Drugs, cash and BEE

“You have chosen cricket as your professional career. Let us tell you a little more about it…” For the last ten days that was the opening line from Cricket South Africa’s Vince van der Bijl and SA Cricketers’ Association chief executive Tony Irish as they embarked on a countrywide tour of all six Franchises.

Ever since the beginning of time men have played cricket because they love the game. Well, ever since the beginning of cricket time, anyway.

Initially only a tiny number of men actually made a living from the game – they did so by ‘owning’ their team and betting against other team ‘owners’. As the sums wagered increased, team owners felt the need to incentivise their best players so they offered them sides of beef, crates of beer and, occasionally, even cash. Despite what you may be told about the 1950s, cricket professionalism actually started about a hundred years before that.

These days you’ll struggle to find a first-class cricketer anywhere in the world who doesn’t make his living from the game yet it is equally common for those players to understand almost nothing about what it means to be professional other than what number is reflected in their pay cheque at the end of the month. Van der Bijl (CSA) and Irish (SACA) sought to put that right.
The 100 or so professional cricketers in South Africa were told about the anti-doping measures which exist in their profession. Most had no idea of what constituted a banned substance (other than marijuana and other ‘recreational’ drugs!).

They were told how cricket generates its money from marketing, advertising, promotions, television rights and imaging rights. For some players, it was a more a case of being told what marketing and ‘rights’ are, let alone how they work.

It was explained to them that a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) existed between SACA, CSA and the Franchises which seeks, before the end of the year, to complete the restructuring of the administration of the entire game in South Africa which would see the players benefit directly if the game itself is robust and healthy.
Adapting the Australian model to suit South Africa, the professional players would ‘own’ a fixed percentage of the annual revenue generated by CSA and would, therefore, be incentivised to do everything possible to maximise that revenue. Even if that just means signing an autograph in a restaurant or being polite to an irritable waiter because everybody would be seen as a potential ticket buyer, and every 20 cents of every rand generated would be split by the players.

They were told exactly how the High Performance programme works and what its goals are.

No prizes for guessing which subject was amongst the hottest amongst the players themselves. Transformation. Cricketers of all races, creeds and colours wanted to know the difference between targets and quotas and they wanted to know how long they would be applicable.
I didn’t attend any of the meetings so I can’t quote directly, but, having spoken to some of the players who were there, the gist of what Van der Bijl and Irish said was this: ‘Cricket is a national game and a national industry and, as such, is subject to the same BEE requirements as any other business or industry. Why shouldn’t it be? Franchise teams will have a target of four black players in every team selected and there is a clear understanding that any reason given for not reaching that target will have to be as compelling as an aircraft crash or erupting volcano. The national team also has a target of four black players but will not be as strongly compelled to reach that target.’

The overwhelming message to the professional players was simple: ‘We are a national game and we should be proud to play our part in transforming our country. Buy into it and get used to the idea that the situation is not going to change any time soon.’

Those who can’t or won’t ‘buy into it’ are free to leave, of course, and the subject of English county cricket and the signing of ‘Kolpak’ contracts was also a hot topic of discussion. It was explained that such contracts did not preclude players from selection to the national team – rather, it was the other way around. If selected for the national team it would be difficult to return to county cricket on the same terms.

Van der Bijl and Irish both conceded that CSA and SACA were “fighting economic gravity” as far as potential earnings were concerned in England and South Africa. So much so that it’s not just the 30-somethings (Ackerman, Klusener, Benkenstein etc) who are settling for a golden handshake in the autumn of their careers. The recent news that SA’s under-19 World Cup wicket keeper, Craig Kieswetter, was on the verge of signing a long-term contract with Somerset confirmed that South Africa’s playing fields are ripe for the harvesting.
The new structure of South African cricket will, hopefully, ensure that there is more money for the players – perhaps even enough to keep the best players in the country.

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