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Dubbo Photo News - - Opinion & Analysis - Greg Smart

Ask me to name two things about pro­fes­sional cricket, and two grand il­lu­sions come to mind.

Firstly, the mass hal­lu­ci­na­tion that cricket is our na­tional pas­time, en­grained in that fan­tas­ti­cal no­tion of ‘Aus­tralian val­ues’, and the na­tional team rep­re­sents th­ese val­ues of ‘a fair go’ and good-hearted lar­rikin­ism to the world.

Se­condly, the mis­con­cep­tion that cricket is a no­ble game rich in gen­tle­manly con­duct and sports­man­ship, linked back to the days of the gentle sound of ball on wil­low ac­com­pa­nied by gentle clap­ping from the gen­tile crowd at the picket fenced vil­lage green.

Now we have the hal­lowed in­sti­tu­tion of cricket brought into open dis­re­pute – em­broiled in a cheating scan­dal that has united left-wing and right-wing me­dia and politi­cians in both de­nounc­ing the cheating, and call­ing for the pro­tag­o­nists to be given space, and a chance for redemp­tion. All whilst na­tional is­sues such as spi­ralling gov­ern­ment debt, wa­ter theft, and in­equal­ity re­main par­ti­san am­mu­ni­tion.

Go­ing full hy­per­bole, the cheating scan­dal has been de­scribed by the me­dia as “the dark­est day in Aus­tralian cricket” – con­ve­niently for­get­ting the Chappell un­der­arm bowl, the rebel tour of South Africa, match fix­ing and bet­ting ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, and var­i­ous bar­room and night­club in­ci­dents. Or the “dark­est day in Aus­tralian sport” – again con­ve­niently for­get­ting sanc­tioned per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing drug use, match fix­ing and bet­ting ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties, al­leged and proven in­ci­dents of rape, dam­aged ho­tels, and var­i­ous bar­room and night­club in­ci­dents.

The sym­bi­otic re­la­tion­ship be­tween the me­dia and the pub­lic means pro­fes­sional cricket will not be called out for what it is – a busi­ness. A big busi­ness.

Crick­et­ing Aus­tralia earned $637 mil­lion in the last two fi­nan­cial years, is sit­ting on over $130 mil­lion in cash, and has no debt. It also re­ceives over $4 mil­lion an­nu­ally in gov­ern­ment grants and pays no tax. Not bad for a ‘not for profit’ or­gan­i­sa­tion.

‘What’s the harm in that,’ you say – af­ter all, mil­lions of dol­lars are divvied out to state cricket as­so­ci­a­tions each year. Surely that is great for the grass­roots of the game.

That may be so, but how do you ex­plain Cricket Aus­tralia CEO James Suther­land be­ing both the Com­pany Sec­re­tary in the Noughties and from 2014-2015, and the CEO, the job of the Com­pany Sec­re­tary be­ing to ad­vise the CEO and the board on com­pli­ance with law and sign off on fi­nan­cial state­ments?

(No mis­con­duct is be­ing sug­gested, but it is not a good look.)

And how do you ex­plain Cricket Aus­tralia be­ing in breach of the Cor­po­ra­tions Act for fail­ing to file fi­nan­cial re­ports to ASIC within the re­quired time limit for the past three years?

Wit­ness the num­ber of Cricket Aus­tralia di­rec­tors and ex­ec­u­tives shrink­ing from 23 to 16 in the last decade, but their re­mu­ner­a­tion has risen from $1.9 mil­lion to $6.1 mil­lion. The Cricket Aus­tralia board is now thick with busi­ness elites from the boards of AGL, Wes­farm­ers and QAN­TAS. They have 20 ap­proved sports bet­ting ‘part­ners’.

What has this to do with the play­ers, coaches and ‘lead­er­ship group’?

One of the first re­sponses in the me­dia I heard from Cricket Aus­tralia af­ter the cheating was re­vealed was lament­ing the dam­age to me­dia rights the scan­dal will cause.

And this gets me to the root cause of the prob­lem (and that’s a sly ref­er­ence to English player Joe Root be­ing punched by David Warner in a ‘bar­room in­ci­dent’).

The boor­ish ‘win at all costs’ ag­gres­sive play­ing style has been the Aus­tralian team’s modus operandi for decades. The on-field sledg­ing was al­ways for­given by ad­min­is­tra­tors and the pub­lic as play­ing to win by play­ing hard. The ends jus­ti­fied the means. This man­i­fested into a team cul­ture that ex-coach Mickey Arthur de­scribed thus: “The play­ers, in many ways, were a law unto them­selves. When I pushed hard on is­sues on cul­ture, I was told by my su­pe­ri­ors to back off... it was a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment in which to try and re­set the cul­ture.”

The end of Mickey Arthur’s tenure as coach came af­ter the in­ci­dent where Warner punched Root, Arthur hav­ing been cas­ti­gated by James Suther­land for be­ing un­aware of one of his player’s fisticuffs in a pub at 1am. Arthur asked Suther­land if he should carry on hold­ing the player’s hand or take ac­tion – and was out of the job soon af­ter.

It is there­fore rea­son­able to ques­tion Cricket Aus­tralia’s com­mit­ment to chang­ing the team cul­ture – with Cricket Aus­tralia be­ing run with a busi­ness ethos and the elite play­ers be­ing treated as sa­cred, what is the mo­ti­va­tion for change? The play­ers are li­onised as role mod­els to ju­nior play­ers and the gen­eral pub­lic, and many go on to be­come Aus­tralian of the Year no less.

The Cricket Aus­tralia In­tegrity Unit charged with over­see­ing player con­duct, anti-cor­rup­tion and anti-dop­ing is­sues (call 1300 FAIRGAME if you are in­ter­ested – and yes that is the real num­ber) has done noth­ing to elim­i­nate or even dial down the ivory tower an­tics of the Aus­tralian team.

It would be too easy to say “if you leave by the sword you will die by the sword”. The team and ad­min­is­tra­tors how­ever are wil­fully my­opic to the long-term ef­fect their cul­ture has on the ‘spirit of the game’.

Surely it is pos­si­ble to be com­pet­i­tive with­out stoop­ing to the level of per­sonal at­tacks, sly shoul­der barg­ing and ‘lead­er­ship group’ sanc­tioned cheating?

The ‘lead­er­ship group’, by their name and ac­tions, don’t de­serve to hide be­hind the façade of good men who made a mis­take, and don’t de­serve any pub­lic sym­pa­thy. They will get through it; the me­dia are al­ready push­ing the redemp­tion sto­ries and spec­u­lat­ing when Warner and Smith will re­turn to the na­tional team. And we all know that the me­dia and pub­lic are swift to for­give sports­man – ex­cept for Adam Goodes.

Will this lat­est scan­dal trig­ger any mean­ing­ful change? No, I can’t see it hap­pen­ing.

As a teary David Warner said, “I have only ever wanted to bring glory to my coun­try by play­ing cricket.” If the way he, the team and the ad­min­is­tra­tion be­have is the ac­cepted stan­dard for achiev­ing na­tional glory, then it’s busi­ness as usual from here un­til stumps.

z Greg Smart lives and works in Dubbo, and is keen ob­server of cur­rent af­fairs.

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