A rapidly escalating stand-off between Cricket Australia and the states is a chance of settling down into constructive discussion of the game’s finances in the time of Covid-19 after the governing body indicated openness to a collective meeting to resolve the current raft of differences.
CA’s chairman Earl Eddings is understood to have spoken with his New South Wales counterpart John Knox on Thursday afternoon, after the most powerful of the state chairmen suggested an open dialogue between CA, the states and the Australian Cricketers Association as the best way to chart a path forward. This would be after the fashion of the “national cabinet” video conference meetings between the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state premiers in recent months to deal with the pandemic.
While there is not complete agreement between the parties – CA is believed to prefer meeting with the state chairmen first before convening the Australian Cricket Council that also includes the ACA – the exchange between Eddings and Knox is a significant moment in what had up to last week been a succession of events spiraling towards ugly confrontation over money in the game. CA is also believed to be close to securing a A$100 million line of credit from the Commonwealth Bank.
Even so, more than 150 jobs have already been lost among state associations that have – with the exception of NSW – made cost cuts of varying degrees, in addition to some 200 staff being stood down by CA on 20% pay until the end of the financial year. A major round of redundancies at CA, thought to cost as many as 20% of staff their jobs, is a matter of days away.
While NSW and Queensland are the two states who have flatly refused to agree to a 25% cut to their multimillion dollar annual grants as proposed by CA, with Western Australia only agreeing to terms on the conditions that all states must do so, there is believed to be a desire for more collective communication on the issue among all six of the associations that effectively comprise CA’s shareholder group.
Origins of the dispute date back to mid-March, when a select group of CA board directors and executives mapped out a stringent course of austerity medicine for the game. They did so at a time when very little was known about the extent of the pandemic and its effects on cricket, with little or no certainty available about a return to play.
While a report prepared by CA’s chief medical officer, doctor John Orchard, expressed cautious optimism in early April, CA went ahead with the plan for major staff stand downs, cuts to state grants and negotiations for a reduction in forecast revenue and thus overall payment pool available to the ACA’s players. These actions caught the states, CA staff and the players unawares after previous messaging from Roberts had given every indication that cricket had the financial reserves and time with which to absorb the coronavirus shock.
Widespread confusion and bemusement followed, while state associations went about their own cuts at the same time as negotiating individually with CA around annual grants. At the same time, the ACA asked increasingly strident questions of CA, culminating in its request to enter the MoU’s dispute resolution process last week upon being given a revenue forecast unchanged from March.
Since then the Australian outlook for Covid-19 has greatly improved, India have confirmed their intent to tour during the summer for matches worth some A$300 million to CA, and the winter football codes have set an example both in terms of their collaborative dealings with the crisis and their return to play by mid-June. CA has also announced its full international schedule, and can be expected to release the Big Bash League fixture soon.
Most negotiations in the past 10 weeks have taken place at board-to-board level, sidelining Roberts, but the piecemeal nature of the cuts being made around the country, without a unified approach to the likelihood of revenue failing to keep pace with the game’s growing cost-base, has raised wide concern that a more cohesive tack must be taken. With the phone call between Eddings and Knox on Thursday, there is now hope that this can start, albeit too late for those who have already lost their jobs.