December 4, 2011

'Miss this opportunity and it'll put cricket back five years'

Greg Dyer, the players' association president, on the sort of changes needed in the board - at the state and national level
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Australia's cricket team has undergone all manner of change in 2011, from the appointment of a new captain to the establishment of a new selection panel, coaching staff and team performance structure. But that shift has been minor next to that likely to be proposed for the Cricket Australia board at its next meeting. A governance review is shortly to be tabled, and it is likely to recommend the replacement of the CA board, comprised of directors voted in by the states, with a centralised commission to make decisions for the betterment of the game in Australia. Greg Dyer, the president of the Australian Cricketers' Association and the holder of corporate directorships on numerous boards, laid out the problems of CA's present structure, and the likely solution.

What are the major problems inherent in CA's current structure?
The problems are really two-fold. One is the qualifications of the individuals on the board, the skill set - and that is not to denigrate any one of them. There are some very high-quality people on that CA board, but they're not pre-qualified, there's no skills list and set that they're asked to live up to. So they're not necessarily well-qualified to be running a modern corporate structure, which is basically a marketing company in many respects.

The second problem is the lack of independence. Cricket Australia has a very substantial job to do, but it has come out of this historical anomaly, where effectively CA was tasked with running the international aspects of the game on behalf of the states. You could understand why that was set up as a model, where the states had representation, and the board was effectively an accumulation of the states, and CA simply did the states' work. Now CA is running the game, basically, domestically as well as internationally, and taking a huge hand in the way in which the strategy of Australian cricket works. So you've got constant conflict between what CA wants to achieve versus what the states need to get out of it. There's an inherent conflict of interest, which I'm sure they manage in the best way they can, but it inevitably means there is no singular purpose about CA - it is a set of compromises from the states' agenda.

Should the new structure be broader-based, in terms of the skills of directors - chosen for their ability to chart the path of the company rather than to protect the interests of their home state?
In the corporate world we seek to put together groups of people who have broad skills that run right across the gamut of the company's operation. So you have the HR specialists, the legal guys, the marketing guys - people with the industry skill set and knowledge. You'll have people who've played the game, because that is important too, but it is in a broad base of skills which matches what the organisation needs to achieve. So you've got this well-rounded group of individuals who are put together for the task at hand… that is basically my premise. We need to put together a group of people who have the right skills to do the job that is required, rather than a group representative of state associations, who have to do the bidding on behalf of their state to make sure they get their share.

The state associations will pick their delegates, logically, if they have any common sense at all in the current system, to best represent their own interests on the national board. That's their job, so that almost means they're by definition the wrong person. You can't blame the state associations, because they are entirely beholden to CA these days for their financial and developmental areas, and their result at the end of the year is basically dependent on CA largesse. There are inherent conflicts between what is good for CA and what is good for state A or state B.

The handing down of the governance review is imminent. Do you expect the states to recognise the need for change, or will there be a drawn-out struggle to relieve them of their current power?
I really hope not. I hope the report from Colin Carter and David Crawford gets made completely public. I hope it gets laid on the table for everybody to read. I'm not sure they'll come up with a model which looks exactly like mine, but I suspect it won't look terribly different because that is the only logical way you can set an organisation up for success.

Having put it on the table, then they have to talk about it, decide at CA level which recommendations they're going to go forward with, and then it has to go back in to the states for a decision, because at the moment they're the stakeholders, the guys who hold the power. It is such an amazing opportunity, and if they miss it, it'll put cricket back another five years.

Urgency about this issue seems to be evident at CA, but how confident are you that the view is shared widely enough for change to take place?
I haven't spoken to all the participants, but I have spoken to some and they do recognise the need for change. All power to CA for bringing this on. James Sutherland is to be applauded for having the guts to do something like this, because it is pretty far-reaching. But I think the executive at CA are probably just as frustrated by the situation as anybody else. I think they don't get the direction that they need. They're constantly looking to play the politics of compromise between the states and CA's objectives, and the model I'm talking about - and hopefully that is recommended - can give them much better clarity around their purpose and their objectives over the next five years or more. The executive, leaving aside the board and the state boards, is probably sitting there hoping they achieve some real change.

Where do the players and their rights sit in this debate?
Historically there has been a sort of us-and-them mentality. Cricket administrators have known what's best, if you like. But today the players are the administrators' best asset, so they need to be working with them. They need to be trying to improve the quality and the value of those assets, and you only do that by working with them, rather than feeling like it is an us-versus-them kind of mentality. The whole structure needs to change in order to improve that relationship with the players.

Change at board level would continue an important year of regeneration and even revolution around the national team.
There's a mood for change, but in some respects it is back to the future - they're doing some basic things again that they'd forgotten about, and it is great. A bloke like John Inverarity is old guard, old-school, almost by definition, and I think it is a really good thing they're returning to some of those values and putting teams of people together who are likely to succeed.

The ICC is also undergoing a governance review. Do you think that change in Australia could be a catalyst for similar movement on a global level?
I'm not sure that of itself change in Australia will produce change at the international level, but one thing is for sure, if we fail to take this opportunity in Australia, it is much less likely we'll achieve change at the international level down the track. One of the objectives of CA should be to try to achieve change at the ICC level, but that won't be achieved overnight. They're going to have to work the politics and be a little less naïve in the way they do do that, than they've been in the past.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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