- BUSINESS REPORT
JOHANNESBURG - During my career I had the privilege to serve overseas with the Australian Federal Police in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, two cricket loving nations.
I am not a cricket follower, so I was at a disadvantage as everyone I met wanted to talk about cricket. The AFP ran training courses in Pakistan and to promote goodwill amongst the Pakistani participants and training centre managers, it was customary to offer gifts of appreciation. While other foreign law enforcement agencies operating in Pakistan would present official plaques, cups and, pens; the AFP would hand out gifts of Australian cricket memorabilia.
These gifts from the Australians were like gold and proudly cherished by each receiver. More so if they had been signed by an Australian cricket player or the whole team. Doors opened for us, when anything of a cricket nature was offered. Cricket is like a religion on the Indian subcontinent. I remember telling a group of course participants from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh how much I hated cricket.
There was dead silence. A pin could be heard if it dropped. I had committed sporting blasphemy. And nothing united that group more than their desire to convert me to the game!
And in the parks and streets of Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore in Pakistan and Colombo and Galle in Sri Lanka, children could be seen playing cricket. All of them wanting to be as good their countryman and better than the Australians.
Australians were admired not just because of their cricket skill, but for their honesty and sense of fair play. Australians were not seen as being corrupt or cheats. Australians could be trusted. People admired what we stood for. That image also rubbed off on all Australians overseas whether associated with cricket or not. It helped businesses build relationships and grow.
Sadly, that image of Australia which has been built into a marketable brand, is now damaged. And damaged badly. I am a consultant. And when negotiating with clients I give them straight advice. I sugar coat nothing. I remind them that I am like a cancer specialist and you the client has cancer. I tell them they will need surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy to survive. They are not going to like it. It will make them sick and will be unpleasant but they have to hear it and undergo it to get better. Otherwise, find someone else.
The brand Cricket Australia is sick. How sick will depend on what action the organisation takes now. But let’s be clear here about the issue confronting cricket. No sugar coating allowed. The incident is referred to as ball tampering. The objective in ball tampering is no different to the objective a sports person tries to achieve when they use performance enhancing drugs. When an instrument used in sport, is altered in any way to improve its performance and/or the performance of a player, it is fraud. And if it is undertaken for personal gain, either directly or indirectly, by any person it amounts to corruption.
Cricket Australia (CA) needs to send a strong message here that sport fraud will not be tolerated. In Australian government service, employees caught engaging in fraud or serious misconduct are dealt with firmly. They are sacked. In addition to any criminal charge they may face. CA should sack all players and support staff who were involved in the ball tampering incident. Suspending any player or official is not enough. It sends the wrong message. And that is you can engage in serious inappropriate behaviour and still have a job at the end of the day. No, they cannot. Sacking the culprits would also restore Australian cricket prestige on the international stage and send a signal to all players, supporters and coaching staff that CA does not compromise on standards.
Then CA should look at its own governance. In particular the messages it sends or doesn’t send when there are clear indicators that something is wrong with team and game culture. I am talking about the incidents of sledging. In any other occupation, sledging would be work place harassment or bullying. CA has allowed it to occur. And while Australians are not alone in the practice, being the best in the world means being exemplary in everything, including ethical and fair behaviour, on and off the field.
One message channel CA should immediately look at is its own website.
Under integrity is recorded “We are proactive in protecting cricket from threats”. It goes on to identify those threats as being from doping, match-fixing and other activities that may undermine the integrity of its competitions and the game of cricket”, which is the responsibility of the Integrity Unit to prevent. Reference is made to the Integrity Unit’s responsibility for CA’s anti-corruption program; CA’s anti-doping and illicit substance programs; player conduct issues, and salary cap and player contracting issues.
Nowhere on the website can a code of conduct be found. Having a code of conduct is important. It spells out from the perspective of senior managers and the organisation what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. If a code of conduct does exist, it would be interesting to see what it says about sledging or ball tampering. A code of conduct should be displayed prominently on the CA website and every player, coach, support staff and CA employee and manager must be trained in it and certify they understand it and will comply with it.
Another weakness in CA Governance is the absence of a whistle blower policy. While any person who has an integrity issue to report is encouraged to contact a hotline or email, details of which are provided; that is not good enough.
A whistle blower policy should also be displayed to the public and outline how complaints will be handled and by whom and identify clearly that any person reporting information will be protected by CA. Again, every player, coach and CA employee and manager must be made aware of the policy. And it should be reinforced along with the code of conduct before any overseas deployment by an Australian cricket team, particularly to a country with a high risk of corruption.
Being booed onto a field by a jealous crowd because you are the best in the world is a badge of honour. But being booed because you are a cheat, is a disgrace. The ball tampering incident has tarnished Australians everywhere. Only swift and firm action by Cricket Australia will restore confidence with supporters, game officials, financial backers and the cricketing public.
Chris Douglas is the Director of Malkara Consulting Pty Ltd.
The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.