Alistair Nicholson has quit his post as chief executive of the Australian Cricketers Association (ACA) after an eventful tenure that began with the death of Phillip Hughes, rode out a spiteful MoU negotiation with Cricket Australia and the subsequent Newlands scandal, then ended with the game’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The ACA was always likely to need to find a new CEO ahead of the next MoU negotiation, due in expire in 2022, and Nicholson is understood to have been pondering his exit late last year before ultimately staying on to navigate issues around Covid-19.
The ACA, led by the duo of its chairman Greg Dyer and president Shane Watson, will now seek a new CEO who will take up the job around the same time as CA’s own next permanent chief executive begins next year, after Nicholson’s longtime adversary Kevin Roberts was deposed earlier this year – Nick Hockley is serving as interim.
“I’ve been humbled to represent our player group and I’m very proud of what we have been able to achieve in my time at the ACA,” Nicholson said. “I have had to deal with unprecedented issues in the game but always tried to maintain principles of fairness and equity, representing the players as we worked to advance the interests of the game at all times.
“I step down with some sadness as I love the ACA and the game but I look forward to watching from afar and taking a break to enjoy a summer of watching cricket after a particularly demanding tenure, including most recently through COVID. The season ahead is now as well planned as possible and I have great confidence in the ACA team to steer through the years ahead.”
Pat Cummins, a member of the ACA executive, summed up Nicholson: “Al is trusted by the players. We knew he would always be tough but balanced when representing us and that our stance would be based on good principles. He is welcome back in the changeroom at any time.”
Replacing Paul Marsh in 2014 after playing in the AFL for Melbourne and then working for the marketing and commercial firm Gemba, Nicholson arrived at the ACA at a time when its relationship with CA was deteriorating after some years of fruitful collaboration. The next six years were seldom uneventful as he found himself at odds with James Sutherland and his replacement Roberts, who had first served as a combative negotiator for the governing body in the 2016-17 MoU dispute.
Nicholson and the ACA, chaired by Dyer, ultimately preserved their fixed percentage share of Australian Cricket Revenue after successfully having Roberts sidelined from compromise discussions, but not until after the vast majority of state and national contracted players went without pay for more than a month. The deal included women as well as men for the first time, while also enhancing a raft of player development and support programs, and giving the players a direct say in how a portion of funding for the game’s grassroots levels is used.
Fractures between the players and CA did not aid the environment that was bubbling around the national team and exploded into the Newlands scandal in March 2018, as Steven Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were all banned for their part in a brazen ball-tampering attempt and subsequent cover-up. As he had done after the death of Hughes, Nicholson stayed close to the players and even called for the CA-imposed sanctions to be reduced.
The subsequent review of Australian cricket culture outlined many of the sorts of complaints that the ACA, the state associations and CA’s many other partners had raised either side of the Newlands scandal, and left Nicholson working with an organisation that was in many ways humbled in its subsequent dealings. Nevertheless there were still issues to be debated, not least the harsh ban imposed upon the Hobart Hurricanes’ Emily Smith for a minor integrity infraction last summer.
Old wounds left from previous battles between CA and the ACA were then laid bare by Roberts’ proposed response to Covid-19, principally pre-emptive cutbacks to staff, the states and also the players’ share of the season’s revenue. These pressure points ultimately overwhelmed Roberts, leaving the ACA to negotiate something of a “wait and see” compromise with CA.
“Under Alistair’s leadership we’ve become much more professional and developed our capability to provide a much-expanded service offering for the benefit of all of our members,” Dyer said. “We’re now positioned to participate strongly in the game’s future as an enormously respected contributor at all levels of Australian cricket.
“Alistair has made an incredible personal contribution to these outcomes, working tirelessly through some very difficult moments for the sport. He should be rightly proud of the players’ participation in grassroots programmes, in cricket’s position as the leader in gender equity and in the continuing dividend which the revenue share partnership model delivers.”
Nicholson will exit the ACA post by the end of the year, as the board commences its search for his replacement.