The Twenty20 challenge

Published 11 January 2013 By: James Welch

The Twenty20 challenge

Although Twenty20 cricket has changed cricket forever the commercialisation of the game began over 30 years ago when Kerry Packer started a transformation of cricket that is still underway today. World Series Cricket (WSC) was a breakaway professional cricket competition staged between 1977 and 1979. It was organised by Kerry Packer for his Australian television network, Nine Network. WSC decided to place a greater emphasis on one-day cricket including the staging of day night matches.

The two main factors which caused the formation of WSC was the widespread view that players were not paid sufficient amounts to make a living from cricket, and that Packer wished to secure the exclusive broadcasting rights to Australian cricket, then held by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). The matches ran in opposition to established international cricket. WSC drastically changed the nature of cricket, and its influence continues to be felt today. Although the WSC rebellion lasted only 17 months, ending with a compromise between Kerry Packer and the authorities the forward thinking of Kerry Packer began the transformation.

The rise of the Twenty20 game has led to the globalisation of cricket. This has resulted in huge investments into the game through the world by governing bodies setting up domestic Twenty20 tournaments. This happened first in the Indian Premier League (IPL), followed by Twenty20 competitions being set up in all of Australia, New Zealand, England, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh with tournaments being talked about in Pakistan, West Indies and America.

This development of Twenty20 has resulted in a shift in who controls the game. Although the International Cricket Council (ICC) is the international governing body of cricket and is responsible for the organisation and governance of cricket's major international tournaments it does not govern domestic cricket in member countries which is the responsibility of the individual boards. The ICC has 106 members which compromise of 10 Full Members that play official Test matches, 36 Associate Members, and 60 Affiliate Members. However, certain members have greater influence and power due to the popularity of cricket in the different countries.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), businessmen in India, the US, and elsewhere are all seeking to establish new audiences for the game and create new marketing opportunities on a global scale. The ICC and each full member has a difficult task in managing the game as it develops throughout the world with so many parties vying for their share of the action.

These opportunities have brought a number of threats which have come from the rapid growth of the game. This has resulted in tensions between boards, governing bodies, franchises, clubs, players and the different formats of the game that exist. With so many differing parties involved in the expansion of the game a number of disputes and legal issues have arisen around the world.


Recent Issues

We only need to look back to recent times to see the dangers resulting from the expansion of the game and the involvement of those intent on making money regardless of the effect on this great sport.

In addition to the Twenty20 competitions there have also been various one off matches such as the multi-million dollar Stanford challenge matches staged in the West Indies in 2008. The tournament collapsed following the arrest (and subsequent conviction) of Allen Stanford for fraud and the ending of relationships between Stanford and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).

In Toronto, at the end of October with the assistance of the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations (FICA which is an organisation that co-ordinates the activities of all the national players' associations that represent professional cricketers) a number of international cricketers have initiated legal proceedings against Kat Rose Custom Designs Inc (Kat Rose), a promotions company incorporated in Ontario, Canada, following the failure of Kat Rose to pay 16 players for their participation in this year's Cricket All Star T20 Match, held on May 12, 2012 in Toronto, an event approved by Cricket Canada.

"We are incredibly disappointed and distressed by the lack of professionalism of the Kat Rose organization," noted Tim May, chief executive officer, FICA. "The players fulfilled their contractual obligations and are now each left out-of-pocket to the tune of several thousand dollars of their own money. How can anyone in good conscience conduct business this way?"

Affected players who are taking this action against Kat Rose include Sanath Jayasariya, Saqlain Mushtaq, Kyle Mills, Jacob Oram, Mark Boucher, Devon Smith, Tino Best and Zimbabwean captain Brendan Taylor.

Many domestic Twenty20 competitions have also had their problems. The Bangladesh Premier League has had a number of well publicised issues in relation to payments and accusations of match fixing. FICA has initiated legal proceedings against the Bangladesh Cricket Board (BCB) and the franchises involved in the Bangladesh Premier League (BPL) following the failure to pay players. The first edition of the BPL ended in February but, despite repeated assurances and deadlines, many players and mainly local players have yet to receive full payment. As a result FICA has instructed lawyers in Dhaka to file a claim against the relevant franchises and the BCB.

"This is a black and white matter," Tim May, the chief executive of FICA said. "It was stipulated by contract how much the players would be paid and the date by which they would receive payment. It was also stipulated that, if the franchises couldn't pay, then the BCB would act as guarantors and would make the payments.

The IPL has also had its fair share of problems and although I will not go into the detail the BCCI has been embroiled in one court case after another ever since it decided to suspend Lalit Modi as IPL chairman.

With the rights to Twenty20 competitions being sold to companies to manage tournaments such as in Bangladesh where the Bangladesh Cricket Board sold the rights to the competition to an Indian company and franchises were sold to individual companies it is very difficult to ensure transparency, good governance and compliance by all the parties involved. With so many parties vying for shares in the expansion of these tournaments the likes of the FICA and the Professional Cricketers Association have a very difficult job in protecting the best interests of the players they represent.


English Cricket

In contrast the English game is in relatively good shape and well run by the ECB. There have been suggestions about having a franchise or city based Twenty20 competition (such as the Big Bash in Australia) rather than the standard county Twenty20 competition. This would obviously revamp the competition but it is always going to be difficult to compete with the IPL given the audiences and popularity of cricket in India. It's also worth noting that the BCCI prohibit the majority of their players from taking part in other competitions which keeps the huge Indian cricket audience largely focussed on their own competition.

The majority of counties are struggling financially and are all trying to find ways of improving their position. Therefore there would be huge objection if a city based franchised system was introduced. If a revamp is brought in by the ECB it is likely to be a model that can benefit all counties. The ECB has always looked to protect each format of the game and each competition. Players can benefit from this structure and develop their careers along traditional lines and, at the same, time participate in the Twenty20 competitions around the world. Of course there will always be tensions and conflicts and top players who feel that their earnings potential is not being realized, for example by not being given the opportunity to play in the IPL.

As we saw most recently with Kevin Pietersen and England that tension and conflict will arise due to the earning potential of certain players. Unlike the majority of other sports or in the majority of other professions a player in this country could have a number of short term contracts with franchises or clubs around the world together with a 12 months contract with the ECB or their county. This can obviously result in tensions where the main employer refuses permission for a player to take part in these competitions if there are scheduling conflicts. On the whole however the ECB have managed to bring about a structure which is more successful than most in world cricket. The recent test series win in India also goes to show that focussing so heavily on Twenty20 cricket may not be the route that is most beneficial to the game as a whole in this country.

In conclusion, there are some important aspects to be considered going ahead to protect not only the game of cricket but the development of Twenty20 cricket. It is highly consumer driven and many different bodies are looking to exploit the opportunities to make the most of them. As I explained above this has inevitably resulted in leagues sprouting everywhere, most of them organised by boards independently or jointly with other parties. These leagues still have to work out sustainable financial models to guarantee their continuity with even the high-powered IPL, with the clout of the BCCI behind it, having had a chequered existence so far. With these difficulties still to overcome we are bound to see more conflicts between the parties involved over the coming years.


James Welch

James Welch

James is an associate at Quantum Law LLP specialising in employment law and sports. James is a registered agent with the Professional Cricketers Association and the Rugby Football Union and a Registered Lawyer with the FA.

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