The Player Dispute – explained.

There’s something instinctively dull, disinteresting and disappointing about off-field disputes in sport, especially when they involve administrators. It’s perfectly understandable – the reason we follow sport, after all, is to escape the real world.

But in the case of South African cricket and the toxic relationship between the country’s professional players and their national bosses, the mess is about to become unavoidable for the audience, if it hasn’t already done so.

The latest of many fires to burn within the game concerns the non-payment of the relatively small amount of R2.4 million to the players trust administered by the SA Cricketers Association (SACA) for the use of players image rights during the first edition of the Mzansi Super League last year.

The agreement between CSA and SACA was signed by the chief executives of both bodies, Thabang Moroe and Tony Irish. SACA issued a detailed press release in which they provided a series of dates on which their attempts to communicate and seek payment had been ignored.

Moroe said he wasn’t aware the money hadn’t been paid and suspended his three most senior staff pending an investigation. SACA say that COO Nassei Appiah, Acting Director of Cricket, Corrie van Zyl and Sales and Sponsorship Manager, Clive Eksteen, weren’t authorised to make the payment but had expressed their keenness to get it done.

So, if Moroe signed the deal and was the only one who could authorise payment, how could he not know it hadn’t been paid? And if he really didn’t know the deadline for payment had passed, and hadn’t seen any of the reminders sent by SACA, or the memos by van Zyl or Eksteen, why is he the CEO of a billion Rand business?

In the SACA statement, they rewind their relationship with Moroe to 2018 when he was still ‘acting’ CEO. Again, they list a series of deadlines which CSA and Moroe missed and correspondence which they ignored. All of which were in breach of the MOU which exists between the bodies. Then SACA officials were ‘uninvited’ to various committees (including the Cricket Committee) at which their place was guaranteed in the MOU.

SACA say there has been a systematic policy driven by Moroe to marginalise the players and give them as little say as possible in their own industry and careers. CSA and Moroe say this is not the case – but have not responded to any specifics.

Six months ago CSA unilaterally announced a complete restructuring of the domestic game with the 15-year-old, six-team Franchise format being disbanded in favour of a return to the old 12-team Provincial system. The MOU specifically stipulates that any change to the game which might materially affect the players cannot take place without “proper consultation.”

CSA say the restructure will save money. SACA point out that around 70 of their members will lose their livelihoods but also have doubts that the running costs of the new system will, actually, be less expensive logistically. They have asked to see plans for how the new structure will run and have drawn another blank.

Also stipulated in the MOU is SACA’s right to be consulted and included in the financial affairs of CSA. So desperate are SACA to implement the terms of the MOU (it is the players welfare, after all), that they filed a High Court application to have the restructure plans over-turned and force CSA to answer their concerns about the financial health of the organisation.

About a year ago CSA’s own budgets forecast a deficit of R654million in the next two years but then revised that down to around R300million. SACA believe that is not possible with a certain downturn in television revenue with the Proteas playing less international cricket than ever before during that period and with the MSL costing the organisation around R100million per tournament.

So where are we heading? SACA is stronger than ever and enjoys the unequivocal support of its members. They have an inspirational and determined president in Omphile Ramela who will not be deterred from his mission to seek the truth. He is equally determined to thwart any attempts to divide the players along racial lines. Sadly, there have been a few already and more are predicted.

The days of players keeping their heads down and doing as they are told are long gone. Supporters don’t buy tickets, satellite subscriptions or pay license fees to watch administrators, they do so to watch players.

The current impasse isn’t even a ‘power struggle’. Yet. The players, through SACA, aren’t making new demands. They are simply asking for their employers to honour the terms of the agreement they first signed 14 years ago and which was, eventually, re-signed two years ago.

The players trust in their employers is now wafer-thin, if it exists at all. There has been no attempt by CSA to rebuild it and no willingness to end the bad blood and alienation felt by their most important assets. It explains why more players than ever have sought careers elsewhere.

At some stage, possibly soon, it seems inevitable that some, perhaps many, maybe even all cricketers will decide it’s not worth their while playing under current circumstances and the current regime.

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