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14 November 2018

Integrity and good governance – a lesson from Cricket Australia

High Performance Manager Pat Howard is the latest person to resign from Cricket Australia’s (CA) senior management team following a damning report into the governance and culture of Australian Cricket. Howard follows several departures from CA including Chief Executive James Sutherland in June, Chairman David Peever and Director Board Member Mark Taylor who both resigned at the beginning of this month. The mass exodus at CA comes as a result of a review undertaken by the Ethics Centre (the EC) which found CA was partly to blame for the ball tampering scandal that shook the world of cricket, and sport, in March this year. The scandal and subsequent report is said to have not only damaged the reputation of Australian cricket but of the country as a whole.

This article draws on the findings of this report and asks what lessons can be learned from the mistakes made by CA.

Background

The review by the EC was triggered by an incident in March of this year in which a junior member of the Australian team, Cameron Bancroft, was caught using sandpaper to ball-tamper in the 3rd test match against South Africa at Newlands. It later transpired that he had done so on the instruction of the Australian team’s “leadership group”, the members of which were unnamed but known to include  captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner.  Almost immediately, the ICC sanctioned Smith and Bancroft with a suspension and fine respectively. However, the incident was sufficiently high-profile for the Australian Prime Minister to become involved, calling David Peever and demanding that strong action be taken.  After a short investigation, CA found that Warner had been the instigator of the ball-tampering conducted by Bancroft, and that Smith had known about it.  All three were sent home from the tour, with CA banning Smith and Warner from all international and domestic cricket for twelve months, and Bancroft for nine months.  However, CA also launched a review into the “culture and conduct” of Australia’s professional cricket teams in response to the incident.

There is no doubt that the launch of that review was prompted by the criticism aimed at CA after the incident. The review condemned  CA’s handling of the incident itself, as well as for allowing a culture to develop in Australian cricket which has resulting in its players being widely regarded as boorish and arrogant and too often involved in incidences of poor behaviour.  The involvement of the Australian Prime Minister very clearly indicated that this culture and behaviour was seen as reflecting badly on the country as a whole. 

The Report

Last month, after a review lasting over six months, the EC produced a lengthy 147 page report and made a total of 42 recommendations for improving the integrity and culture of Australian cricket. Many of those recommendations are particular to Australian cricket and we will not cover them here.  However, it is worth noting the summary to the report, which states:

“Of all the physical attributes possessed by an elite cricketer, one of the most important is a refined sense of balance…Australian cricket has lost its balance … and has stumbled badly. The reputation of the game of cricket, as played by men, has been tainted...The leadership of CA should also accept responsibility for its inadvertent (but foreseeable) failure to create and support a culture in which the will-to-win was balanced by an equal commitment to moral courage and ethical restraint.”

Clearly, responsibility for the failings in Australian cricket that were exposed to the world at Newlands was considered by the EC to lie with CA and from that point the positions of much of the CA leadership became untenable, as was demonstrated by subsequent events.

What lessons can be learned:

From the many recommendations, there are some key lessons to be learned by sports governing bodies, and by individual sports administrators within those governing bodies, to avoid making the same mistakes and suffering the same consequences as those made and suffered by CA:

Good Structures

Many of the recommendations of the report focussed on ways in which CA could transform its structure to prevent future unethical practice and promote wider collaboration with the international cricket community. For example, recommendation 1 suggested establishing an ethics commission and an independent ethics commissioner to liaise directly with the chairman and CA board. Not only does an independent ethics committee prevent conflicts of interest in disciplinary issues, it serves as a valuable PR tool for outwardly addressing moral issues.

Other structural recommendations focussed on establishing better working relationships with key stakeholders and fan bases, to ensure that their opinions on how the sport can be better managed are considered. This recommendation is a reminder that any sport is only as strong as the support it receives from the public, generating current interest in the sport and protecting its future viability.

