Scott Morrison is facing new questioning over the sports rorts affair, after former cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie issued a statement denying she had made last-minute changes to a list of grants.
Evidence to a Senate estimate committee from the Audit Office this week reinforced allegations the Prime Minister’s Office – which exchanged numerous emails with McKenzie’s office during the $100 million grants process – was more deeply involved than Morrison has admitted. He has sought to portray its role as just passing on representations.
McKenzie, then sports minister and the decision-maker for the program, signed off on a list of grants on April 4 2019, and she sent this to the Prime Minister’s Office on April 10.
But in an email from McKenzie’s office to Sport Australia early on April 11, the day the election was called, one project was taken off the list and one added. According to the Audit Office’s evidence, this change was at the request of the PMO. This email was sent minutes after the parliament was dissolved.
Several hours later, with the government in caretaker mode, one project was removed and nine added, in another email from McKenzie’s office to Sport Australia. The Audit evidence about these was that “none were evident as being at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office rather than the minister’s office”.
In her statement, McKenzie said she had “become aware” through the Senate estimates process this week “of changes made to a Ministerial decision brief that I signed in Canberra on 4 April 2019” for the final round of the program.
“The brief authorised approved projects for the third round – this included nine new and emerging projects which, it must be emphasised, had been identified and sent to Sport Australia in March for assessment in line with program guidelines.
“I did not make any changes or annotations to this brief or its attachments after 4 April 2019. My expectation was that the brief would be processed in a timely and appropriate manner,” she said.
“Nevertheless, changes were made and administrative errors occurred in processing the brief.
“I have always taken responsibility for my actions and decisions as a Minister, and this includes actions by my office.
“I was the Minister for Sport and therefore ultimately and entirely responsible for funding decisions that were signed off under my name, including and regrettably, any changes that were made unbeknown to me.”
When a reporter tried to ask Morrison about the McKenzie statement at his Friday news conference, which was about the coronavirus, he cut her off before she could get her words out. He finished the news conference without taking questions on general issues.
McKenzie is due to appear before the Senate committee that is examining the sports rorts affair.
The Audit Office found she had allocated grants on a politically skewed basis, but she and Morrison have always defended the substance of the decisions made.
She was forced to resign from cabinet on the more technical ground she did not declare her membership of sporting organisations that benefited from the scheme. It is well known she feels badly done by, because it was clear Morrison wanted her resignation to try to limit the political damage of the affair.
When Australians pay their income tax, they assume the money is going to areas of the community that need it, rather than being used by the government to shore up votes for the next election.
This is why the findings of the Australian National Audit Office into the awarding of community sporting grants by cabinet minister Bridget McKenzie are serious. Not merely for the grant funding process, but also for trust in our system of government.
The Audit Office was asked to examine this grant program to assess whether the award of funding “was informed by an appropriate assessment process and sound advice”. The focus was therefore on whether proper procedures were followed.
The report was extremely critical of the way in which the A$100 million in sporting grants were awarded by Minister McKenzie ahead of last year’s election campaign.
It found successful applications were “not those that had been assessed as the most meritorious” and that there was “distributional bias” in the way projects were approved. The problem is many of the grants were awarded to bodies within marginal seats or seats the Coalition wanted to win.
This is a serious matter because it represents a politicisation of a grant system which is supposed to be undertaken on merit.
What does this mean for the government?
The fact the Audit Office has made this finding is important. But what happens now and what will the consequences be? Will there be an investigation? If so, by whom?
Importantly, the Audit Office is an independent body. In the absence of a federal integrity commission, it has a significant role to play in ensuring government funds are spent for proper purposes. A central part of the role of the Audit Office is to uncover and report on fraud and corruption in government decisions. But it does not have coercive powers and its report does not have any direct legal effect on Senator McKenzie.
If there is to be a further investigation of this matter, it’s likely to be taken up by a parliamentary forum such as Senate Estimates. What is more significant are the consequences of the Audit report.
