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Legal battle looms as players seek commercial rights protections from ICC

FICA has written to ICC seeking recompense for players' commercial exploitation with ICC partners

Daniel Brettig
Daniel Brettig
ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney: 'We want to give ourselves the best possible opportunity to make the right decision for the whole sport'

ICC chief executive Manu Sawhney: 'We want to give ourselves the best possible opportunity to make the right decision for the whole sport'  •  Getty Images

Another ICC battlefront has opened up in the form of the world's players seeking recompense for their exploitation in third party commercial deals with ICC partners, at a time when the global body is beset by issues around Covid-19, wrangles over the board's next chairman and a decidedly murky picture for global events and bilateral tours beyond 2023.
ESPNcricinfo has learned that the Federation of International Cricketers Associations (FICA) has written to the ICC management, expressing an intention to take a range of issues around the players' commercial rights into the grievance process set out in the terms for squads participating in global events. This would be a precursor to a formal legal dispute, after talks between the parties in recent months failed to get close to a resolution of the issue.
The increasing exploitation of the commercial and intellectual property rights of female players - fast emerging as ever more saleable names for sponsors and broadcasters off the back of this year's wildly successful T20 World Cup in Australia - are believed to be particularly problematic in terms of the examples that FICA has raised.
Tom Moffat, FICA's chief executive, recently contacted players across the globe to update them on the dispute and a resolution to act collectively.
"We are in the process of challenging the unauthorised use of player images / attributes / content by the ICC and its commercial partners, including in: a fantasy cricket game, individual player content used by an ICC sponsor, and a documentary featuring players and individual player content," Moffat told the players. "This follows a similar issue with trading cards in 2017.
"These types of products are important in promoting the game, but are also commercially valuable to the ICC and their partners largely because your attributes, appearances, data and content are used in them. We believe players should be getting a fair share of these arrangements, and that the ICC were required to negotiate terms of access to, and use of, players with FICA. This is provided for in the Squad Terms you sign prior to competing in ICC Events.
"The ICC have previously argued that because players will receive prize money for performances in future ICC events, that covers these sorts of commercial products. Clearly that is unfair, and was not the intended basis of the Squad Terms or global arrangements for players. Taking a legal path is not our desired approach and we have tried to resolve these issues with the ICC over a number of months to ensure players are treated fairly. We have unfortunately been unsuccessful given the way the ICC continue to approach you / FICA on these issues."
The exploitation of commercial rights and property for players has long been a tetchy issue between players associations, boards and the ICC, with governing bodies ever eager to protect the interests of their sponsors and broadcasters, while the players, their managers and associations equally stern in trying to ensure their images and content are not used without fair compensation.
However, FICA's decision to raise the issue at this juncture can be interpreted as a change in tack from more convivial approaches to the ICC, and a growing sense of frustration at a mounting pile of problems on the agenda for the global governing body and its board.
The ICC's management, headed by chief executive Manu Sawhney, is in open dispute with member nations about the shape of the global calendar and specifically the number of ICC events to populate it from 2023 onwards.
Moffat told the players that commercial opportunities needed to be carefully managed, with strong ground rules laid down before the next cycle. "It is important that we take up these issues for players now," he said. "Having discussed the issue with senior men's and women's international players, players from across countries have offered to assist so that FICA can lodge the grievances on behalf of all players. We thank those players and acknowledge it's not easy to do that.
"Protecting players collectively in this area will continue to be a major focus for us as we prepare for the next ICC Events cycle as well. FICA is supportive of fair, win-win, non-exploitative commercial opportunities. We would welcome any further player feedback or queries as we continue to work through these processes in conjunction with players' associations."
The ICC declined to comment.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig