Cricket's leaders must make sure players in T20 leagues get their salaries

What's the point of sanctioning these leagues if players' rights aren't protected?

Jarrod Kimber
Jarrod Kimber
Lasith Malinga had captained Montreal Tigers in the first Global T20 Canada, Winnipeg Hawks v Montreal Tigers, Global T20 Canada, King City, June 29, 2018

Last year, players in the Global T20 Canada refused to take the field to protest unpaid wages  •  Getty Images

We pay to watch cricket and cricketers get paid for entertaining us. The first part is true, but the second part, as FICA's latest Men's Global Employment report reveals, isn't always so. According to the report, over a third of men's cricketers have faced problems getting paid, either on time or at all. The vast majority of these complaints are to do with six domestic T20 or T10 leagues.
The report says: "A third of professional cricketers surveyed have encountered issues of non-payment of playing contracts. This figure is in reality much higher as it does not include players from countries where we know non-payment is endemic."
Some of these payments have been pending for close to a decade and the problem of non-payment isn't limited to lower-profile leagues.
"One of the things our eyes have been opened to since forming a players' association and with what happened last year with our league [the Euro Slam T20] is that players are often the ones left on the end of the line when leagues fall over or when clubs and leagues don't honour commitments," says former Ireland captain William Porterfield in the FICA report.
"I still have money owing to me from an ICC-sanctioned event from several years ago," says the former South African international Rory Kleinveldt. "I'm just one of many players in the same boat, and I believe the game should be doing something about these issues, especially in events that are sanctioned. This issue is far too common in cricket."
The operative phrase here is "ICC-sanctioned". Players need their home board's approval to appear in overseas leagues. If you are an English player wanting to play in the Bangladesh Premier League, you need the ECB's approval to play in a Bangladesh board-approved (in fact it's now run by the BCB) league. For leagues run in Full Member countries, the ICC doesn't need to provide a sanction - it is simply considered sanctioned if the member board has sanctioned it. And yet, with all these supposed safeguards in place, players are still not being paid.
To avoid late payments in the Pakistan Super League, the PCB pays the players' salaries and takes bank guarantees from the franchises. However, last year, after butting heads over revenue sharing and in an effort to reduce franchises' losses, the board exempted them from submitting bank guarantees for the 2020 season.
The payment structures vary from league to league. But in general, teams pay a percentage up front - say, 25% - then another 35-50% midway through the tournament, and the remaining once the tournament is over
The ICC's sanction is what makes many players comfortable about taking part in these leagues in the first place. Tom Moffat, FICA CEO, identifies this aspect as the problem.
"There hasn't been any progress in properly addressing the issue at global level and that simply comes down to a lack of the willingness of the game's leadership to prioritise protecting people. Cricket is behind other sports in doing that, and that needs to change".
The BPL is by far the most well known of the six leagues named by FICA, and up until the Bangladesh board threw out the league's franchise owners, it was seen as one of the best leagues to play in. The other five named in the report are the cancelled Euro T20 Slam, involving the boards of Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands; the Global T20 Canada (the team behind it co-ran the Euro Slam); the Abu Dhabi T10, the world's biggest T10 event; the failed Masters Champions League (MCL), played in the UAE in 2016; and the Qatar T10.
While these are not major leagues, they do attract major players. Eoin Morgan, Andre Russell, Kieron Pollard, Imran Tahir, Steve Smith, David Warner, Hashim Amla and Chris Gayle have played in some of these leagues. Jacques Kallis, Kumar Sangakkara, Virender Sehwag, Muttiah Muralitharan and Brian Lara played in the MCL.
After the FICA report was published, it became public that Nicholas Pooran and Gulbadin Naib had not been paid by their BPL teams, and ESPNcricinfo understands there are even bigger names who are still owed money in the BPL.
Not mentioned in the FICA report is the world's richest league - the IPL. The now defunct Kochi Tuskers franchise bought Brad Hodge for US$425,000 in the 2011 auction. Hodge received only partial payment for his services that year: "I was paid 65% of my total contract but the final 35% never got paid," he says.