The first point to understand is that the direct legal consequences of the Audit Office finding are minimal. The report made four recommendations for future reform of the sporting grant procedure. While the Audit Office is very well-regarded by decision makers and commands respect, it is not a court. Therefore its recommendations are not binding and can be ignored by government.
What is more significant are the legal implications of the Audit report.
Here the problem is the Audit Office found the minister did not have legal authority to approve the grants in the first place. This is because the legal power to approve the sporting grants is actually given to Sport Australia (under the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989).
That legislation says the minister can give written directions to Sport Australia in relation to the exercise of its powers. But Senator McKenzie actually made the decisions on the grants (rather than merely give written directions to Sport Australia).
This is, however, somewhat of a theoretical argument as it is unlikely anyone will be able to bring this matter to court to invalidate the grant decisions made. Given community sporting groups who were disadvantaged by the improper grant process are community groups in need of funding, it’s unlikely they will be in a position to bring an expensive legal action.
It’s therefore likely the consequences of this report will be political rather than legal.
Here the political convention of “ministerial responsibility” should, ideally, come into play. This gives effect to the broader principle that the Australian people give authority and power to elected politicians and those politicians must be accountable for their actions.
This means McKenzie could be asked to resign. However, the Senator has indicated she will not resign, saying “no rules were broken” and she was given discretionary powers “for a purpose” in the program’s guidelines.
And this is one of the problems with ministerial responsibility today: it largely depends on whether the relevant party feel it’s politically necessary to pressure the relevant minister to stand down.
The current strength of this principle in modern Australia has been questioned, with many saying it’s no longer effective. For instance, journalist Tony Wright wrote in 2019:
Ministerial responsibility in Canberra appears to have all but decayed to no responsibility.
So, there may be no political consequences in this matter at all.
Implications for Australian democracy
The Audit Office of Australia is a respected, independent institution and its findings this week should have consequences.
Trust in government, which should be central to a healthy democracy, is at an historical low in Australia. Governments need to make decisions which are transparent and fair. A government that bends the rules is a danger to the rule of law and to democracy.
In December 2018, the NRL was urged to take “urgent action” after a spate of allegations of domestic violence and assault by players. The sport’s governing body was accused of failing to adequately condemn these acts of violence against women.
Could it be that finally rugby league is listening to the criticism?
Violence on the field too often translates to violence off the field. Barba’s sacking should herald a culture shift in the NRL away from versions of masculinity that are exclusive and threatening to women. The sport must move towards a culture that is better aligned with the values of society.
Rugby League – a bastion of masculinity
For many years, rugby league has provided an outlet for violence that allows masculinity to be performed.
Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, league epitomised orthodox masculine characteristics such as aggressive competition and toughness. Fighting, confrontation and belligerence has been revered in media coverage and by the wider public. For example, The Footy Show valorised versions of masculinity that portrayed men as hyper-heterosexual, stoic and aggressive. The hosts repeatedly demonstrated disrespect for women.
But in recent years, social customs, gender relations and the expectations of even hyper-masculine warrior athletes began to change. The Footy Show has been cancelled; and evidence from America’s most similar sport, American football (NFL), suggests that since 2006, there has been a slight decrease in players arrested for domestic violence.
Barba’s sacking appears to provide evidence of an emerging social contract with masculinity. No longer is men’s violence acceptable to the public. Rugby League — finally now — is taking action.
While player welfare is important, so is the welfare of women. The “boys will be boys” excuse no longer stands. NRL endorsed campaigns, such as Power For Change, an initiative described as “empowering young people to be leaders of change against domestic violence”, appeared hypocritical in the face of five sexual assault charges in the most recent off-season. On the sixth, the NRL took action.
It appeared the Australian sporting community had had enough. NRL fans, particularly, were fed up with misbehaving players and seeking significant change. Sanctioning players with bans and fines has proven ineffective.
In addition to introducing their “no fault stand down policy”, NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg has called on other codes to honour the NRL-imposed ban. The Northern Hemisphere Super League has closed the door on Barba and Rugby Australia boss, Raelene Castle, said they would also respect the NRL’s wishes.
