leaving the Australian Cricketers' Association in the summer of 2003 (three years after the federation's inception), that a revolution was erupting in England in the name of Twenty20. Within five years, the IPL had reconfigured the game's landscape, even its premise, almost beyond recognition.

Players would become more marketable than ever; many prospered like never before; franchise v country disputes proliferated; an unthinkable term, "freelance cricketer", came into vogue. But as the BCCI outlawed then exterminated the Indian Cricket League, halting international careers and leaving many players out of pocket, the size of the mountain facing May became ever clearer.

"Spot-fixing" also entered the lexicon. Pakistan became a no-go zone, its players victimised. Critical indeed was May's public support for the Bangladeshis when their own board tried to bully them into touring there despite the players' understandable security concerns. The PCB's wrath was considerable.

May's refusal to kowtow to authority had been plain from the way he battled to achieve recognition for the now prosperous Australian players association. "The ACB refused to recognise us. It was great bonding. In late 1997, when rugby players and footballers were enjoying spiralling pay deals while ours were stagnating, we found out that we could take protected industrial action: if we went on strike, we couldn't be charged with breach of contract. We gave advance notice of games to be boycotted. They tried to split us but everyone hung solid." Cue cricket's first collective bargaining agreement.

Not too many issues find the BCCI and the PCB singing from the same hymn sheet, but demeaning May and his purpose has been an ignoble if unsurprising exception

"I want to make a difference - for the better," May told me when we met in London shortly after his appointment. Measuring that difference may only be possible with the wisdom of hindsight, but it seems reasonable to suggest that the professional cricketer's lot, by and large, is appreciably better than it was, though the continued non-payment of players imported by the struggling Bangladesh Premier League underlines the enduring impotence of those a step below box-office stature.

"Players are not sufficiently involved in the administration of the game and ownership of the problems... Consideration should be given to enhancing the role of the players and their representative bodies." Such was Lord Condon's recommendation in his 2001 report into match-fixing and corruption. Yet his Lordship would do as much as anyone to infuriate May.

The days of describing himself as "a diplomat", as May did that day in Knightsbridge ten summers ago, are a distant memory. But while measured and long of fuse, he was left livid two years ago when Condon, the former chief of the ICC's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit, claimed that, in the late 1990s, Test and World Cup matches had been "routinely fixed".

"Player Associations are getting sick and tired of people coming out making these general accusations, the effect of which cast doubts over the entire player base," May fumed. "If people are going to make these type of accusations make sure that they are specific and make sure that you have the proof to back up such claims." Needless to add, not an ounce has been forthcoming.

Behind May's initial statement of intent lay the suspicion that "my time will be short". After a decade of two-steps-forwarding and one-step-backing, there must have been times when he felt as if he'd been serving a no-parole sentence in the stocks.

Not too many issues find the BCCI and the PCB singing from the same hymn sheet, but demeaning May and his purpose has been an ignoble if unsurprising exception. How wistfully he has looked back at the late and similarly reviled Marvin Miller, the legendary chief executive of the baseball players' union who gave the world free agency in 1975 and whose autobiography sat on May's desk when we met. Miller's members have achieved sufficient power to take (justified) strike action on several occasions, impelling the hitherto tyrannical (not to say grasping and penny-pinching) franchise owners to hike salaries and make other crucial changes and concessions. Even now, FICA, by contrast, does not even represent all the full member nations.

The bottom line? "I will exit the game proud of my moral compass," May assured me. Not a bad epitaph.

Rob Steen is a sportswriter and senior lecturer in sports journalism at the University of Brighton