Culture review paints a complex picture
Focus on winning without counting the cost and an assumption that spirit of cricket would simply endure deemed a 'fundamental mistake' in review process
29 October 2018, 06:38 PM AEST
The confronting picture painted by the independent review into the culture of top-level cricket in Australia is one of an administration perceived as arrogant and dictatorial, and a national men's team the public felt had grown petulantly aggressive and was not held to account.
What has emerged with less clarity from the independent scrutiny to which CA voluntarily subjected itself is to what extent the former might have influenced the latter.
Rather like the playing group that met its charter by routinely winning trophies, but increasingly lost the affection of fans by achieving those outcomes with a snarl rather than a smile, the 145-page report authored by the Sydney-based Ethics Centre fairly bristles with conflicts.
Most obviously, there's the animosity between Cricket Australia and the Australian Cricketers' Association that found its fiercest expression in last year's acrimonious Memorandum of Understanding negotiations, the wounds from which remain raw.
The report characterises the animosity the players' union feels toward CA as "extreme", and noted that the aggression shown by the men's team on-field is often replicated by CA in its off-field dealings.
It also suggested that the heated debate that accompanied the MOU agreement saw an opportunity missed for the two opposing parties to "to put their ethics into practice for the good of the game".
And that the outcome of that process, which saw the players maintain their guaranteed share of agreed CA revenue over the next five-year cycle, "may have reinforced a sense of entitlement amongst players".
Then there's the disconnect between CA and state and territory associations – most notably Victoria, and to a lesser extent South Australia – which feel that head office too often rides roughshod over their autonomy and ambitions.
The CA culture is also portrayed as bullying in a number of cited instances, which has led to calls for the administration to include explicit prohibitions against such behaviour in its policy framework and subject board members to the organisation's internal Code of Conduct.
Against this febrile backdrop, current and former players have revealed a raft of grievances with the treatment received, and the expectations generated by CA's management and staff.
As well as by its existing high-performance program, by the national selectors, by commercial pressures, and even by perceptions held within their own supporter base.
"Fans love the fact we're winning," one unnamed current player is quoted as saying in the report released today in response to the ball-tampering shame that engulfed Australia's men's team last March.
"Some may complain about the way we're winning, but nowhere near as many who complain when we're not winning."
Another player noted: "If you can get away with it, you do it … winning is everything. Suddenly we have a culture problem – we didn't have one when we were winning!".
The perceptions laid bare by the review are both revealing and recurrent.
The view that emerged of CA from the more than 450 current and former players, CA, state and territory association staff Australia-wide, board members, the ACA, umpires, sponsors and media was that CA does not live by its corporate values.
And that its conduct is perceived as "arrogant" and "controlling", with a failure to listen to dissenting voices or to ignore those messages when they do.
At the same time, the way in which Australia's men's team is viewed and valued was cited as a theme by a number of respondents.
In particular, on-field behaviour that too often degenerated into "abusive sledging" contrary to the concept of fair play and disrespectful to opponents and umpires – which also went unpunished by CA – was seen as a precursor to the events that unfolded at Newlands.
Which the report succinctly summarises as: "A senior player, David Warner, led a more junior player, Cameron Bancroft, to apply sandpaper to the ball in order to induce swing.
"The captain of the Australian side, Steve Smith, set aside his suspicions and turned a blind eye to conduct that was, by any measure, outright cheating."
To prescribe that event as aberration or a sudden 'brain snap' by a handful of players would be a mistake, the report warns.
Rather, it was a product of forces that had built over a number of years during which the primacy of Australia's men's team was seen to underpin the game's financial wellbeing, where commercial decisions held cricket's spirit captive, and players saw themselves as commodities being exploited as much as celebrated.
"We have spoken with players who are reluctant to challenge the errant behaviour of their team-mates – just in case it puts them off their game and leads to a loss," the report, overseen by Ethics Centre Director Dr Simon Longstaff, reveals.
"We have seen evidence that the structures built around elite cricket are oriented to winning, without properly counting the cost."
Yet the review also makes clear that any attempt to explain the culture and the circumstances that led to sandpaper being taken on to the field to change the condition of the ball is complex, and does not lend itself to an obvious narrative of good or evil.
There are elements within the game for which CA received positive endorsement, among them the increased investments in women's and grassroots cricket, innovations including the men's and women's Big Bash Leagues and day-night Test matches, and the marketing of cricket across the board.
The scope of the sanctions imposed upon Smith, Warner and Bancroft – as well as those applied to CA staff who transgressed – were also seen as creditable, while the overall response to the incident at Newlands was described as "exemplary".
However, the report detailed a longer list of negatives that included CA's continued tolerance for the men's team's poor behaviour, its own decision-making style described variously as arrogant, controlling, conservative and bureaucratic, an absence of diversity in its board and senior management structures, and its role in cricket's commercialisation.
That final criticism was also cited as the reason why – in addition to delivering unprecedented riches for the game and its highest-profile exponents – in the eyes of many CA has lost sight of the game's value but sharpened an acute understanding of its price.
"CA do not enjoy being challenged by commercial sponsors, players and other stakeholders. Not very inclusive of other ideas outside their bubble," an unnamed Australia player noted in a submission to the review.
Another former player observed: "CA has become about numbers/commercial and have lost connection with the human element of what they are charged to steward.
"Relationships have become secondary to the 'deal' whatever that might be and therefore the spirit of the game gets lost."
But it was not only the administration that seemingly came adrift from its foundations.
The entitled environment in which Australia's men's team came to exist was described in the report as a 'gilded bubble' in which they – as well as coaches and support staff – are bestowed "wealth and privilege" that bears little resemblance to cricket's roots.
Or, indeed, the real world.
This, in turn, was cited among potential reasons for a lack of "emotional maturity" and "worldly perspective" among players who are coddled within the bubble from the time they are identified as a major talent at junior level.
The genesis for the confluence of these and other events identified as contributing to the culture that existed at the time of the ill-tempered, ill-fated South Africa tour was the previous round of reviews, conducted in 2011 after the first Ashes series loss at home in 25 years.
A key finding of the Argus Report into the team's performance that was complemented by the Crawford/Carter review of CA's governance contained an instructive clause that was – ironically, in retrospect – crafted to strengthen and enhance team culture.
"What we want to see is a hunger to play, a hunger to improve, a hunger to win and a hunger to be the best in the world," that document trumpeted.
Seven years on, the next major review of Australia cricket in the shadow of a national stain indicated that it was an unchecked appetite to triumph that led the game to a far darker place.
The product not so much of a 'win at all costs' culture, but rather a 'win without counting the cost' as the Ethics Centre report explains.
"CA seems to have simply assumed that the core values and principles of cricket would generate the ethical restraint needed to offset the focus on competition – and that this self-correcting aspect of the game would apply automatically and without the investment of any special effort or skill," the review found.
"This was CA's fundamental mistake."