Good People

Many of the other recommendations related to the people controlling CA and the key figureheads of the sport in Australia. For players and managers in the sport, the EC suggested instigating leadership training and risk assessments in order to try to avoid future Australian cricket captains from being involved in scandals like that witnessed in March. The report also advised that CA senior management should receive training on communication skills and meet certain specified targets for greater diversity within its executive ranks. A transparent executive structure with a diverse range of individuals should lead to better decision-making, benefitting the participants and the wider audience.  It also helps to attract a more diverse audience to the sport.
Similarly, in order to establish ethical practices by the players, the report has emphasised the need for umpires to be protected and given stronger disciplinary powers.  Players are to be held accountable for poor behaviour including sledging, a well-known facet of the sport. Continuous abusive sledging is now to fall within the definition of harassment within CA’s Anti-Harassment Code.

Good Practices and Future Planning

A large proportion of the recommendations were about learning from mistakes made and rectifying the damage caused by poor decision-making. A key recommendation made was that CA and the Australian Cricketers’ Association commence a process by which they establish a constructive working relationship.  In this way, the participants in the sport should have a greater cognisance of their responsibilities to the sport as a whole, rather than just pursuing victories.  CA have commented that positive discussions are already underway.

CA have also agreed to change the way in which sporting medals, awards and bonus schemes are granted.  Player awards such as the Allan Border and Belinda Clark Medals should take into account individuals' on-field disciplinary record. It was noted that recent Allan Border medallists Smith and Warner also carried the highest number of behavioural sanctions among Australian players.

The EC have made many recommendations for international players to be more involved in domestic cricket. The report criticises the system in which the ‘elite’ players, often with financial privilege, enter the game at a young age through programs like Pathways. This experience is completely different from those participating in the bulk of the sport in Australia playing grade and state cricket. The EC believe the lack of participation in grade and state cricket has partly caused integrity issues in the Australian international teams, the blame for which lies with CA. Whilst CA have rejected recommendations allowing internationals to be excused from international duty for domestic cricket, it has at least acknowledged the seemingly disrespectful nature of its practices and will ‘consider’ ways of encouraging further participation in Sheffield Shield and Grade cricket. These recommendations link to those suggestions that CA should also reward players who contribute to the maintenance and development of grass-roots cricket.

Conclusion

While the report has been seen as a harsh and unforgiving attack by many and has led to a long list of casualties, it is also necessary to enact change in CA governance and begin to repair the damaged perceptions of Australian cricket.  For sporting bodies, the report acts as a useful guide when looking at its own governance. A transparent and diverse governance structure with independent ethics committees are likely to benefit the sport as a whole, by helping to prevent dishonourable practice. It also demonstrates that the upper echelons of the governing body are not afraid to face scrutiny and hold themselves accountable. This has to be the first step in attempting to restore confidence in the sport.  Furthermore, ensuring that those controlling the sport such as referees, umpires and executives are given strong enough powers to discipline clubs and players is vital to cleaning up the sport and creating an inclusive and enjoyable environment. Sporting bodies should also welcome measures, which reward ethical practice within the sport including contributing to the ‘grass roots’ of the sport. Conveying the right message at an early stage is often the best prevention and in doing so, the standard of play is likely to be enhanced, which should attract more fans in the years to come.

The review conducted by the EC and the subsequent recommendations are undoubtedly helpful in seeking to repair the damage that has been done to the sport but also to the CA brand. However, reviews of this nature are necessarily reactive and a number of the recommendations highlight the importance of proactive measures when protecting the integrity of not only cricket but any sport.

What this story also clearly demonstrates is that when faced with an integrity issue that threatens to undermine the veracity and the reputation of a sport, the early decisions taken in a crisis setting are critical and will often determine the legal, reputational and financial outcomes.

The wider lesson for sport is that “prevention is better than cure” and with the necessary proactive approach to developing and implementing a sports specific integrity strategy many crises can be avoided and/or mitigated. As integrity assumes even greater importance in modern sport, an effective integrity strategy incorporating all relevant and necessary safeguards, standards and training will be key. Central to this strategy must be a whole sports approach based on a culture of “doing the right thing” at all levels and at all times.

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This article was written by Danielle Sharkey and Sam Saunders. For more information please contact Danielle on +44 (0)20 7438 2244 or at danielle.sharkey@crsblaw.com.

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