Australia loves to cut down its tall poppies.
Just a few months ago, Australian cricket captain Steve Smith was being compared with the Don himself, Donald Bradman.
In the aftermath of the weekend’s ball-tampering controversy in Cape Town, the Australian media were after his head, with a fervour normally reserved for murderers and sex offenders.
And now we have the verdict. Guilty as charged with 12 month sentences for Smith and David Warner, and a nine month sentence for Bancroft.
Unfortunately, any punishment meted out to Smith, Warner and Bancroft, no matter how punitive, would always be futile when the noxious culture that ultimately led to the cheating scandal began not with the players, nor the coach, but is arguably embedded deep within Cricket Australia.
So we can take no comfort from Chief Executive James Sutherland’s announcement that Cricket Australia will initiate an independent review, when it is confined to only examining the conduct and culture of the Australian men’s teams.
This is a glaring failure of governance, as disappointing as Smith’s lapse of judgement and reason.
The timing of this latest controversy could not be worse for Cricket Australia with Sutherland currently in the process of hawking the cricket broadcast rights to the highest bidder. Just last week he’d returned the networks’ bids with a note saying ‘do better’; the offers falling short of Cricket Australia’s expectations.
Any hope now of doubling its existing deal and collecting a cool one billion dollars must be shot, and he may well be wishing he’d accepted one of the bids that stood last week.
Exacerbating the angst, CA’s sponsors are concerned too.
Sanitarium (Weet-Bix) and Qantas are publicly expressing concern that the game, and their own brands by association, has been brought into disrepute. In short, and to paraphrase Alan Joyce, it’s just not cricket.
And now we have Japanese owned Lion’s XXXX’s turn at bat.
Like Qantas and Sanitarium, the beer brewer is less than impressed with CA’s senior players’ conduct.
Perhaps this is the comic relief the punters have been waiting for.
After days of anguished calls for our cricket team to be hung, drawn and quartered, here comes XXXX beer, the bastion of all that’s to be admired – suggesting that their reputation has been sullied!
The reality is that it is XXXX and all of the other alcohol brands associated with professional sport that are doing the sullying and bringing the game into disrepute.
By all accounts, it seems Cricket Australia is perfectly prepared to let the matter end with the player suspensions and to absolve itself of any responsibility.
That would be a mistake.
Here’s my advice to James Sutherland.
James, if you are at all sincere and genuine about demonstrating leadership and shaping a professional sporting code from the Chief Executive and Board down; a code that leads by example and stands for something we can all be proud of, then you must do more than simply hang your players out to dry.
A one year ban for Smith and Warner won’t do it.
You must get Cricket Australia’s house in order.
Aspire for greatness.
Align yourself and your code with a player base, administrators, coaching staff and corporate sponsors that share the same core values.
Identify those core values; sportsmanship, honesty, integrity, and professionalism, peak performance, health and wellness and live them.
If greatness comes from successfully dealing with, and learning from, adversity, then the ball tampering controversy is not an embarrassing storm to be weathered but a gift; an opportunity to break, not just from a toxic culture, but from toxic corporate partnerships.
There’s no place in the game for arrogant, boorish, loutish behaviour; no place for dishonesty, sledging and outright cheating.
And nor any place for greed. A greed that drives a win-at-any cost mentality.
A greed that also drives corporate sponsorship deals with companies, regardless of a misalignment with corporate aspirations, and in the full knowledge of the harm that such deals bring.
Alcohol advertising is harmful to the children who watch cricket, who love the game.
The evidence is clear.
The greater exposure to alcohol advertising, the greater the likelihood a child will commence drinking earlier in life and at riskier levels.
If Cricket Australia is genuinely concerned about the future of the game and rebuilding a reputation now in tatters, it will use the current crisis as an opportunity to reshape the code and cut its toxic alcohol advertising ties.
Earlier this week James Sutherland stated that the actions of Smith, Warner and Bancroft were damaging to the Aussie kids who followed and supported the game.
How telling that James demands his players accept a duty of care to Aussie kids, but does not see Cricket Australia has that same duty of care.
When confronted by a similar challenge not so long ago, the West Australian Cricket Association grasped the nettle, ditched the unhealthy sponsors and embraced a value set that aligned with public expectations.
It hasn’t hurt them and it is unlikely to hurt CA.
MICHAEL THORN, Chief Executive, Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education