George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo
The Federation of International Cricketers' Association (FICA) is threatening legal action against the Masters Champions League (MCL), a T20 tournament for retired players, over non-payment of dues following its inaugural season earlier this year.
The MCL was intended to be staged over the next two years as well, but with FICA now threatening litigation on behalf of up to 50 players over what they term "the systematic non-payment of players," and questioning the integrity of the tournaments organisers, the MCL could turn out to be a one-off event.
Confirming the players' intention to sue the organisers, GM Sports whose parent company is chaired by Zafar Shah, for unpaid fees, Tony Irish, the executive chairman of FICA, also called for the formation of "an an international dispute resolution body and contract enforcement mechanism in cricket."
"It's pretty obvious the organisers of the MCL have lost credibility," Irish told ESPNcricinfo. "The failure to honour contracts sends a strong message. It is not a straightforward process to bring legal action, but we ensured there were proper player contracts in place and we are looking to coordinate a class action on behalf of 40 or 50 players.
"We have given the organisers several deadlines and these have not been met. If they want to hold an event next year, they have a lot of ground to make-up. I think players will look at what happened in the first year and draw their own conclusions.
"Despite several undertakings from Mr Shah that outstanding player payments would be made, under a payment plan proposed by MCL, many players have still not received payments due to them several months after the event. Some players have received less than 25% of their fee for an event that finished in February.
"It's also extremely disappointing that the event organisers have now taken to simply ignoring attempts by FICA, players and player agents to address the situation."
The MCL was beset with issues from the start. Struggling to define what constituted "retired" to the satisfaction of some Full Members boards, some players were withdrawn from the event after playing the initial games without No Objection Certificates.
The cricket boards of Pakistan, South Africa and West Indies, were especially upset as they suggested the league, taking place at the same time as their own domestic events, threated to weaken their competitions and was attracting players who had no intention of retiring.
While broadcast audiences were not insignificant, the rights had - in the vast majority of territories and on the vast majority of platforms - been given away for between two and three years in order to develop interest in the tournament. For that reason, it raised little revenue in the first year and promises to raise little more if held again.
Complaints from players about non-payment began as soon as they gathered in Dubai for the first matches. Having been promised payment on arrival, there were various threats made to pull out of games only for an agreement to be reached at the last minute. ESPNcricinfo understands that some players were paid little over 10% of what they were promised, with others paid 25% and many paid 50%.
While ESPNcricinfo understands that at least three of the six teams involved in the inaugural event did not have a clear ownership structure - franchise papers had not been signed - there is little disputing who is responsible for the payments. The terms of the player contracts state that the organisers, GM Sports, guaranteed to underwrite all agreements.
GM Sports, a subsidiary of Grand Midwest Hotels, is owned by Zafar Shah. He declined to comment when contacted by ESPNcricinfo though he has previously given assurances that all payments will be made and that he is waiting for payment from sponsors and team owners. It is understood there is also an on-going attempt to refinance the league ahead of a second season.
"We want to see an opportunity for such leagues and we want to see more opportunities for players," Irish continued. "And that's why we helped draw-up these contracts and put in place the anti-corruption safeguards you would expect at major events. We wanted to see that everything was done properly. So we feel the set-up of the event was not a worry. The problems have occurred when it has come to payment and, under the terms of the contracts, GM are responsible.
"Systematic breaches of professional player contracts in cricket, such as this, are unacceptable. The MCL was an approved cricket event, under the jurisdiction of the Emirates Cricket Board.
"As part of the ongoing work on the global structure of the game, we will be proposing an international dispute resolution body, and contract enforcement mechanism in cricket. Players, boards, clubs and leagues would all benefit from such a mechanism."
Some suppliers complained the ICC also failed to conduct due diligence into the event before authorising it. While the ICC said that it was the responsibility of the Emirates Cricket Board to grant such authorisation, they appear to be at odds with their own criteria (Section 32 of the ICC operating manual) which suggests that: "The ICC will decide whether or not a match or event is approved where: the match or event is taking place in the territory of an Associate or Affiliate Member, and does not involve any team that is under the jurisdiction of a Full Member."
Clive Hitchcock, the ICC's senior operation manager, also appeared to tacitly admit to having approved the tournament in an email sent to boards in January. In it, he stated: "Our decision not to issue a Disapproved Notice was based on the application from MCL which clearly stated that it was an event for retired players only."