Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Professional contracts: still a mystery?

The ECB has today issued a press release which states:

The England and Wales Cricket Board has announced that 18 players from the England Women’s Performance Programme have been awarded new contracts, which have come into effect from this month.

This has been greeted with universal acclaim on twitter, understandably. As I said in this Cordon article just after the contracts were first announced back in February:

The day those contracts were agreed upon is probably the biggest in the history of English women's cricket since the day in 1926 when some women on holiday in Colwall decided they wanted to form a Women's Cricket Association.

We cannot praise the ECB too highly for this decision.

But that is not and should not be the end of the story. What struck me about today's press release is simply this: aside from listing the players who will be awarded contracts (and I could have made a good guess at which ones they would be, even back in February), it tells us nothing we did not already know.

When the ECB first announced these contracts, we were promised that details would follow. Where are they?

Three questions in particular seem to me to be of central importance:

1) How much are the contracts actually worth? It's all very well to say that our female cricketers are now going to be professionals, but what does that mean in real hard cash terms? If we are entitled to know how much our male cricketers are paid, why does that not extend to the women?

One reason why this would be helpful is it would give us a point of comparison with the Australian system. CA's current contracts for its female cricketers puts its top players (Ellyse Perry etc) as earning something like $80,000 Australian dollars annually. These new ECB contracts are being billed as something over and above that, as a fully professional set-up – but are they? And if CA can tell us how much their top female cricketers are getting paid, isn't it reasonable to expect the ECB to do the same?

2) What, precisely, is happening with Chance to Shine now that the players will not need to supplement their income with coaching roles? I can take a reasonable guess that most players will be continuing with their ambassadorial roles, given that we have been given no evidence to the contrary, and some of the contracted players are continuing to tweet about their work, but it would be nice to have this confirmed publicly. How will it fit in with the new system?

This is also important because it begs the question: if England players are continuing with coaching work outside of training and playing cricket (and I'm not saying they shouldn't be, because their work as role models is obviously hugely important), are they really the professionals they are being billed as?

3) Finally, it's pretty obvious that there will be different tiers of contract under this new system. That is the way central contracts work: players are allocated pay according to their perceived value to the team. It's a fair assumption that Charlotte Edwards will, quite rightly, be earning more money under this new system than, say, Tash Farrant.

Which begs a whole set of new questions:
-What are the different levels of contracts, and how much will each type of contract be worth?
-In practice, how many of the 18 players are fully professional, given that some of them will be at a lower end of the pay scale than others?
-Who out of the 18 has a top-tier contract, and who doesn't?

There's evidently a debate to be had here about whether we, the general public, deserve to know what the ECB consider to be the perceived worth of each of the players. It could be highly embarrassing if a poor performance led to a player being “downgraded”, or even dropped off the pay scale altogether. Personally, I think that if we want the women's game to be seen on equal terms with the men's game, those debates should be taking place publicly. It will get people talking – and that can't be a bad thing for women's cricket.

You might think differently. Either way, the point is that ultimately, today's press release leaves me with more questions than it provides answers. Is this really all the detail we are going to get about these new contracts? Perhaps more importantly, is this really all the detail that the ECB think we deserve to know?

Amidst the showering of praise on the ECB which has greeted today's press release, no one – no one – has questioned the complete lack of new information surrounding the contracts. Blindly praising the ECB is not enough; goodness knows it wouldn't happen in the men's game. If we really want parity between men's and women's cricket – and we do, right? – we need to be asking these questions.