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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • a on May 3, 2012, 0:06 GMT

    All the boards have to do two <inevitable> things. 1. Allow their players to play and earn their money playing in the IPL. 2. Provide 2 months of rest period for their players. Think the boards will do that? No. Why - because the boards want to make their own money and therefore cram the calendar with <often> meaningless 'international' series which not many people watch anyway. @Emancipator007 - I predict that in 5-7 years international cricket won't be the most important 'cricket property'. It'll be around, but it'll be of secondary interest.

  • Simon on May 2, 2012, 23:19 GMT

    It would be an interesting idea to see the ICC take over player contracts. That way no international player would be paid more than any other international cricketer. The boards would nominate a top 22 players to be paid by the ICC. That way there would no more unpaid players, fellows from poorer nations would be paid as much as those from richer nations. It would also secure the players for their nations. Wouldn't it have been nice to see Shane Bond and Gayle play for their respective nations more often than they did? An IPL window needs to be created, to ensure no conflict.

  • Kalyan on May 2, 2012, 19:02 GMT

    the days of playing for your country are behind us...really??? where would you be if your national board hadn't spotted you and given you opportunities to shine at all levels before you burn your bridges and turn mercenary?

  • Andrew on May 2, 2012, 10:29 GMT

    @Emancipator007 - I agree with your comments about Pakistan & the Champions League, IMO, its not worthy without the possibility of a Pakistan team being involved. I don't agree with your 2nd point, well at least I don't think I do as I think a bit is lost in translation. The part about the other nations, the Icc is working towards getting nations at Test standard thru the Intercontinental, that will take time to avoid the way Bangladesh was handled. The Bangas needed to be treated like Zimbabwe & SL were, few tests to begin with, & then steadily the games increased across the formats. They seem to have less games (despite having better players now) then they had 5 yrs ago. Only Ireland is currently at Test standard (low), although I see Afganistan as potentially becoming greater than Pakistan who I think are the overall best Asian Test cricketing nation. The other nations you mentioned are probably 15 yrs from being test standard, although I have a soft spot for PNG!

  • Dummy4 on May 2, 2012, 10:27 GMT

    @Emancipator007 Good points Sir, I 100% agree with you. Actually, the excess of T20 is eating the rest period of players and players are retiring early to play for these leagues at the cost of their country participation. That's the time to think.

  • Issac on May 2, 2012, 9:00 GMT

    FICA is like a termite eating a large tree of international cricket. They are encouraging players to piggy back on their countries to get international recognition before ditching them for money. Infact it was shocking to see them go as far as try to intervene between the bilateral ties of two cricket boards (PCB and BCB) in their supposed support of players. Where is your support when Sri Lankans play international cricket without making a single penny, where is your support when young Pakistani players spend their entire careers living in hotel rooms.

  • Andrew on May 2, 2012, 4:41 GMT

    "...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..." - not sure that it ever wasn't the case. As long as County cricket has been around players have retired to finish their days playing cricket there, & not always at a ripe old age. Garth McKenzie springs to mind, over a hundred years ago, Ozzy players would play county cricket & not return home, (travel times were an obvious impediment), at least one qualified to play for England! There are quite a few NZ players that have opted for an "early" retirement from International cricket to take up county roles. Anyways, I am pro-choice on this matter, however, I am dissappointed that some players don't appear to be passionate about playing for their country. I am mainly thinking of certain WI players, although, technically, they aren't really playing for their country, rather the region!

  • Neranjan on May 2, 2012, 4:31 GMT

    yes board should be responsible for the betterment of cricket. but in most of the world it is not happening. As for sri lanka, due to the political invention, the players are staring to leave the country, and the most recent departure will be Thilan Samaraweera, he is set to leave for Australia, due to the hush treatement he had lately from the board.. He was dropped from the team , and now his payment has been redused by 25% , Mind you sri lankan cricketers are the lowers paid cricketers around the world.. Also they have banded Sangakkara to the Wisdon, in terms of his award given to him as he was the best cricketer of the year award.. it is a matter of time sri lanka will loose it's all the quality players.. Only the world community intervention can prevent this ;

  • PALLAB on May 2, 2012, 4:28 GMT

    2.Freelancers are also failing to address right balance, simply semi-retiring or making themselves unavailable for international cricket-still the most important "cricket property". Flintoff's injury affected him; otherwise he timed his retirement to play T20 leagues. Malinga should actually be playing Tests for SL. Bangla/Afghanistan needs to be hand-held by India/Pak/SL. BCCI needs to ASAP invite Bang for Tests. Kenya/Zim By SA. PNG/Malaysia by OZ/NZ. Ireland/Neth/USA/ by Eng for world cricket to be universal by 2025 and have a larger pool of competitive countries. FICA needs to ensure with ICC that Afghanistan, Kenya (badly neglected by ICC after their stupendous run in 2003 World Cup and having such a "natural abilities" player base),Ireland, Neth get to play 10-15 ODIs a year against Test nations. If top 15 players of Test playing nations are contracted to draw USD 3-4 million a year for playing just Tests/ODIs, then they need not be mercenary enuf to just play random T20 leagues

  • PALLAB on May 2, 2012, 4:22 GMT

    1.Some quick points:May does not talk about the fact that Pak is being ostracized by BCCI/OZ/SA cabal which controls the T20 Champions League-primarily BCCI. If ICC umpires/ officials operate in that league with all Test playing nations competing, Pak has to be included in that league. BCCI's dictatorial attitude towards Indian players associations (or not) should be raised by Tendulkar. But unlike a Sanga,Gavaskar (who took up cudgels for players' causes fearlessly in 80s which all Indian players are reaping now with fantastic compensation/commercial contracts),Ganguly, Kumble, will SRT as a MP dare address this key issue?.May is also being hypocritical; talks about managing volume of international cricket when actually mushrooming T20 leagues are ABSOLUTELY eating away rest periods. He also refuses to look at the fact that IPL (which his association players play for) is DIRECTLY affecting WI cricket calendar (thereby its cricket performance) and a little bit of Eng calendar.

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