Zimbabwe should ensure players don't walk away - Coltart
David Coltart, Zimbabwe's former minister of sport, said that cricket in the country is now in a critical state, following a financial crisis which almost resulted in a boycott from the players.
In an interview with ESPNcricinfo, Coltart said that Zimbabwe Cricket was nearly $15-18 million in the red and the financial condition was affecting the board's ability to look after players. The lack of international tours was further affecting Zimbabwe's chances of addressing its financial issues.
"The association now is very much in the red. We estimate anything between $15-18 million in the red. That situation has been compounded by the fact that there have been very few international tours, very few profitable tours, which undermines the ability of Zimbabwe Cricket to address that massive debt," Coltart said. "And that, in turn, has meant that players have not been paid on time."
Earlier this month, Zimbabwe's players boycotted their training ahead of the series against Pakistan and decided to form a union to negotiate for better pay. They reached an agreement with the board, after an assurance that ZC would clear their outstanding salaries and also pay them match fees. Shortly after the issue was resolved, fast bowler Kyle Jarvis announced his retirement from international cricket. The pace bowler opted out of the series against Pakistan to take up a county offer from Lancashire.
Coltart recounted an incident last year when he had met with a delegation of players and coaches, some of whom had not been paid for up to three years. Such treatment, Coltart said, was pushing players like Jarvis and Gary Ballance to leave the country for better opportunities and this exodus was dragging the game down further.
"Last year, I received a delegation of players, including coaches who, having not received any joy from Zimbabwe Cricket came to me directly because they had not been paid match fees," Coltart recalled.
"Some were owed a vast amount of money, and had not been paid up to three years. I summoned Zimbabwe Cricket and the Sports Recreation Commission and arranged for players to be paid. But, it undermined the confidence of many players in the association and that resulted in people, critically important players like Tatenda Taibu, leaving the game.
"And now we see Jarvis leaving the game, and there are others who we had hoped would be attracted to play for the country, players like Gary Ballance, started to look elsewhere. That erodes the confidence of the team and creates a very vicious cycle where we are not competitive against international teams. So those teams are reluctant to come, they don't get the revenues that they would otherwise get from a close contest."
Coltart, who lobbied with Australia, England and India to get more tours to Zimbabwe, said the chances of Zimbabwe hosting more countries depended as much on the political situation in the country as it did on the state of the game. He was also critical of the way ZC had managed funds, saying the board had failed to protect players' interests. He however expressed hope that future incomes from the game could be used efficiently to revive the game.
"I had a meeting with (ICC CEO) Dave Richardson in Dubai in March and he told me that Zimbabwe Cricket, over the next couple of years, can expect revenues of up to $25 million. Zimbabwe cricket does not have the infrastructure that, for example, we see in New Zealand and $25 million, properly administered, should be enough to grow the game and pay players," he said.
One of the major benefits of the newly formed players' association, according to Coltart, was that it would help many players negotiate for better pay. The association, he said, could get ZC to start treating players better, sparking better results and more series with international teams over the long term. He, however, urged the players to find a manager who could keep the association going, while the players are busy with their cricket commitments.
"It has been a demand of players for over a decade. And what has happened in the absence of the players' association is that the administration has managed to literally threaten players, especially young black players who had nothing else to turn to, and undermine their ability to negotiate reasonable terms and conditions.
"I am very pleased that this is now being agreed to and the players must find someone to do that role. And I am very encouraged to see the unity among players in the last couple of weeks. If they are successful in that and if Zimbabwe Cricket starts treating their players better, then the players will play better, and we can attract these teams and ultimately, it's going to address the financial problems."