May 2, 2012

'Boards need to make international cricket attractive to players'

The international players' association chief, Tim May, talks about the phenomenon of the freelance cricketer, and the need for India and Pakistan to have player reps

Tim May has been fighting so many fires lately, it's a wonder he doesn't descend into his office by pole.

Last week the chief executive of the Federation of International Players' Associations (FICA) expressed his dismay at the failure of the Bangladesh Cricket Board, despite several requests, to pay those who made their spanking new premier league possible. April also saw him munching on a goodly number of other hot potatoes, principally the Woolf Report and Bangladesh's on-off-on-off tour of Pakistan. He reserved the outer limits of his measured fury for Mustafa Kamal, for the BCB president's willingness, as May sees it, to put his ICC ambitions ahead of his own players' safety.

Thanks to the wonders of virtual communication, being domiciled in Texas is no barrier to stating his convictions, offering advice to his constituents and solutions to the pressing issues of the day - issues that refuse to show the slightest inclination to go away. Even if it means being told in bristlingly brusque terms by the PCB that he should mind his own business.

He's used to it. It goes with the territory. How he must wish he was representing the stars of the NFL or NBA or Major League Baseball, confronting management emboldened by the knowledge that collective bargaining and industrial action are par for the course, and even strikes are not uncommon. Well, actually, no. Okay, maybe sometimes.

Nonetheless, bemusing Poms with his artfully ripped offbreaks - Shane Warne wasn't the only Australian spinner to have a ball in the 1993 Ashes - was a breeze next to tackling the opponents ranged against him now.

We seem to be reaching crisis point in terms of relations between cricketers and boards, what with the continuing power struggle in the Caribbean and players not being paid in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Or am I exaggerating?
I am not sure that we have reached crisis point quite yet, but there is certainly room for plenty of improvement in not only those territories but some other countries as well. Athletes expect administrators to govern properly, conduct themselves professionally, act in the best interests of the game, and for them to treat the athletes with respect and fairness. The governance structure and the quality of governance in a number of territories is worrying. Cricket really needs to adopt structures and recruit expertise suited to address the issues that confront the modern game.

Can FICA ever have true credibility while the Indian players stay out?
We already have credibility - we are formally recognised by the ICC as the representative for players across the majority of Full Member countries. But there is no doubt that our credibility and leverage will be enhanced further if the Indians, Pakistanis and Zimbabweans established player associations within their respective domains. To be honest, we aren't making much ground here, which is frustrating as we believe that if there ever were countries that needed player associations, India and Pakistan would be the first cabs off the rank.

It has always been our position that for a player association to be effective, the players themselves need to be instrumental and passionate regarding its establishment and maintenance - there just isn't that level of commitment within those two groups of players at the moment. Players' interests need to be aligned and they need to operate as an unselfish collective, rather than an every-man-for-himself mentality. Until this "collective" mindset can be obtained within these groups of players, it will be difficult to establish an effective player association.

"The BCCI simply won't recognise any type of player representative. It basically is a policy designed to preserve the unhealthy, inequitable chasm of power that those boards exert over players from those countries"

Another hurdle is the attitude to player associations from the BCCI largely, and to a lesser extent the PCB. The BCCI simply won't recognise any type of player representative. They will not deal with a player agent, player lawyer or any type of player association - it basically is a policy designed to preserve the unhealthy, inequitable chasm of power that those boards exert over players from those countries.

Where do you stand on the Chris Gayle saga?
FICA believes that a player has the right to choose where he plays and for whom he plays - the days of "playing for your country" as the only way you could earn a professional living as a cricketer are well and truly behind us. International cricket needs to realise that there is a competitor to their ability to contract players, and to ensure they react appropriately and progressively to these new market forces. The imposition of unenforceable regulations (such as No Objection Clauses) is obviously not the answer.

International cricket bodies need to make international cricket attractive to players. These measures should include smarter programming of matches, addressing the volume-of-cricket issues, offering fair terms and conditions in contracts, meeting their agreed contractual obligations and embracing player input.

Has the emergence of the "freelance" cricketer been a boon for FICA and players' rights - or has it just made life more complex?
I am not sure it has been a boon for FICA, but I believe that it has certainly been good for the game. The emergence of T20 leagues that offer opportunities to players from all over the world, provides greater opportunities for a greater number players to earn a living from cricket - that is a real positive. If the number of employment opportunities and the ability to earn greater levels of income exist in a market, I am sure you would agree that it is a healthy development.

Players have always had the ability to freelance, but previously there were few other opportunities aside from county cricket. The creation of T20 has given boards a short-time-frame format, and most importantly a popular format, that they are able to fit into their existing calendars with additional and handsome commercial returns. The relatively high salaries offered to players and the short time-period for an event to be conducted are obviously attractive to players.

It has also introduced a market where there is competition for the services of players. Previously a player had no little leverage in any negotiations with his board - if he didn't accept the contract, because of the barriers of citizenship, he couldn't play anywhere else. Once you have a competitive employee market, you observe more friendly player terms and rights.

Dinanath Ramnarine, the chief executive of the West Indies Players Association, much the most vocal of all such officials, resigned recently. He made enemies but he also appeared to have fought his players' corner magnificently. Was he good for the cause?
Of course he was - somebody had to fight hard for the player rights down there, and Dinanath had to face significant hurdles and opposition from the WICB for a long period of time. Some critics have criticised Dinanath for constantly being in conflict with the board and have pointed the finger at him as being the major problem in these issues. They couldn't be further from the truth.

Over the past few years, of all the issues that were referred to arbitration for resolution - I think there have been about ten to date - WIPA has won every issue. I think that paints a very clear picture as to who the "good guys" and the "bad guys" are down there.

Unsurprisingly the biggest problems always seem to afflict the players from poorer nations, with the ICC's implicit disregard for the Bangladeshis' safety in Pakistan a particularly ignoble symbol. Is there an issue you can envisage drawing the bigger boys into the ring?

From time to time we have used the strength and even the resources of the bigger player associations to assist with the positions and negotiations that the more fledgling and less-resourced player associations may be experiencing. We have highlighted the ongoing need for the more established player associations to assist with operational issues faced by the more inexperienced associations - we will be using a "buddy system" whereby one experienced association will be appointed to assist with the development and issue management of a particular inexperienced or under-resourced association. This has been happening for a few years, but on a less formalised and structured basis.

You've championed the Woolf Report. How would it benefit players' rights?
Player rights will be better protected and respected if the game is governed responsibly and decisions are made in the wider interests of the game, rather than in the self-interests of those who sit on the board. Players want the ICC to be the best possible organisation it can - we want the ICC to grow the game, to make smart, unbiased decisions and to be free of conflicts of interest in decision-making.

We strongly believe the ICC needs the ability to appoint directors who have a wide array of relevant skills and who are independent from the interests of a particular country. The executive board currently comprises people who are appointed from each Full Member country, who typically vote for what is best for their country rather than do what their duty is - that is, vote for what is in the best interests of the game.

In short, the ICC needs an executive board comprising largely independent directors, comprising a wide range of relevant skills, who are free from any conflict of interests. That is just basic "good governance".

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

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