Billionaire Subhash Chandra
Cricket Australia rejected as “highly speculative” reports Friday that leading stars Michael Clarke and David Warner could be offered Aus$50 million (£30 million) contracts to play for a “rebel” cricket league financed by the billionaire owner of Zee TV Subhash Chandra.
Mr Chandra’s Essel Group has confirmed plans to launch a new global Twenty20 tournament similar to Kerry Packer’s creation of World Series Cricket in the 1970s.
The conglomerate, which was behind the now-defunct Indian Cricket League (ICL), also reportedly wants to create a breakaway world governing body for the sport, prompting the International Cricket Council (ICC) to investigate.
The ICL folded in 2009 amid accusations of match-fixing while some players remain unpaid.
Fairfax Media on Friday reported that captain Clarke and opener Warner have been earmarked for tempting 10-year deals, as Essel tries to lure the world’s leading players away from their national boards.
Neither Clarke nor Warner have commented on the matter.
“We are aware of the reports around a rebel league and they remain highly speculative, particularly given the proposed scale and complexity,” Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards said in a statement.
“Australian cricket has never been in better health. Record crowds, television audiences, grassroots participation and commercial support continue to drive record revenue which means player payments have never been higher and will only increase.”
Edwards said any formation of a rebel league would significantly jeopardise the well-being of the game.
Australia batsman Michael Clarke
He indicated that the reported figure of Aus$50 million over 10 years was not much higher than the current earnings of Australia’s top players, believed to be around Aus$4 million a year.
“As it stands, Australia’s cricketers are the highest paid athletes of any team sport in the country and the earnings of our top-ranked players would already be close to the numbers referenced in today’s media reports,” Edwards said.
“But our pay structure is broader than that. It’s about supporting professional cricket at both international and domestic level.
“The success of international cricket directly subsidises the wages of state cricketers.
“Any proposed rebel league would jeopardise that.”
In an official statement released this week, the Essel Group spoke of an immense opportunity to make cricket a global sport.
“Essel Group has been analysing the sports market and the reports reflect an extremely positive trend,” the statement said.
“In order to enhance the overall sports business, we look forward to the entry of other Indian business houses as well.”
Mr Chandra is reportedly not the only one interested in exploiting disillusionment in the game, following the recently restructured ICC financial model that favours Australia, India and England.
Former world players’ union chief Tim May said several other organisations had sounded him out about entering the cricket market.
“There is a general dissatisfaction with the game’s governance, how it’s run and the inequity of the game’s finances and there are other bodies around that would believe they can globalise the game of cricket in a more equitable fashion than the current administration,” May told Fairfax.
Essel has in recent months registered companies in Australia, New Zealand and Scotland, with names that give the appearance of being cricket boards, Australian Associated Press said.
The Guardian reports the ICC is also looking into website domains including worldcricketcouncil.co.in and globalt20.com.
The rebel league is seen by some as a viable alternative to the dominance of the “big three” cricket boards of India, Australia and England and the power the three countries wield within the International Cricket Council, the sport’s world governing body.
Others however, see plenty of problems with Mr Chandra’s ambitions, not least the Indian Cricket League (ICL) which faltered at its first attempt, partly due a lack of planning and partly due to the Indian cricket board’s opposition to the league.
A raft of international players signed on but it wasn’t long before they became pariahs in the cricket world, blacklisted from all other competitions.
The ICL folded in 2009 with some players still owed large sums of money that were never paid to them.
This still angers the players who staked their reputations on joining the ICL, including Australians Jason Gillespie, Damien Martyn, Michael Kasprowicz, and Stuart Law.
Law told Australia’s Courier-Mail newspaper: “If they are fair dinkum about doing it this time it would be nice if they honoured the contracts they first held,” Law said.
“They did a pretty good job of organising the last competition but we were promised that everything would be OK so it was disappointing.
“A lot of us missed a big payday in cricket and this was an opportunity to set ourselves up for the rest of our lives. It did not quite work out that way.”
Law explained that while he and his fellow Australians had sufficient funds to recover from their missed paydays, a lot of their Indian teammates did not.
“Some of them were the main breadwinners in their families and they put deposits down on cars and apartments — and I am talking small apartments and maybe a Honda Civic — but when the payments stopped they had to give everything back and some ended up back on the street,’’ Law said.
Concerns of a similar nature led Lalit Modi, the mastermind behind the IPL and a man who is very keen to issue a challenge to the Board of Control for Cricket in India – and therefore the ICC as well – to opt against joining forces with the rebel league.
In an interview with the Guardian, Modi said he held initial discussions with Chandra but decided not to pursue the opportunity because it was, in his words, “foolish”.
“I looked at the plan and discussed it,” Modi said. “We had conversations for months – but I usually don’t touch something I cannot deliver, and this I cannot.