Sports minister attends competitions on day 14 of Saudi Games 2023

All of a sudden cricket has been impacted by an outbreak of controversies. Amongst them have been a fierce dispute between former colleagues in the Australian men’s team, the loss of free-to-air viewing rights in Australia and the appointment of a disgraced Pakistani cricketer as an advisor on national selection.

On Dec. 4, the International Cricket Council announced that Amazon Prime had been awarded the broadcast rights in Australia for all ICC tournaments for the next four years, starting on Jan. 1, 2024.

This means that Australian cricket fans will need to have a Prime Video subscription if they wish to watch Australia’s men’s and women’s teams playing in ICC competitions, including Under-19 World Cup events. There are 11 of them up to the end of 2027. None of the tournaments will be held in Australia. This has provided an opportunity for the ICC and Amazon Prime to avoid so-called Australian anti-siphoning rules.

Unsurprisingly, the establishment of a paywall has been greeted with outrage. The CEO of Free TV Australia, the industry body which represents all free-to-air Australian TV networks, condemned the move, saying that “all Australians deserve the right to share our great sporting moments for free, and that right is in serious jeopardy.”

That view seems to be shared by the federal communications minister, Michelle Rowland, who has recently introduced a bill to parliament that updates anti-siphoning laws. Once in law, free-to-air services must be offered first refusal for important sporting events.

This measure may not go far enough. The Broadcasting Services (Events) Notice, as the anti-siphoning legislation is known, was first introduced in 1992 when the concern was related to subscription TV securing sports rights. The protective provisions apply to senior Australian cricket teams playing in Test, one day and T20 matches in Australia, New Zealand and the UK between Australia and England. Discussion has been reawakened as to whether this geographical coverage should or can be expanded.

It is too late for the timescale of the ICC/Prime deal. Social media comments have been quick to blame the minister and Cricket Australia for this to happen. Neither has any involvement or power in the broadcast deals which the ICC arranges. However, the introduction of Prime, as the fourth major broadcaster of cricket in Australia and the first which is entirely on-line, has added to the melange of cricket viewing options for Australian audiences.

They have been used to a 15-year long joint venture for ICC tournaments between Foxtel and Channel Nine, which ended with this years ODI Final. Cricket Australia’s domestic broadcast rights have been held by a partnership between free-to-air broadcaster Seven and pay TV channel Foxtel since 2018, when Channel Nine lost out after forty years of dominance. A new seven-year domestic rights deal was signed in January 2023 by Seven and Foxtel.

They, along with Foxtel’s video streaming subscription service, Kayo, will broadcast Australian men’s Tests and all women’s internationals on home soil. They will also show both the men’s and women’s Big Bash. Fox Cricket and Kayo broadcast Australian men’s limited-overs internationals on home soil, non-Ashes Australian men’s internationals and women’s outside of Australia.

The once dominant Channel Nine has the rights to broadcast the England v Australia Ashes series scheduled to played in England in 2027 and 2031. Domestic men’s and women’s competitions are broadcast by Cricket Australia’s Live app and, with selected matches shown on Fox and Kayo. At least for the next four years, the broadcasting landscape for Australian audiences looks stable if not wholly acceptable, given the new loss of free-to-air.

This means that audiences will have to pay for all international limited-overs cricket played by Australia’s men’s and women’s teams. The next ICC event scheduled to be hosted in Australia is the T20 World Cup in 2028, after the timeframe of the Amazon deal. The battle is on to preserve an Australian way of life — the opportunity for all to enjoy free TV coverage of iconic sporting events,

Alongside this development, two former colleagues in the Australian men’s team have locked horns. Mitchell Johnson, who retired in November 2015, has criticized the decision of opening batter David Warner to choreograph his retirement. Warner announced his plans on June 3, 2022, targeting the third test against Pakistan in Sydney in January as his Test swansong.

Johnson thinks it wrong that a player can attempt to influence team selectors in this way. He argues that Warner’s recent performances do not justify his selection. Furthermore, Johnson has rekindled the tensions over Warner’s involvement in a ball-tampering incident in South Africa in 2018 over which Johnson feels that Warner displayed insufficient contrition.

Current colleagues have come to Warner’s defense and former players have commented that the affair paints a bad image for Australian cricket. Johnson also criticized the chair of selectors for being too close to the players, implying that this is a contributory factor to Warner’s continuing presence in the team. When Warner made his original announcement, it did appear to be rather presumptuous. Johnson has a point, but he could have expressed it in a less vituperative manner. It seems that he may have been prompted into action by a text which he received from Warner on another issue.

In Pakistan, those who replaced the leaders of the men’s team in the 2023 World Cup caused an embarrassment by appointing a former captain, Salman Butt, as a selection consultant. Butt received a five-year ban from cricket and served a seven-month prison sentence for spot-fixing in Test in 2010. A wave of criticism from commentators, journalists and ex-players, caused the chief selector to reverse his poorly judged appointment after one day.

Two of the three controversies are not good for the image of two countries — Australia and Pakistan. Whether the ICC’s broadcasting rights deal will damage its image will take longer to be emerge. No doubt, the ICC will be happy with the undisclosed funds it has generated, but incurring the wrath of Australians, seemingly without consultation, may have unintended consequences.