The sociological work on this suggests that when heterosexual men exist in a culture that maintains high antipathy toward gay men (as existed in the 1980s), they will try to distance themselves from anything associated with gay men. Thus, men revere violence and stoicism, and hyper-sexualise women. They are thought weak for showing emotions concerning care for other men, or fear of confrontation.
However, as cultural attitudes have shifted, making homophobia and not homosexuality stigmatised, heterosexual men have more social freedom to express gender in ways that were once taboo. So it becomes permissible to talk your way through a problem with another male instead of fighting.
Scholars call this inclusive masculinity, but more colloquially it might be understood as a highly revered, feminised masculinity. In the last few decades, we have seen wholesale shifts to adolescent masculinities, something epitomised by the burgeoning of the “bromance”.
The NRL has divided fans with its recent rule change. Although the rule change sends a strong message to players and clubs that violence will not be tolerated within the code, until the wider culture of Rugby League begins embracing alternative forms of masculinity, the cause of the problem will still remain.
Under a new broadcast rights deal Cricket Australia will part ways with its long broadcast partner, the Nine Network, after more than 40 years.
The A$1.182 billion deal lasts six years and will commence from this coming summer through to 2024. It will be split between Seven and Foxtel.
As part of a new deal, Seven West Media will pay A$75 million per year to broadcast Big Bash League matches (43 of the 59), all home international tests, including the Ashes (2021-22), some Women’s Big Bash League and International matches, along with award ceremonies including the Allan Border Medal and Belinda Clark Award.
The Nine Network’s partnership with Cricket Australia had a rocky start when the Australian Cricket Board decided to ignore Kerry Packer’s bid in 1976, in favour of the then partner – the ABC. Packer then changed cricket forever with World Series Cricket.
Today’s new media rights deal is another major shift in Australian cricket history. Not only is it the first time Seven will be involved in cricket, the new deal will also allow Australian cricket fans to have access to more cricket coverage than ever.
While there are more hours, there is a definite shift in what will now be shown on free-to-air television.
The current cricket broadcast rights deal with Nine and Ten is a five year A$590 million deal, ending this year. It was an 118% increase on the previous five-year deal.
Cricket Australia desired a similar increase with its new broadcast rights deal, asking a A$1 billion price tag. While it reached the A$1 billion price tag, the deal is for six years rather than five years.
Despite this, the deal is on par with recent increases in the cost of Australian sports media rights. Cricket Australia’s new rights deal matched the percentage increase from the previous deal, (achieved by the AFL) of 67%.
The winners and losers
The rights for Foxtel are a massive win, as Foxtel has lacked Australian summer sport content. By gaining the cricket it now has a full-year calendar of Australian sport. Its exclusive digital rights will allow Foxtel to expand its streaming platforms and potentially increase subscription across both its cable and digital services.
Foxtel’s exclusive digital rights will also dictate what Seven can do with cricket coverage. In recent years Seven has established a free (with ads) and premium service for its major sporting rights, including the tennis and the Olympics. For the cricket it appears that Seven will not be able to incorporate this approach.
Despite this Seven executives see the cricket rights as a better deal in comparison to the tennis rights, which it recently lost to the Nine Network. This is because the cricket media rights give the company over 400 hours of sport, more than double that of the Australian Open.
Previously UBS media analyst Eric Choi had stated that Nine lost A$30-40 million a year on the current cricket rights deal. Nine will still have cricket as part of its schedule as it has rights to the next Ashes series from England and the ODI World Cup in the UK in 2019 and the T20 World Cups in Australia in 2020.
The biggest loser from the broadcasters’ perspective is Ten, that has held the rights and gained high ratings from the Big Bash League. It will now need to find programming to fill a very big void in its summer lineup.
Now Cricket Australia has to play a balancing act to make sure cricket is not placed behind a pay-wall and therefore see levels of participation decline, as seen in the UK.
It has to ask itself, will Australians pay to watch cricket on their screens?
For the next two weeks, the Gold Coast is hosting the Commonwealth Games, a record fifth time for Australia. But it’s the first time an Australian non-capital city will host the event.
