Cricket South Africa has responded to the threat of a player strike, which could be discussed at a South African Cricketers' Association board meeting on Friday. The dispute relates to a possible second breach of commercial rights by CSA. On Wednesday, the SACA commenced a formal process against CSA for using the names and images of players in a fantasy league game related to the Mzansi Super League (MSL), without acquiring the rights to do so.
Later on Wednesday evening, CSA released a statement saying it had already requested Dream11, the fantasy game in question, to "cease the use of the player attributes", with transcripts of emails attached as proof.
"When the matter was raised by SACA last month, I notified the sales agency of Dream11 to cease the use of the player attributes until a resolution was reached on the issue and conveyed this to SACA," the statement quoted CSA chief commercial officer Kugandrie Govender as saying. "I also requested a meeting between ourselves and SACA to discuss what payments are applicable, and to discuss the issue of Dream11 being a betting organisation or not. I attach e-mails sent to Mr Irish for the sake of removing any doubt as to the start of the engagement on this matter.
"It is not our intention to short-change anyone that needs to be compensated, least of all players who are our very own. To this end, I would hope that we can meet as soon as possible with SACA to bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion."
This follows a dispute last month when the SACA launched a dispute into CSA's delay in paying commercial rights fees from the inaugural edition of the MSL in 2018. The money, understood to be around R 2.4 million (USD 165,000 approx), was paid more than a year late and three CSA employees - interim director of cricket Corrie van Zyl, COO Naasei Appiah, and head of sponsorship and sales Clive Eksteen - were suspended for alleged dereliction of duty in not handling the payment more efficiently. The SACA insisted CSA CEO Thabang Moroe was also involved.
Now, with a second commercial rights infringement, SACA members will be asked to consider what the organisation calls a "very last resort", in taking industrial action against CSA.
"SACA has called a meeting of its Players Executive Committee and its Management Board for Friday 6th December 2019," Tony Irish, the SACA CEO, said in a statement. "At this meeting, we will again be discussing the manner in which SACA and the players are being treated by CSA. This discussion is likely to include the possibility of the players taking some form of industrial, or protest, action.
"SACA has always considered strike, and other similar forms of industrial action, to be a very last resort and in SACA's 17 years of dealing with CSA to date not one day of cricket has ever been lost to industrial action."
"SACA has requested CSA to obtain clearance from its anti-corruption unit to ensure that this use of players in a pay-to-play game does not in any way constitute an association of the players with gambling, or encouragement of betting practices, which are not permitted under CSA's anti-corruption code. As far as we know this request has been ignored by CSA." Tony Irish, SACA CEO
Irish said the SACA made repeated attempts to engage CSA over the fantasy game, including requesting CSA to consult with its anti-corruption unit to ensure the players are distanced from any association with betting.
"SACA has requested CSA to obtain clearance from its anti-corruption unit to ensure that this use of players in a pay-to-play game does not in any way constitute an association of the players with gambling, or encouragement of betting practices, which are not permitted under CSA's anti-corruption code. As far as we know this request has been ignored by CSA," Irish said. "This is yet another instance, in a growing line of instances, where CSA has flagrantly disregarded our agreements and, over the last week or so, failed to address SACA's resulting concerns. We now feel that enough is enough."
In its statement, CSA said Dream11 - which operates in India - was a "skill-based fantasy gaming platform", and not a "betting/gambling platform", and that while cricket betting is illegal in India, fantasy gaming is not.
"As far as the anti-corruption issue is concerned, we have established that Dream11 is a skill-based fantasy gaming platform and not a betting/gambling platform," the CSA statement said. "For the sake of clarity, it primarily operates in India where sports betting/gambling is illegal and where fantasy gaming was declared legal by the High Court. Please see https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chandigarh/playing-fantasy-games-online-not-betting-high-court/articleshow/59925686.cms as an example of many sources of clarification in this regard."
The SACA's relationship with CSA has never been more strained with disputes dating back to early 2018. CSA delayed the negotiations of a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the SACA, which essentially lays out the terms and conditions for player contracts, and the old MOU expired three months before a new one was completed. The SACA also claims CSA did not consult it about a proposed restructure to the domestic system which will see the six-team franchise set-up done away with and 12 provincial teams installed in their place, effectively removing an entire tier of domestic cricket. The SACA believes around 70 cricketers will lose their jobs and have taken CSA to court, demanding the organisation shows cause of the restructure. The case is ongoing.
Also on Friday, the SACA will decide on a new CEO, with Irish's last day at the organisation scheduled for December 13. Irish is relocating to the UK, where he will head up the Professional Cricketers' Association, and leaves after 17 years with the SACA, at a time when South African cricket is in crisis.
Events of the last few weeks have seen widespread calls for the CSA board and CEO to step down following issues ranging from revoking the accreditation of journalists without cause, to the delay in appointing a director of cricket, and to CSA's financial woes. CSA previously said it is planning for a R 654 million (USD 45 million approx) loss in the next four-year cycle but SACA put the figure closer to R 1 billion (USD 69 million approx).
GMT 1845 The story was amended to include CSA's response.