Cricket's Chance for Change

26 October, 2018

by Greg Dyer

Whether it’s governments, businesses or significant sporting organisations like Cricket Australia, sustainable long-term success is always built on good governance. True high performance follows from good governance - as night follows day.

Good governance manages risk, promotes and rewards the right cultural behaviours and norms, provides structured accountabilities but, even more importantly, creates true engagement between the organisation and its stakeholders.

Conversely, when governance is flawed the reverse is true.

Risks are overlooked or ignored, communications are difficult or non-existent, leadership’s messages about culture and behavioural expectations are missing or misunderstood and almost inevitably, organisational performance and outcomes are sub-optimal.

But predominantly, poor governance renders real engagement with important stakeholders almost impossible. What follows is a lack of alignment between the organisation and its stakeholders on what’s important, what the future direction should be and what success looks like for the organisation as a whole.

From time to time, the consequences of poor governance are so significant that the future of the enterprise will be placed in the hands of a third party. Think Royal Commissions for banks, remuneration protest votes by shareholders or bi-elections for political parties.

In cricket, it’s Dr Simon Longstaff’s examination of the game’s governance and culture following what all Australians saw as the game’s final tipping point, the ball tampering incident in South Africa. Credit belongs to Cricket Australia for their recognition of the moment and their subsequent appointment of an eminent independent reviewer.

The Longstaff report will no doubt provide some difficult and confronting material. Sight unseen, I have no doubt that the interviews and other materials gathered by Dr Longstaff will contain withering criticism of Cricket Australia from a range of cricket’s many stakeholders – players past and present, administrators at various levels of the game, sponsors, media and broadcasters. The materials will echo the outpouring of concern by cricket’s broad fan base and loyal supporters, perplexed and massively disappointed by such obvious breaches of “the spirit of the game”.

I know this because the ACA’s independent research of the views of this broad and disparate group, conducted in preparation for our own submission to Dr Longstaff, were emphatically thus. They provided a consistent and unambiguous call for change - change in the game’s culture, and significantly, change in the way in which Australian cricket engages with its many and varied stakeholders. Basically, they provide a great deal of practical examples and evidence of a lack of alignment between CA and its stakeholders.

The Australian cricket community’s response to our surveys and questioning was a tidal wave of the good, the bad and at times the ugly. But above all else it was honest.

We were flooded with genuine concerns, frustration, disappointment, hopes, expectations, some thoughtful criticism of the ACA, and plenty of ideas for reform. Notably, we got consistent passion and enough optimism in the responses to believe that there’s plenty of spirit on which to build.

Accordingly, the ACA awaits the final Longstaff report with a sense of expectation and cautious optimism, born of the knowledge that Dr Longstaff will be in no doubt about what ails Australian cricket. He can’t say he hasn’t been told!

The recommendations which he makes will therefore be based on today’s realities and will hopefully provide strong foundations for the future – a roadmap for the hard yards which will be required to produce the genuine cultural change required – the alignment we all seek.

And yes, we could use a good hard look at the game’s governance. Without trivialising the importance of required reforms to CA’s formal structures and voting entitlements which have created a half-way no-man’s land where the present federation model is neither in any way representative nor genuinely independent, more significant will be reforms aimed at providing a voice to the game’s important stakeholders.

Mechanisms must be found to improve levels of engagement between head office and the states, and between administrators and the players. It’s no secret, of course, that the relationship between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers’ Association requires special attention.

A more regular and timely voice must be found for the state associations, who should see their input for what it’s worth – a crucial window and connection to the grassroots of the sport which can better inform decision-making at the national level. Call it accountability if you want, but more crucially, it’s the feedback loop required to keep the game grounded and real. If players need better connection to the game’s traditional base of grassroots cricket, then so too do administrators and board members.

An emphasis on commercial returns has been both positive and negative. The primary positive, of course, is that Australian cricket is in excellent financial health, creating opportunities for the sport to consolidate and invest in local and state cricket. The negative is that it’s been achieved by an overly centralised model of administration which has reduced the significance of the role played by states in the management of the sport and the development of the game. This needs to be re-balanced so that the ‘shareholders’ have greater autonomy than mere ‘subsidiaries’, which they presently resemble.

Cricketers at all levels must acknowledge their role as custodians of important traditions and be equally aware of the legacy they will leave for future generations. In return, their role as partners in the game must be acknowledged and respected and they too, via the ACA as their representative, must have a seat at the table as the important issues in the game are considered.

In summary, the states and the players need to be fully engaged in both the reforms recommended by Dr Longstaff, as well as in improved long-term governance of the game.

We commend Cricket Australia for commissioning the Longstaff Review.

And now Cricket’s moment is upon it. With the release of the full Longstaff Review imminent, the national game has its opportunity for change. And the moment must be seized. Together, we must not miss this golden chance for our great game.

© Australian Cricket Players Limited
Photos courtesy of Getty Images
The Australian Cricketers’ Association acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders both past and present.