Another great distinction from past hosts is that the Gold Coast is mostly relying on its existing assets, and the community aspect has generally prevailed: most of the refurbishments and extensions took place one to three years before the start of the Games, meaning the community has already been able to use these facilities.
Even the new venues were completed some time ago. At the Coomera Sports Centre, early site works began in February 2015. Construction was completed in early August 2016, 20 months ahead of the Games.
Similarly, the Carrara Sports Centre was completed in early 2017. The nearly 20,000m2 venue was available to Gold Coast residents to enjoy more than a year before the Games.
Refurbishment is costly, but looking at the bigger picture it might still be less expensive. A new building usually involves other costs such as building new road access, water and electrical connections, and so on.
The same strategy was implemented for all the refurbishment projects without exception. For example, the aquatic centre is a recycling and expansion of the original 1960s Southport pool. Finished in 2014, it hosted the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships the same year. Although at that time debate about the lack of a roof was raging, being able to test the facility in advance is a luxury that few host cities have had.
What about the architectural legacy?
In designing venues, architecture plays a a critical role in delivering a premium experience for athletes and spectators, and thus ensuring the success of the Games.
It’s doubtful any of these buildings will enter into the history of architecture as references or models for future Games. They are not comparable to what has been done, for example, in Beijing in terms of structural innovation (such as the swimming pool or the stadium) or iconic status.
I am convinced, however, that all these buildings display a very good critical approach by their architects.
For example, for the Coomera centre, the choices made by Gold Coast-based BDA architects were fundamental to achieve the flexibility to accommodate up to 7,500 spectators when starting from 350 permanent seats. The truss structure, in allowing a very long span (82m by 168m for the roof), frees the indoor space from columns and increases flexibility of uses. In the same way, the 23m roof clearance frees the volume.
In terms of aesthetic, the choice not to enclose fully the centre at the entrance gives both a lighter perception of the building – despite the use of 600 tonnes of structural steel and 6,000 cubic metres of concrete – and a different look from the traditional box often found for gymnasiums.
The key new facility at Carrara presents some similar characteristics. Because of its central location on the Gold Coast, the idea was that the new centre would contribute to the creation of a sport precinct and to economic development and sport advocacy programs. Knowing that Glasgow had a 17% increase in people doing sport after the Games, it was a reasonable vision to bet on long-term use by locals and not only on the visitors for the brief period of the Games.
Designed by BVN architects, the Carrara centre consists of a street space between two major halls. As the nominated venue for the badminton, wrestling and table tennis programs, it is quite an unexpected arrangement; it does not feel like the traditional sport hall, but more like a place to meet others. The colours and material palette have been used to symbolise the young and vibrant image of the Gold Coast. Again, all these architectural choices come together to provide a memorable experience for visitors and athletes alike.
Within the given budget, the balance between an appealing aesthetic and a long-term legacy has been achieved. Maybe none of these buildings will become international landmarks, but present uses have shown their functionality and benefits for the Gold Coast.
Even if we don’t all agree with the current politics, there is one thing we cannot deny about the Games preparation: architecture has been a tool for enhancing public facilities thanks to a very long-term vision. The social, cultural and economic legacy is already there, since facilities are being used.
Finally, since the Games preparations began, major debates on the Gold Coast concerned new casinos, the Spit redevelopment and the light rail extension. None of these debates caused any real problems for the Games. It is quite an achievement, or the result of a very good communication strategy, but that might be another discussion…
Overnight, Cricket Australia handed out its promised “significant sanctions” for a ball-tampering incident that has engulfed the sport in scandal. Steve Smith and David Warner, the team’s captain and vice-captain, have been banned for 12 months. Cameron Bancroft, who carried out the failed plot, received a nine-month ban.
It was also revealed it was sandpaper, and not “yellow tape and the granules from the rough patches of the wicket” as originally claimed, that Bancroft tried to use to alter the ball’s condition in the Test match between South Africa and Australia.
