An independent review into Australian cricket has delivered a scathing report on the governance of the sport, concluding a “win without counting the cost” culture was at the heart of a cheating scandal that shocked the nation.
It recommends handing umpires the power to send off badly behaved players, reforming the system of performance bonuses and lobbying global cricket administrators to focus on good sportsmanship, as well as winning.
The review was commissioned by Cricket Australia, the governing body, following a ball tampering scandal in South Africa in March, which forced the resignation of captain Steve Smith and vice-captain David Warner. It concluded that the incident, when an Australian player used sandpaper on the ball to gain an unfair advantage, was not an “aberration” but part of the “prevailing culture of men’s cricket in Australia”.
The report found Cricket Australia was perceived as “arrogant” and “controlling” while players lived in a “gilded bubble”, separated for much of the year from families, friends and the grounding influence of community. It criticised the normalisation of verbal abuse, known as sledging, that pervades Australian men’s cricket, saying it created a culture of disrespect for the opposition.
“They [players] see themselves as being part of a machine that is fine-tuned for the sole purpose of winning,” said the review, Australian Cricket: A Matter of Balance.
“In the worst cases, players are called upon . . . ‘to play the mongrel’. Some players may have natural affinity for playing such a role. However, the cost of playing such a role is that they risk becoming such a person.”
The cheating scandal in South Africa prompted a public backlash in Australia, where cricket holds a cherished position in the nation’s culture. Mr Smith and Mr Warner received one-year bans, a third player, Cameron Bancroft, received a nine-month ban and coach Darren Lehmann resigned, following the incident.
The review, which was conducted by the Ethics Centre, a non-governmental organisation based in Sydney, drew parallels with the banking culture in Australia, where widespread misconduct was uncovered in a public inquiry.
“The remuneration policies of business have been notoriously effective in driving a ‘win at all costs’ performance culture that has seen fees levied from dead people and for services never provided. That a financial institution ‘robbed the dead’ is as unthinkable as an Australian cricket player taking sandpaper on to the field of play — and has prompted a similar response from the Australian public,” said the report.
The review said the drive for performance in the banking and finance world had been relentless and lacked ethical restraint. It concluded that Cricket Australia had failed to focus to an equivalent degree on building and sustaining a capacity for ethical restraint among individuals and the organisation as a whole.
The review makes 42 recommendations, including asking leadership of Cricket Australia to accept its share of responsibility for the circumstances that gave rise to the ball-tampering incident in South Africa — not as a matter of direct, personal culpability but as a demonstration of responsible leadership and accountability.
David Peever, Cricket Australia chairman, said he accepted responsibility for what happened in South Africa and was confident the organisation was positioned to move on.
“We probably didn’t put as much emphasis as we should have on the spirit of the game, the game’s ethos,” he said.
Other recommendations included reforming the performance bonus system for Australian players to ensure financial incentives focused on building grassroots cricket and strengthening ties with fans and sponsors.
Main proposals of the independent report
The review commissioned by Cricket Australia advised the following:
• Set up an ethics committee to hold cricketers and administrators to account
• Honours, such as the Allan Border medal, should take into account character and behaviour
• Umpires can exclude players for sledging after one warning
• National team’s performance bonus — linked to wins and world rankings — should be converted into a payment recognising work with grassroots cricket, fans and sponsors
• Cricket Australia must accept its share of responsibility for the South African ball tampering scandal
• Selectors to take account of a player’s character as well as their skills as a cricketer in selections
• Cricket Australia to engage with the International Cricket Council to promote high ethical standards in the global game