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Free trade is good, even in cricket

This is not about sport.

Libertarian and conservative policy obsessives tend not to read the sports pages of newspapers. There is a theory that most politicians were victimised at schools and their pursuit of politics is a form of revenge. Even those libertarians who are sporty are often practitioners of solo sports: jogging, skiing, suba-diving. I merely point this out to explain why the collectivist drivel which infests the sports sections of newspapers rarely gets challenged.

One of the the great myths of modern England is that the cricket team is rubbish because of the ‘polluting’ effect of foreigners. Some people have suggested that the solution would be to ban non-white players from the England team. Others suggest a more merchantile approach: ban foreign players from playing for the counties. The argument is exactly the same as for US steel tariffs, or restricting the number of American TV shows on European TV stations.

This article in the Daily Telegraph describes a development in the labour laws that should be welcomed. But English cricket keeps its ostrich head rammed into the ground.

The problem is that cricket does not generate enough money to pay for squads of highly paid professionals. The bulk of the money comes from televised matches involing the national team only. Therefore if a team is going to shell out a large sum of money for a couple of players, it wants a big name, which means an established international player.

Perversely, restrictions on foreign players mean that each club is only allowed to hire two, roughly the number of players who could be paid big wages. Result, cricket is not a viable professional sport for most young English players.

The sensible commercial decision would be for cricket to go either go semi-professional (part-time players paid appearance money), or cut the number of teams to a level that is affordable. Instead we have demands for EU citizens who are allowed to work anywhere in the EU to be banned from playing cricket in England. Is this the way to spread one’s market?

Imagine if the software industry worked like this.

Californian firms would initially be banned from hiring more than one programmer from outside the state of California. These firms would also refuse to serve customers outside Silcon Valley, except at international trade fairs. Then when the Supreme Court prohibited restraint of trade for non Californians there would be a moan about the number of Texans etc in Californian software firms. With a market restricted to one state there would be demands for subsidies, wage control, and repressive immigration laws.

This is the economic orthodoxy of cricket, yet there is no reason why it should be. Other sports such as baseball, gridiron football, soccer, basketball, even rugby union in recent years, are profiting from globalisation. What English cricket needs are better business models, not laws.

11 comments to Free trade is good, even in cricket

  • Andrew Duffin

    Last I checked, cricket was a sport, not a business. And the whole point of the England cricket team, surely, is that it is something to do with England?

    If anyone in the world can play for England, then it’s just a team, formed for money, supported by money, and doing everything it does just for money.

    A bit like professional football.

    Isn’t that what the cricket authorities are trying to counter?

  • Even those libertarians who are sporty are often practitioners of solo sports: jogging, skiing, suba-diving.

    Scuba-diving is not a solo sport, unless you have a death wish.

  • “Last I checked, cricket was a sport, not a business.”

    Last time I checked, professional sports, no matter which sport, involved money, franchises (usually referred to as “teams”), contracts, and markets for fans, players, and management. There are also players’ unions, collective bargaining agreements, and strikes. Pro sports is a business as any other industry, and should be treated accordingly. No matter what nationality the players are, they should be permitted. Look at what the influx of foreign talent has done for U.S. sports — increased media exposure, increased profits, and extra talent — a capitalist’s dream.

  • Johnathan

    Antoine, it may be true that a lot of political “obssessives” like libertarians are not interested in sports, or more specifically, team sports. Hmm. In my experience many libertarians of my acquaintance like team sports, including football, cricket, rugby, NFL, baseball, Ice Hockey.

    Of course, these are mostly spectator interests. Not many libbos of my acquaintance actually play much sport themselves, unless it is an individualist sport.

    For myself, I play a bit of cricket and golf. (Don’t ask for my batting avg, mind. too embarrassing)

  • David Crawford

    Speaking of baseball, I can’t even imagine how lame it would be without all of the great latin players. That’s not to mention the emerging great players from Japan (Matsui, Ichiro, etc.)

  • Lynne

    Free trade arguments remind me of the famous quote regarding Christianity being a wonderful religion but no one had really tried it yet. (or something to that effect.) We don’t have free trade in the world. We have corporate control of markets exploiting workers (who have no bargaining power) on a worldwide basis. We have crony capitialists in our White House who only care about the business leaders in our country.

    I would love to see how “free trade” actually works. Unfortunately, no one has tried it yet.

  • Johnathan

    The arguments about the benefits of globalisation apply with great force to football. Look at what the influx of overseas players, not to mention foreign coaches, has done to clubs such as Chelsea and Arsenal. In particular, Arsenal has gone from being one of the dullest clubs around into a thrilling, stylish, attacking side which is a joy to watch, even if you are a neutral. My own club, Ipswich Town, was revolutionised in the mid-70s when Dutch footballers came on board.

    The problems of English cricket are numerous, and money is just one element. I am afraid the game in this country will never really return to its former glories until our state education system is smashed into atoms and the benefits of competitive team sports are appreciated once more. 30 years of egalitarian nonsense has made mincemeat of the sport.

  • Mike Hunt

    Victoria recently won the Sheffield Shield (Milk Cup) without a foreigner. In fact Victoria prides itself on never having employed a foreigner to carry the team.

    If a state/county keeps paying outsiders it will never need develop its own players. Overseas professionals are a short term solution.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    The best teams are almost invariably those which have a blend of foreign and local talent. There is still a strong tradition grounded in success of english teams, especially in football, where young talent is cultivated. There are intangible advantages in homegrown talent, even if they aren’t readily apparent.

    For the record, I play football. Mostly as a fullback, though I was a wingback when I had more stamina(in the army). Sigh.

    The Wobbly Guy

  • Theodopoulos Pherecydes

    The problem with UK cricket is the probem with UK schools which denigrate competition of any sort and, therefore, won’t spend money on the kit or pitch.

  • I play cricket and Australian Rules Football and have done so competitively for over 20 years.

    I agree with the commentators who blame the schools for the decline of cricket. Even in Australia, the vast majority of our elite cricketers come from the private school system, where competitive sport is not only encouraged, but mandatory. The same is true for the AFL.