While the International Cricket Council (ICC) initially suspended Smith for only one Test, all three are now banned from international and domestic (professional) cricket in Australia. Smith and Warner have also had their lucrative Indian Premier League contracts torn up, and some sponsors have already distanced themselves from the players and the sport. But these measures fall short of the lifetime bans some called for.
As captain, Smith has borne the brunt of the public and media vitriol, particularly as he accepted responsibility for what had happened. He may yet be Australian captain again in the future.
But according to Cricket Australia’s investigation, it was Warner who developed the plan and instructed Bancroft – a younger player – to carry it out. Warner also showed a “lack of contrition” and will therefore not be considered for any leadership position in the future.
Ball tampering is clearly cheating; it breaks the rules and is against the “spirit of cricket”. But while it has been deemed the “moral equivalent of doping”, there is a lack of consistency in how sanctions are dished out to offenders.
Bans for doping violations are often severe. Players such as Andre Russell have been banned for 12 months for failing to record their whereabouts for drug testing. But, historically, ICC bans for ball tampering have been more lenient: Pakistan’s Shahid Afridi received a two-game ban for biting the ball in an attempt to alter its condition.
However, a harder line has been taken for incidents of match-fixing. Three Pakistan players were banned and jailed for a spot-fixing incident in 2010. South Africa’s Herschelle Gibbs received a six-month ban in 2000 for agreeing to fix a match, even though he did not follow through with it.
Lifetime bans are not uncommon in sport generally. Ryan Tandy was banned for life for attempted spot-fixing in a rugby league game. Lance Armstrong was banned from sanctioned Olympic sports for life and had his results voided for his serial doping in cycling. Even figure skating is not immune: Tonya Harding was similarly banned for hindering the prosecution into a vicious attack on a fellow competitor.
It is difficult to compare sanctions across sports. But, when doing so, the inconsistencies are apparent. Boxer Mike Tyson was handed a 15-month ban for biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear; footballer Luis Suarez received an eight-game ban for racially abusing an opponent; fellow footballer Paul Davis only served a nine-match ban for punching and breaking an opponent’s jaw.
In light of these punishments, are nine- and 12-month bans for premeditated cheating and lying reasonable and just?
Cricket Australia has been criticised for the time it took to reach a decision. But it’s essential that due diligence is done and facts are gathered before a sentence is handed down. Without this, decisions are made through the pressure of public shaming, and social media get to cast the final vote on the punishment.
If sporting organisations want players to act morally on field, then they too should be guided by moral behaviour in governing the sport.
Society is often keen to forgive top athletes when they transgress. When athletes admit their mistakes and ask forgiveness it is usually granted.
Over time, sports fans also tend to forget athletes’ errors and focus solely on their on-field ability. In cricket, for instance, Don Bradman’s role in disputes over pay as a cricket administrator is largely glossed over. Shane Warne’s year-long ban for a doping violation is rarely mentioned.
In many sports, athletes’ chequered pasts are ignored in favour of their on-field ability. It is often the actions that come as a result of their behaviour that are judged, and not the infringement itself.
Athletes frequently transgress, but their subsequent redemption is often woven into the narrative around them. Stories around sporting heroes follow several patterns, but the most recognised is the hero’s journey. The “hero” sets out on a quest but is faced by a crisis or descends into a hellish underworld. They “heroically” overcome these challenges and ultimately return to glory.
In this instance, Smith, Warner and Bancroft are in a hell of their own making. If they manage to return, and do so triumphantly, then it is likely they will be forgiven – and some may even forget their role in this sorry affair. Only time will tell whether they will again be considered heroic.
The public fury that greeted the premeditated ball tampering orchestrated by Australian cricketers Cameron Bancroft, Steve Smith and other team members in Cape Town suggests the incident is seen as diminishing the personal integrity of every Australian citizen.
As a sport psychologist for more than 30 years, I have seen the best and the worst of athlete behaviour but even I felt personally affronted.
The conspiracy to cheat, casually hatched by the senior playing group over a lunch break, reverberates well beyond cricket and even sport itself.
