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When cricket, work and Catholic teaching collide



One of the more engaging British crime shows was The Last Detective. The title was not an elegy for lost skills, but an inspector's appraisal of the humble hero, 'If I wanted this case solved, you would be the last detective I would send.'

Picket fence around cricket ovalI thought of the title when asked to write about work, and was tempted to reflect from the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching about work on the dispute between the Australian cricketers and their board. On the face of it cricketers and the Catholic Church might be the last places to look for anything illuminating about work, unless perhaps they yield last place to my reflections on the subject.

Nevertheless illumination is sometimes found in the most unlikely of places. So here goes.

The major point of dispute between the Australian Cricketers' Association and Cricket Australia is whether cricketers should continue to receive a proportion of the income derived from cricket, or the board should have the power to determine the salary they are offered. Beneath that question is another: whether Australian cricketers through the association should share responsibility with the board in running cricket in Australia. The dispute touches both on money and on power.

To consider cricket as work would strike many people as odd. They would see it as a hobby, a recreation, a game or a calling — like acting or singing. These are occupations about which early Catholic thinkers had little good to say. They saw them as license rather than work, regarding actors as sex workers, and gladiators — the professional sportsmen of the time — as notorious for being let loose on unarmed Christians. Even now professional sportspersons receive little attention in Catholic social thought.

That is a pity because a Catholic understanding of work provides a helpful perspective for looking at professional sport. Its crucial insight is that work is a human activity, and that each human being is precious, unique and needs to be respected.

Neither people nor work can be seen as means to an economic end, as a cost or as expendable. Work and its rigours are an essential part of human growth, an activity in which people transcend their limits and find meaning. Any discussion of work must begin with the person who works.

Understood in this way work involves agency and creativity. It includes art and skill, and the satisfaction that accompanies them. Professional cricket is a perfect example. To play it well at a high level demands great labour shown in practice, in physical fitness and in self-discipline.


"The Catholic understanding of work also privileges negotiation over strikes and lock-outs in resolving disputes. But negotiation is between active partners equally worthy of respect."


But players also gain satisfaction from matching wits and technique with other skilful opposing players, physical delight in a body that responds instinctively to stimulus and is attuned to other players in the team, and aesthetic delight in a perfectly timed cover drive or a perfectly flighted and pitched leg break. As all work should, it offers moments of self-transcendence and moments of grace.

As all human activity, too, work is communal. Its success depends on direct or indirect relationships with others, including managers and executives, shareholders, customers and suppliers. These relationships are interdependent, and if the enterprise is to flourish they must be cooperative. Workers must be able to participate in establishing the conditions under which they work. For this reason they must be able to form unions so that their combined voice can be heard effectively in the conditions under which they work and in ensuring that they are justly remunerated. Catholic teaching also commends other forms of participation through active representation in the governance of the organisation.

From this perspective professional cricketers flourish when their relationships with administrators, with other cricketers and with their public, tangible and virtual, are healthy. They should ideally have the opportunity to participate in shaping the structures of cricket in Australia in a durable and harmonious way.

That communal understanding of work, with its insistence on participation, seems to lie at the heart of the dispute of Cricket Australia. It reflects a corporate understanding in which workers are seen not as partners but as individuals under managers and a board which establishes their conditions of employment and remuneration and decides the strategies for a sustainable game. Sharing a percentage of the income derived from cricket is the symbol of the struggle between the two parties. Because its wider symbolic significance is not realised the dispute has ramified and intensified.

In this dispute, from a Catholic perspective the cricketers have much on their side. They are right to negotiate through their association, and the game would be better off if they find ways of participating in the administration of their work so that it benefits all involved in the game.

Of course, the Catholic understanding of work also privileges negotiation over strikes and lock-outs in resolving disputes. But negotiation is between active partners equally worthy of respect.


Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Catholic Social Teaching, cricket



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Existing comments

One important contribution to the Church's discussion on sport is the Australian Catholic Bishops' Social Justice Statement for 2014-15, 'A Crown for Australia: Striving for the best in our sporting nation'.

David B | 07 June 2017  

I always thought cricket was a sport, a relaxation which is what I found it. I was told many moons ago I would regret turning sport into work, business or a profession!

Gerard Leahy | 07 June 2017  

I think Gerard Leahy is right. Up until relatively recently even professional sportsmen in Australia had jobs in the real world. I cannot help remembering that some of Australia's greatest cricketers were great, not just in terms of skill but had superb character. The best of these, to me, was the really great Bill Woodfull. How he showed up Douglas Jardine over that atrocious bodyline series and made 'Plum' Warner speechless. Mr Woodfull remained plain 'Mr', refusing a knighthood because he thought his day job, as Principal of Melbourne High School, was a far greater achievement. He was, of course, an amateur and a genuine one at that, like other great role models like John Landy and the Cordner brothers of Melbourne AFL Club fame. Of course, in those days, 'sport' did not have its vastly over-rewarded administrators, such as John Coates. Sadly, much 'sport' has become like the Roman games: it's 'bread and circuses' all over again. I would much rather some of the profits from cricket be ploughed back into grass roots level than to extremely well remunerated administrators and players already wealthy from their IPL salaries. What about our excellent women cricketers? Like our Gold Medal winning W omens' Rugby 7s team they play for relative peanuts.

Edward Fido | 07 June 2017  

A lovely piece, Andy. And what an exhilarating application and critique of the sometimes tedious 'Laborem Exercens' encyclical.

MLF | 08 June 2017  

A critical time in sport occurred when it moved from being an amateur pastime, played for the love of it, and as a way of demonstrating personal skill / prowess, to being just another area where talented people were paid and became workers in the sports industry. The current cricket situation might be seen through the lens of history, when industrial workers had to form unions in order to negotiate for fair wages and conditions. Something that is becoming obvious within "sport as an industry" is the mental, physical, and even social impact of continued focus on training and practice. Some people's lives are broken when they are no longer able to perform at the high standard required for success within their chosen sport. For many, their formative years were spent focussing on physical development and mental resilience. "Life after sport" requires greater attention. The professionalisation of sport needs national bodies to ensure that standardised support and protection is available to ensure that all sportspeople, including women and people from indigenous communities, are not exploited because of their natural talent.

Paddy | 08 June 2017  

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