Baggy Greens and Blue Suits

5 March 2019

“The bourgeoisie has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

– Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto

You might well need a Foxtel subscription to notice, but a spectre is haunting Australian cricket–the spectre of capitalism.

Cricket, a once universally accessible national pastime, is now the plaything of ‘high performance managers’, big money corporate sponsors and empty managerial suits. Fans that watch on through baffling TV rights deals, scheduling decisions, and team selections are confronted with a simple reality. The baggy green belongs not to us, but to them.

The geographical heart of our game is no longer the beach, the backyard or even the turf cricket pitch, but wide-windowed, air-conditioned board rooms. Cricket in this country has been, to use Marx’s phrase, drowned in capitalism’s proverbial icy waters.

Few fans would be able to pick Cricket Australia (CA) CEO Kevin Roberts out of a line-up of blue-suited, middle-aged white men, and fewer still board chairman Earl Eddings. Roberts’ first-class cricket career lasted just 23 games, and his previous tenure as CA Chief Operating Officer oversaw the bitter pay dispute with the Australian Cricketers Association, and the ‘arrogant and controlling’ corporate culture within which the infamous ‘sandpaper-gate’ took place. Eddings is a former Victorian cricket administrator and the Managing Director of a financial risk management firm. For all the talk about transparency and accountability to the public, Cricket Australia’s administrative hierarchy is perfectly circular–administrator answers to administrator answer to administrator.

Under the tight grip of mega-corporation Cricket Australia, our game has been turned into one big market. A corporation exists only to be profitable and sets its priorities accordingly; lengthening the Shield season, trimming down the Big Bash, and keeping all TV coverage free to air is best for the health of the game, but so long as it reduces the bottom line, Cricket Australia will continue to defy experts and pundits alike. As Marx argued, there is no room for sentiment or service in the cold waters of “egotistical calculation”, just “naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation”.

There is, however, something even more fundamental at stake than season lengths and broadcast deals. In What Money Can’t BuyHarvard philosophy professor Michael Sandel argues that, contrary to standard economic belief, markets are not morally neutral, but rather “express and promote certain attitudes to the goods being exchanged”. In short, a market does not just distribute a good, but reflects that good’s moral value; is it a commodity that can be bought or sold, or a public good to be preserved, cherished and shared?

You don’t have to be a socialist, or even politically engaged, to believe that cricket belongs in the latter category, not the former. Cricket should not be the property of Cricket Australia, Kevin Roberts, or any faceless blue suit. It belongs not to a subset of this country, but to the country as a whole.

Nationalising Cricket Australia would be an easy and effective lifeline. A publicly owned board, voted annually by registered CA members, would oversee all aspects of the game–marketing, scheduling, team selection, ticket pricing and organisation of grassroots leagues. Membership, through a simple online registration, would be free.

Australian cricket, like much in this country, prides itself on its egalitarian spirit, a rough and earthy reimagination of the English elite’s once exclusive pastime. Within underdog stories like Bradman’s, the kid from Cootamundra who perfected his craft with a stump and a golf-ball, we see aspects of not just ourselves, but our collective national identity.

But until power in our national game is wrested away from vested monetary interests, our egalitarian project will remain incomplete. To reappropriate one final Marx quote, in reclaiming what is rightfully ours, the cricket proletariat has nothing to lose but our chains.

Revolution beckons.

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