LIV and World Series Cricket - Norman & Greig

Tall, blond and bristling with aggression, Tony Greig and Greg Norman have both delivered the same message to their respective sports – do not ignore the interests of the players.

Both Greig and Norman arguably under achieved as players, but then went on to try and change the face of cricket and golf.

Almost half a century ago, cricket had to deal with the challenges that currently face the top echelon of professional golfers, and the game’s administrators. On the 26th of September 1977, over 30 hearing days, a young chancery judge, Christopher Slade, heard a restraint of trade claim filed by 3 top cricketers – Tony Grieg, John Snow and Mike Procter. The three plaintiffs had all been banned by the Test and County Cricket Board (TCCB) for life. Their international careers were over.

Sir Christopher Slade loved cricket and was the judge assigned to the case. Slade had taken silk in 1965 at the age of 38 and had been appointed to the High Court early in his career. Mr Justice Slade faced issues he was aware would forever change the sport he loved. Cricket would never look quite the same after his judgement. After a five and a - half-hour summary, and 200 pages, Slade J ruled the restrictive rule changes and the bans on the three Test players were ‘’ultra vires’’ and void as being ‘’in unreasonable restraint of trade’’. Slade ruled the (TCCB), representing the international body, the ICC, could not prevent cricket’s elite players from participating in Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket (WSC). Cricket’s representative Doug Insole at the hearing summed it all up rather neatly – ‘’we were well, and truly, stuffed.’’

After his ground-breaking decision diehard cricket fans in England made their feelings on the judge, and his decision, very clear. A wall outside the Oval was graffitied by the fans who handed down their own brief decision – ‘’Slade Out’’. Their protest did not concern Slade. According to his Times obituary, he reportedly found that verdict rather amusing.

Both the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour have adopted a similarly hard line to cricket in relation to contractual exclusivity over their players. Golf appears is now heading in the same direction as cricket - some 45 years on.

Kerry Packer was the catalyst for the cricket litigation. He had recruited the world’s top cricketers to participate in World Series Cricket in 1977. Packer was a genius, and successfully pioneered night cricket, coloured clothing and the white ball. The crowds and the players loved it. The Packer approach to the game reaped considerable rewards for the WSC players. Dennis Lillee had been a key target for Packer’s recruiters. It was not a difficult choice for the great fast bowler in his signing up to World Series Cricket. Lillee had calculated his average payday, pre-Packer, at A$30 per day playing Test cricket for Australia. Many English players (particularly those like John Snow near the end of their careers) went through their own brief decision-making process before quickly signing on with World Series Cricket. Fast bowler Snow felt particularly undervalued by his country in commenting that a ‘’dustman going down the Marylebone Road earned more than I did playing cricket’’.

The English cricket establishment was vehemently opposed to the commercialisation of the game and had even gone so far as to fine players (including Snow) displaying modestly sized advertising logos on their clothing during televised County games. In a similar scenario to LIV Golf in 2022, Channel Nine (with the assistance of Richie Benaud) recruited 28 Australian cricketers, 18 West Indians and 22 Rest of the World Players to start a series that would change cricket forever. (Saudi Golf League /LIV Golf has now signed up its target group of 48 golfers).

In 1977 the defensive response from the ICC to World Series Cricket swiftly kicked in. Greig was summarily dismissed as England captain and the ICC immediately banned all Packer players from appearing in ICC controlled matches. The governing bodies of cricket, in much the same way as golf today, believed they had the best interests of their sport at heart and that their actions in defending their own fixtures were justified.

The High Court listened to arguments that painted Packer and Greig as a couple of vulgar raiders who had shamelessly recruited the world’s best players to advance World Series Cricket’s commercial interests. During the hearing there were testy exchanges between Geoffrey Boycott (who had refused to sign with Packer) and Greig. The judge went as far as warning Greig, via his counsel Robert Alexander, about his client’s conduct during the trial. South African born, Greig had been appointed captain of England prior to the Packer revolt. There was more than an implication that Greig was letting down his adopted country. Christopher Slade may have shared this view on Greig the man, but in 2013 he attended Greig’s memorial service.

Slade did express some sympathy for the cricket establishment – ‘’I have been impressed by the obvious, disinterested dedication to, and concern for, the game’’. However, restraint of trade was the only issue that was relevant to him. He ruled in favour of the 3 cricketers, and World Series Cricket, on all points of their claim. He ordered costs in favour of the plaintiff in the order of £250,000.

This was the most significant ruling handed down in world sport at the time. Professional cricketers were relieved that sports bodies and administrators were unable to prevent the players from making the most of their potentially brief careers at the top. Cricketers (and golfers) all face issues of career interruption, and even termination, from the usual challenges such as injury, loss of form, and selectorial vicissitudes. Any professional sport is a tough life with a limited income span.  

Fast forward to 2022. Greg Norman has been recruited by LIV, in much the same way as Grieg by Packer, as his recruiting officer in 1977. Both men shared a polarising reputation, and both adopted an aggressive, and uncompromising, attitude to their recruitment roles.

Nothing too much seems to have changed in professional sport. A group of top golfers (including such controversial stars as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnston and Sergio Garcia) have recently been banned by the PGA Tour for signing up with LIV Golf. Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan published a list of players that ‘’are suspended or otherwise no longer eligible to play in PGA Tour tournament play, including The President’s Cup”.  The group of the 48 golfers playing in the LIV events have made the decision to put their own financial security, and that of their families, before the vested interests of their various tours. Their suspensions have quickly followed.

So where does this leave the present upheaval in golf and the inevitable legal action that both sides are currently threatening?

LIV has described the recent announcement by the PGA Tour as ‘’vindictive and it deepens the divide between the tour and its members’’. Greg Norman commented on possible bans in February by commenting - ‘’surely you jest” and has issued a warning to the PGA Tour that he has engaged lawyers to protect any of the players that have signed with his Saudi Arabian employers. The European players face similar conflict with the DP World Tour. The battle lines are drawn.

The players futures, and their eligibility for events like Ryder Cup, remain uncertain until the looming legal disputes are resolved by negotiation, court action, or possibly, like cricket, by the passage of time. Two years after Sir Christopher Slade ruling in 1977 the players had made their peace with the cricket authorities. The cricketers playing World Series Cricket re-joined their national test teams. Cricket was far stronger, with wider appeal and audiences.

Packer had succeeded in securing the broadcasting rights to cricket that he had been unable to secure before the court action. To quote Tony Grieg on Packer ‘’he improved cricket on television beyond recognition. He just took it to another level.’’ John Snow expressed similar sentiments ‘’Kerry Packer took a stick of dynamite and threw it in the Long Room. When the pieces came down, everything was in a different shape - but cricket was the better for it’’.

Cricket was far better for the upheaval.

It seems unlikely that Greg Norman and his Saudi Arabian pay masters will change the face of golf to quite the quite same degree that Packer changed cricket in 1977. However, it also seems doubtful that the restrictions and controls wielded over the players by the PGA Tour and the DP World Tour in the past can remain intact.  LIV Golf and Norman seem to be treading a similar path to Packer and Greig 45 years ago. Neither side seems in a mood to back down. Perhaps a judge will again send a message to the contestants to point them in the right direction for their sport. A calm head judicial head may yet play a key role in resolving the current dispute that is dividing golf.