Hodge still expects to receive his money but you cannot overlook the inconveniences that late or failed payments can cause. "It affected our finances seriously. My family was renovating a house and the final payment was due six months after IPL, but you always think such a big organisation would support the players." He is still owed money from a BPL season too.
It's not that Hodge and many of the other players involved didn't have contracts. But Yasin Patel, a London-based barrister who works with many high-profile cricketers on their contracts, says you'll be surprised by how poorly written they generally are.
"A great many are cut-and-paste jobs," he says, explaining how they failed different kinds of players. "Say, I have one international player with image rights, a new local player, and a third player from overseas only there for part of the tournament. You would expect all three contracts would be different. They are not."
The payment structures vary from league to league. But in general, teams pay a percentage upfront - say, 25% - then another 35-50% midway through the tournament, and the remainder once the tournament is over. Mostly the problems occur with the final payment, although there have been cases of mid-season payments going missing. And as Patel notes, "If the players aren't paid mid-tournament and they leave, how will it be seen? They won't be able to return to that franchise. Not to mention that it might ruin their relationships with coaches, managers and agents."
Without any publicity highlighting their failure to pay, there is nothing to shame franchise owners into keeping their commitments. It's rare for players to be involved in any kind of class action, making individual claims even tougher. One exception to both rules was when players from Toronto Nationals and Montreal Tigers went on strike last year and refused to take the field because they had not been paid.
Usually, though, it's the final payments that get delayed, and it happens more often with mid-level players and below, the kind who won't get publicity if they speak out and often aren't well-off enough to hire a lawyer.
"Sometimes if it's a small amount of money, say less than US$10,000, it isn't worth it for all the legal costs," Patel says. "When players come to me, they want to know what is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to get their money."
The biggest problem for many players is trying to work out whether there is a legitimate delay to an international bank transfer - which is not unheard of - or that a transfer hasn't been made at all. On top of this, multiple players have told ESPNcricinfo that they have received money for their contracts in brown-paper envelopes over the years, meaning they have had to smuggle legally earned wages back into their countries in their kit bags.
Coaches and support staff - who have no unions - are treated even worse, as are many team vendors, like kit manufacturers.
Individual boards should not be absolved of their responsibilities here, but this is a global governance issue. Directly or otherwise, all these leagues are sanctioned by the ICC.
And there is a clear solution at hand: escrow. That is, money kept in the custody of a third party and paid out only when a specified condition has been fulfilled. To have your league sanctioned by the ICC or your local board, you would have to make escrow a part of your structure. Then before each tournament, every team owner would have to put money into a third-party account - run by the league or board - and all payments would be made automatically unless the player breached contract. The Caribbean Premier League - which has struggled with many late payments - has been looking at escrow for a while.
It is the "ideal scenario", Patel says. "Whether it is the governing body in charge or a third party or the lawyers. To ensure that payment is made."
The idea of escrow has support within the ICC management. That and other similar safeguards have been brought up at meetings about improving these leagues. But ultimately the member boards are an obstacle. "The ICC does not have jurisdiction over domestic leagues and our Members have expressed their desire for this to remain the case," an ICC spokesperson says. "As such, the ICC is unable to sanction domestic T20 leagues with regard to payment."
New Zealand fast bowler Mitchell McClenaghan, who has been a T20 freelancer since 2017, hopes a solution can come from the top. "I am sure all players and coaches as well as their families who are also affected would feel a greater level of confidence and assurance if the ICC and FICA can continue working together to implement more regimented structures across all of the global cricketing landscape."
Players, says Moffat, need to be protected whenever they play sanctioned cricket. "Or else cricket's global leadership is effectively saying, 'You're not allowed to choose to work over there [in unsanctioned leagues], and we will punish you if you do, but we won't protect you in here either. You're on your own.' That can't be right."

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber