As England’s men continue their tour of India and the IPL gears up for its return in April, our ongoing campaign into player welfare in cricket reached its conclusion, as leaders from across the cricketing landscape came together for a special Sport Industry Spotlight.
Alongside Sport Industry Group’s Tom Lloyd, Miller Insurance’s Alex Mendis joined Worcestershire CCC and former PCA Chairman Daryl Mitchell and former England Women’s Captain and new PCA President Charlotte Edwards for an in-depth look at the risks players are facing around the globe, and what can be done to help them in the future.
The session, in full above, was the climax of a campaign that has seen Alex Mendis lay out the state of play for players in 2020 here, Insignia Sport’s Eddie Tolchard and Tom Harwood tackle the issue from an agent’s perspective here, and a collection of third-party suppliers discuss their dealings with cricketers, and the challenges they face, here.
“It’s all about the support networks”.
After the panel session ran for nearly an hour, one line brilliantly summed it up from England Women’s Captain Charlotte Edwards.
“It’s all about the support networks. Some of the big cricket boards – particularly in women’s cricket – are forging ahead, but others are lagging behind. That creates real issues for the support networks of players. We need to educate everyone so that the support networks are all on the same page and operating at the same standard.”
It became a common theme throughout the panel, that of education and collaboration, and as the discussion progressed it became clear that by working together the entire cricketing community can serve its players better.
Before that though, the panel took on the task of laying out exactly what they are seeing players across cricket face today from their position at the coalface. While Mitchell is still in a professional changing room, Edwards is coaching in both The Hundred and the BBL, and Mendis works day to day with players. Each brought their own unique perspective.
“‘In English domestic cricket, we’ve really seen mental health issues rise,” said Mitchell.
“There has been a big spike and that’s a huge challenge. Mental health is the one issue that has been at the forefront. In this country, we’ve been really fortunate to have some high-profile players that have spoken out – Steve Harmison, Marcus Trescothick - but it’s escalated hugely recently.”
Edwards echoed the sentiment, adding the name of her former England teammate Sarah Taylor, who retired from playing due to her mental health, and is now a wicketkeeping coach at Sussex.
“It’s quite alarming because these players are under so much pressure, stuck in a bubble, and I’m proud that some are speaking up,” she said. “I played a lot with Sarah and we just were never aware of what she was dealing with. A lot of players suffer in silence, so we don’t even know the full extent of the problem now.”
When asked why they thought mental health was under such a spotlight, the panel agreed on common themes; social media, and contractual fragmentation.
“I’ve never known media coverage of cricket like it,” said Edwards. “At the moment, everyone is stuck at home watching cricket and they have nothing better to do than criticise on social media – it’s incredibly damaging.”
Mitchell agreed, underlining the pressures that current players now face to perform, especially in the women’s game: “Media scrutiny and social media are becoming a big issue. In women’s cricket, the players who’ve signed new contracts are going from being club cricketers to playing on a huge stage, and the pressure is huge – it’s a worry.
“Another huge problem for these players is the sporadic nature of playing now. When I started, every player knew their career path. You started as a junior, worked your way through the academy, into the first team and then on to international honours.
“Now though, there is no clear career path – it can lead in all manner of directions and you have no security. One bad performance, and you could be left high and dry. It also means that these players don’t know who is ultimately looking after them, and there is a bit of a duty of care vacuum.”
Mendis, who insures players against their lost earnings from injuries or illnesses across a multitude of franchise tournaments, dove in deeper on the topic.
“It’s an issue with short-term contracts. The fundamental fact is that 50% of players feel insecure in their career security, and short-term contracts are exacerbating that [FICA’s 2020 Global Employment report]. It’s about player choice, of course, and there is tremendous opportunity, but it comes with many more risks.
“Add to this that the approach of different boards to the franchise circuit varies wildly, and that a hierarchy of earnings has formed across tournaments, and it becomes really difficult for the players to understand where priorities lie. They have to make tough decisions, and if something goes wrong it can really cost them, financially. That brings fear and anxiety, which bubble life has made worse.”
It’s one thing for a panel to understand the issue at hand and discuss it at length, but it’s another for them to work out how to solve it. With players’ mental health struggling amid a more fragmented playing landscape, increased social and media scrutiny, and volatile earning potential, what can the cricketing world do to help them through their careers?
“For me, it’s all about collaboration,” said Mitchell. “The last 12 months, throughout Covid, we’ve seen an increase in collaboration, but it needs to continue. There is definitely more that can be done at the global level, at the ICC and at the ‘big three’ [ECB, BCCI & CA]. I think ultimately, all of the international boards need to collaborate to create universal formats that can work for everyone.”
But as Mitchell reminded the entire panel, while the cricketing community can work in their interests, in the end, a players career is that players responsibility. “Ultimately, they are their own CEO. We can educate and advise, but they have to take responsibility for themselves,” he said.
Despite this, though, Mitchell’s inference towards a boards collaborating on a universal calendar, where players can easily navigate franchise tournaments and difficult choices, was wholeheartedly recommended.
“If the formats of the game continue to expand, then there needs to be international windows and franchise windows,” said Mendis.
“It means that players can continue to play internationally, taking pride in representing their country and with the security of fulfilling central contracts, and then they can go off (in another part of the year) to explore the exciting contracts available at different franchise tournaments. That has to happen, but it’ll be really interesting to see how. It isn’t easy.”
“I think so much of it is about education,” added Edwards. “Too often I see international games at the same time as the WBBL and it impacts the earnings so much. If we can educate everyone that this is not only in the interest of the players, but also the commercial interests of the boards, we can do more.
“The next two years, as the men’s game consolidates and the women’s game grows, promise to be really exciting for everyone. If we can continually educate on that journey, it’ll be a special thing.”
To learn more about the risks cricketers are facing and how best to mitigate against them, contact Alex Mendis at Miller Insurance on [email protected].