Not only is the incident seen as tarnishing the baggy green and the legacy of Aussie test cricketers who went before, but more importantly it has removed any vestige of the country’s moral high ground.
No longer can we point the finger. No longer is breaking the rules something committed by others in the cricket world, such as Faf de Plessis and his Lollygate incident and Pakistan’s spot fixing scandal, rather than by us.
Bancroft was contrite in front of the world’s media and clearly willing to take his punishment. Smith’s response to getting caught red-handed was acute embarrassment followed by an affirmation that he remained “the right person for the job” of Australian cricket captain.
Their lack of awareness of the tidal wave of criticism that would break once the nation woke up to the news spoke volumes about the culture that pervades this team.
Criticism from abroad has been equally vicious. “This pious team who look down on everyone else … are getting their just desserts,” chimed in England spinner Graeme Swann, accusing the Australian team of longstanding double standards.
Former England captain Mike Atherton, now an erudite sports writer for The Times, headlined that the “stink surrounding hypocritical Australia goes deeper than ball tampering alone”.
How long before someone raises the spectre of a convict past to explain the fact that national representatives of Australia have been shown to be untrustworthy?
Is the tough but fair image gone?
As England’s sport psychologist in the 1993 Ashes series, I watched at close quarters as an Australian team featuring Border, Boon, Hayden, Healy, Hughes, Taylor, Warne, and the Waugh twins brushed England aside for a 4-1 victory.
They played tough but fair cricket born of a glue-like culture that was as impressive as it was intimidating. They were local blokes made good, revered as the embodiment of values shared by the average Australian.
My experiences in international sport have taught me the double-edged nature of strong team cohesion: a boost to performance but with potential to lead honourable people into questionable moral territory, both on and off the field.
The downside of creating a culture of unquestioning mutual support among a group of men desperate to win test matches is that a dual moral code can evolve. This sees them do things in the pursuit of victory that they would not contemplate in the real world.
The ball-tampering attempt was seen as both dumb and unconscionable, given the sheer number of on-ground TV cameras. Yet it provides evidence of a warped moral code, rather than low IQ, on the part of Smith and Co.
“It was worth taking the risk” seems to have been their mantra. Wrong!
It is one of the clearest examples of the pedestal syndrome, whereby prodigiously talented young sportspeople are elevated in society to the point at which they lose sight of the difference between right and wrong.
Smith was feted by the media and the public over the previous 12 months for his brilliant form, labelled the greatest batsman since Bradman. This is undoubtedly the highest pedestal available to the modern cricketer.
But he now appears to believe that the almost sacred rules against ball-tampering apply only tangentially to him and the Australian team.
With just a few remorseful words, delivered with apparent indifference to the magnitude of the act, Smith went from hero to zero faster than the disgraced Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson ran his drug-fuelled 100m.
It’s not cricket
“The cricketing gods have spoken loud and clear,” concluded Allan Border, as Australia crumbled to ignominious defeat by 322 runs in Cape Town.
Never has the result of a test match mattered less. The apparent death of Australian integrity, forged through two centuries of nation-building, wartime heroics, and sporting achievement, has been greeted publicly with the early stages of a grief response.
The shock and disbelief has been followed rapidly by white-hot anger that the custodians of values burned deep into the national psyche have betrayed the people of Australia.
What follows is uncertain. The International Cricket Council has meted out its customary slap on the wrist for cheating in the form of a one-match ban, while Cricket Australia has stood down the captain for the final test match of the series.
It has hardly been a draconian punishment so far.
Long road to recovery
Meanwhile, how do parents explain to their children that their heroes are dishonest and can’t be trusted? Will we see an exodus of participants from grassroots cricket?
Discussion among pundits looking for explanations has already unearthed social injustice, the cult of celebrity, mega salaries, A$10 million homes, first-class travel and inflated entourages as contributing to the moral failings of our national representatives.
The term “that’s just not cricket”, once a condemnation of anything with even a whiff of moral turpitude, is now surely destined to become something of a compliment.
It’s a long road back to respectability for the Australian cricket team, which may have to start with root-and-branch changes to its culture from the top down. As for forgiveness from the Australian public, that may take longer still.
