David Peever, the Cricket Australia (CA) chairman, has explained that the chief executive James Sutherland was not permitted to get directly involved in this year's pay dispute between CA and the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) until the players were unemployed because the Board felt he was too busy with other work.
The dispute this year ran more than a month beyond the expiry of the previous MoU, leaving the majority of the nation's male and female cricketers to train out of contract and forcing the cancellation of the Australia A tour of South Africa. Threats to the tours of Bangladesh and India and pressure from commercial partners and the federal government contributed to CA's ultimate compromise, permitting the retention of a fixed revenue percentage share for players.
Sutherland was central to these final, fruitful talks after the ACA expressed a preference to deal with him rather than the Board's chief negotiator Kevin Roberts, who had been widely touted as a future chief executive. However Peever, who had not spoken publicly at any stage of the dispute other than to pen a newspaper column attacking the ACA and the media, said it was unreasonable to expect Sutherland to get involved in negotiations any earlier than he had.
"This is a process issue. You have to bear in mind James runs a very large organisation, a large, complex organisation, and he's time-poor," Peever said following CA's AGM in Brisbane. "It was important that at some stage we felt James needed to move into the process directly, but not at the beginning. We had an extremely competent person in Kevin Roberts leading from our side.
"We were disappointed about the way the dispute played out in the public arena, and we certainly believe it went on too long. But it's also true that reform is very difficult and change is very difficult. What we needed to do for the good of cricket was to change the model that had been in existence for 20 years, that's what we sought to do.
"I think it's also important to keep context around it, and while it was played out publicly in quite an acrimonious way, that apart from the performance [in the] tour of South Africa, and I don't want to diminish that in any way, no cricket was lost. In addition to that, no player has gone without payment as a consequence of this dispute. So that's the context."
Peever, the former Rio Tinto executive who has been CA chairman since 2015, conceded there had been considerable uncertainty generated among CA's sponsors and broadcasters by the dispute, but also claimed that CA "didn't ever" put the players in the middle of the conflict between the Board and the players association. He also stated that the Board was satisfied with the final outcome despite the new MoU falling a long way short of its initial proposal, which replaced revenue sharing with set wages for players, save for a capped bonus system for the top international players.
"We have very good relationships with our sponsors and partners, and James and his team work very hard on those relationships, so they were very well informed as we went through the process, but it would be less than truthful to say there wasn't uncertainty around that," Peever said. "But my point is we have all moved on. This is a deal that was done three months ago. another important part of the deal is we've finalised the long-form, which last time took most of the period to get done. But we've moved on and we're into cricket.
"We made a very deliberate decision we were not going to play this out in the public arena, and there's a very good reason for that. We didn't want to put the players in the middle of the dispute. We hold our heads high that we didn't ever do that. So yes, it was acrimonious. This is significant change that comes about through negotiation every five years, so it's not surprising that there would be tension around it.
"We have reached an acceptable outcome even bearing in mind what our objective was. It's not inconsistent with our objectives we had in the beginning, but in all of these things compromise is necessary, and both parties compromised."
Though Peever trumpeted the inclusion of women in the MoU for the first time, the need to remunerate female players better had always been one of few issues that CA and the ACA agreed on. The primary battleground was over domestic players, whom, CA's proposal described, as leaning on the international players who contributed to the financial health of the game. It was a position the ACA and the players bitterly disputed. The dispute is currently subject to an internal CA review.
"We will do as we do; with every MoU negotiation there's been an internal review," Peever said. "We'll be doing the same this time around, so we analyse all of those things, understand what could be done better, what we did well and what we didn't do as well, so all those questions will come up during that process, so we've got some work to do. No it will not [be public]; an internal review. We do this as part of business as usual for many things. The MoU negotiation, while it was a big issue obviously, it is not unique, so we do it in the natural course of business."
Sutherland's long-term role as chief executive has been the subject of some discussion, including the question of whether or not he should become an executive director with a formal seat on the Board. This change was recommended by the sports governance experts David Crawford and Colin Carter in their report that led to Peever's arrival as an independent director, but he dismissed the concept as "not a material issue" for CA.
"It's a complete non-issue in terms of the running of the organisation," Peever said. "James has the authority and the accountability designated by the Board, to run the organisation. He's also the face of Cricket Australia. We have a high integrity, transparent relationship between the Board and James, one we also enjoy immensely, and so I don't recall in five years being on the Board it ever being raised, and therefore it's not a material issue for us."
In addition to the re-election of the directors Jacquie Hey, Mark Taylor and Tony Harrison, CA's financial situation was outlined at the AGM, highlighting a deficit of A$50.8 million for the 2016-17 financial year that was offset by strong returns over the four-year cycle on which the Board's finances are based. Having started the cycle with cash reserves of around A$45 million, CA have now grown that figure to A$113 million, ahead of a six-month period in which it will pursue the new domestic television rights deals that provide the majority of the game's cashflow.
Over the four-year period ending in 2017, the greatest spike to CA's coffers came in 2014-15, a summer that contained a tour of India and also the ODI World Cup. That event's success, alongside the emergence of the women's game, has encouraged CA to schedule separate men's and women's World Twenty20 events in 2020, the women in February-March, and the men in October-November. That change will be mirrored in another strategic goal over the next five years, to move the Women's Big Bash League to a standalone spot in the calendar at the start of the Australian summer.
"I think so, and it runs alongside what we are doing with the World T20, for that women's event in 2020 to shine, the women should play on their own platform, away from the shadow of the men's competition," Sutherland said. "We actually believe there's great merit in every season of the WBBL playing in its own discreet window, and opportunity for the women to shine. We've got to work through how that will be, there's a growing respect and higher profile for women's sport in this country.
"Our aspiration is to see the WBBL as a regular feature on television, pay television, free-to-air television, wherever it can be, we'd love to see a much greater profile and focus for the WBBL. Channel Ten have been great supporters of it, but most of the time those matches they've televised have been part of double-headers with the men. They're things we're working through, there are some things that are changing to the structure of international cricket, and domestic cricket are parts of the jigsaw puzzle."