Australian cricket is engulfed in scandal after TV cameras caught Cameron Bancroft attempting to manipulate the condition of the ball during the team’s third Test match against South Africa. Bancroft and the Australian captain, Steve Smith, subsequently admitted to the offence and the collusion of the player leadership group in the decision to do so.
Altering the condition of the match ball is against the rules of the sport, contrary to “the spirit of cricket”, and deemed to be “unfair”. It is a form of cheating.
What is ball tampering?
Cricket is not only controlled by a set of rules but, according to the sport’s laws, it should also be played “within the spirit of cricket”.
Like most sports, cricket is a self-regulating entity. The national associations and, ultimately, the International Cricket Council (ICC) enforce the laws. That said, cricket remains tied to gentlemanly ideals and the myth of “fair play”.
This “spirit” encourages respect for players and officials while advocating for self-discipline. Significantly, it says the:
… major responsibility for ensuring fair play rests with the captains.
Within these rules, law 41.3 identifies changing the condition of the match ball as an offence and “unfair play”. Specifically, law 41.3.2 states:
It is an offence for any player to take any action which changes the condition of the ball.
But why is the condition of the ball so important?
The ability to “swing” a ball is a prized skill in cricket. Altering the condition of one side of the ball can help it to swing, and may provide an advantage to the bowling team.
Players try regularly try to “rough up” one side of the ball by, for instance, deliberately bouncing it on hard ground or applying sweat or saliva to it in ingenious ways. Such practices are not deemed to be contrary to the laws, even if they may not be within the spirit of cricket. Cricketers can bend the rules but not break them.
In this case, Smith has been banned for one match and fined his match fee. Bancroft, who was caught with a piece of yellow sticky tape that he was attempting to use to tamper with the ball, has also been fined most of his fee and issued three demerit points.
When games are evenly matched, small gains from cheating can be enough to swing the result one way. This has occurred in other sports.
Sport is now a commercial product with large rewards for winning. In addition, when players are representing their country, there may be considerable pressure to win at all costs, particularly when sport plays a prominent role in the country’s national identity.
According to Smith, the Australians “saw this game as such an important game”. Here, the significance of the game and the team’s desire to win are used to justify cheating. The spirit of cricket and “fair play” were given little thought.
In his work on match-fixing, investigative journalist Declan Hill identifies several questions that may be considered when players are contemplating cheating. The importance of the game is a key factor. Prospective cheats will also evaluate whether they can win without cheating and the sanctions they risk if they are caught.
The Australian cricketers believed the game was slipping away from them. They either did not think they would be caught, or were not deterred by the possible sanctions.
Leading by example
In several cases of cheating, it has been senior players that have induced their younger teammates to cheat.
Two former cricket captains, South Africa’s Hansie Cronje and Pakistan’s Salman Butt, both recruited younger, less experienced players in their attempts to manipulate cricket matches. Similarly, Bancroft is at the start of his Test career and appears to have been influenced by others in the team.
Rather than ensuring fair play, Smith contrived to break both the game’s laws and spirit. Worryingly, it was not just Smith and Bancroft, but a group of senior players who were initially involved.
The players will have evaluated whether it was morally right to cheat and decided that winning was more important. While not a “crime” in the traditional sense of the word, the premeditated nature of these actions increases the level of deception and subsequent outrage surrounding the decision.
The event calls into question not only the behavioural integrity of those involved but also more broadly the moral integrity of the environment in which they function. This is an environment that leaves players viewing ball-tampering on this scale as a viable match-winning strategy.
Smith’s role, as captain, has often been described as the second-most-important job in Australia (after the prime minister). It is for this reason that the Australian Sports Commission has called for him, along with any members of the leadership group or coaching staff “who had prior awareness of, or involvement in, the plan to tamper with the ball”, to stand down or be sacked.
The plot to tamper with the ball was a clear attempt to cheat and has brought the spirit of cricket into question. The implications of being caught cheating or significance of the action were overruled in favour of an outcome: winning a match.
Such actions demonstrate the short-term focus players can have in the moment, ignoring the magnitude of their decisions. In this case, the fallout will be far greater than any punishment the sport will hand out.
A fierce bidding war is under way for the rights to stream and broadcast cricket for the next five years. The price is expected to reach A$1 billion, almost double the previous deal. Media companies are facing stiff competition because increasing viewer numbers are luring social media websites and other platforms into the race to host this content.
The price for rights keeps going up even though the Nine Network is losing money on its cricket coverage and Seven’s CEO Tim Worner has stated recent price increases for sports rights “are not sustainable”.
The Big Bash League, which is also broadcast internationally, is a huge driver behind the new rights deal. The new players interested in the streaming rights include telecommunications companies like Optus and Telstra, social media platforms (Facebook and Twitter) and Cricket Australia itself, which has its own website and app. This is on top of the traditional broadcasters like Nine and Ten.
Sport is key for broadcasters as they can attract advertisers with the promise of viewers who are watching live. Social media platforms and other websites want to lure viewers onto their platforms to discuss the games. Streaming platforms and telcos are trying to appeal to customers with access to exclusive content.
Other sporting codes have recently been through this bidding process, and the deals they have struck hint at what is to come for Cricket Australia.
The AFL media rights, which started last season and run through to 2022, were sold for A$2.5 billion. This is more than double the previous A$1.2 billion agreement.
The value of the NRL broadcast rights, starting this year, also increased substantially from A$1 billion to A$1.8 billion.
But the AFL deal also faced a backlash from fans after it restricted Telstra to streaming just a 7-inch video of live coverage – larger screens are filled with black space. This is true even for those who buy the A$89 subscription to the AFL Live app.
Fox Sports streams live full HD video as part of the deal.
New players are driving up the cost
One of the major drivers of the price of sports rights is the increase and uptake of streaming. Broadcasters want the rights to televise and stream the games, while tech companies, telcos and others are more interested in the streaming rights.
Last year’s women’s Big Bash League was streamed across cricket.com.au, Facebook and the Cricket Australia app, reaching 1.5 million people. This season, 47 of the matches were streamed on Mamamia, a lifestyle website aimed at women.
Social media platforms want live sport to attract large crowds that will then use the platform to discuss the event. Twitter has a deal to stream Major League Baseball games (and formerly had one with the National Football League).
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has described sport as “anchor content”. In other words, it will encourage people to watch more video on Facebook.
In addition to social platforms, Telstra and Optus have been competing with each other by offering exclusive content. Telstra holds AFL and NRL streaming rights, and also has a TV service, giving customers access to various content including sport.
And after all that, we get to the traditional broadcasters. Ten, now owned by US network CBS, will be unlikely to walk away from the success it has had with the Big Bash League.
Nine’s CEO, High Marks, has stated that the network also needs to have streaming as part of the sports rights.
We have seen Seven recently undertake a hybrid mode with its coverage of the Olympics and Australian Open tennis. The broadcaster offers a premium paid tier alongside its free streaming. This mode has created tension between free-to-air broadcasters and Foxtel, with requests for the government to remove the anti-siphoning rules that prevent pay TV bidding for particular sports.
Foxtel is currently not involved in broadcasting domestic cricket, but it is likely to be part of new negotiations. The government has awarded Fox Sports a A$30 million grant to support the coverage of women and niche sports. If nothing else, Fox Sports could seek to pick up the rights to women’s cricket, including the Big Bash League, which has had only a small percentage of games broadcast.
Cricket Australia has previously noted that media rights make up as much as 80% of its income. Whatever deal is struck will have a huge impact not just for the professional players, but for the grassroots as well.
Cricket Australia will want to get the most for its rights, but needs to make sure not to impact grassroots participation and attendance. This was one of the side effects in the United Kingdom when pay TV providers secured exclusive rights to broadcast the cricket.
There is a huge opportunity here for Cricket Australia to advance the way in which the game is delivered to all screens. But, as we can see, the changing media landscape means it needs to balance the needs of many stakeholders.