A Primer on Australian Player Associations

By Dabscheck, Braham | The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR, September 2012 | Go to article overview
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A Primer on Australian Player Associations


Dabscheck, Braham, The Economic and Labour Relations Review : ELRR


Introduction

The Professional Footballers' Association was formed in December 1907 and has the distinction of being the oldest continuous players' association in professional team sports. Two earlier attempts, in 1893 and 1898, to form such an association failed owing to opposition from the Football Association and Football League (Dabscheck 1979; Harding 1991). These were not the first examples where players attempted to act collectively to enhance their employment rights. That distinction belongs to American baseball players who formed the National Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players in 1885. It operated for six years, folding after a failed attempt to establish a Players' League in 1890 (Di Salvatore 1990).

American baseball experienced four other unsuccessful attempts to establish player associations: the League Protective Players' Association (1900-1902), the Baseball Players' Fraternity (1912-1915), The National Baseball Players' Association of the United States (1922-1923) and the American Baseball Guild (1946) (Dworkin 1983).

In 1954, players formed the Major League Baseball Players' Association (MLBPA) over concerns of a pension plan being created by owners. For the first dozen years of its operation, its leader saw his role as one of ensuring that players understood the concerns of owners. In 1966, leading players made the decision to seek a more forceful leader. They appointed Marvin Miller, a former steel workers' union official who transformed the MLBPA into a strategically adept organisation which has negotiated substantial benefits for members (Miller 1991; Korr 1991, 2000, 2002). In a similar way, it took the Professional Players' Association several decades to learn how to achieve increased benefits for members. It was not until the 1950s and 1960s, under the stewardship of Cliff Lloyd, with the abolition of the maximum wage (which stood at 20 [pounds sterling] a week) in 1961 and the 1963 Eastham case (1) which found the retain and transfer system to be an unreasonable restraint of trade, that the Professional Footballers' Association obtained increased benefits for members and assumed a more prominent role in the governance of English football (Dabscheck 1979, 1986; Harding 1991; Harding with Taylor 2003).

The Professional Footballers' Association and the MLBPA are the tip of the iceberg of player associations in world sport. In both the United States and Europe, player associations operate in an increasing variety of sports. (2) What is probably less known is that Australia also has a long tradition of player associations.

The Situation in Australia

Table 1 provides information on various attempts to form player associations in Australia. In interpreting this table it is important to realise that, until recent decades, with the obvious exception of cricket, Australian sport was organised on a regional basis. Most leagues operated within the capital cities of the respective states of Australia. Technological changes associated with broadcasting--colour television, cable and pay television, the internet--induced various sports to transform themselves from city to national based competitions. Besides reaping seemingly never ending increases in broadcasting income, this transformation also enabled leagues and member clubs to obtain 'large' revenues from sponsors.

Table 1 distinguishes among three types of player associations. The first are those that failed at formation. Because of opposition from league and club officials, the apathy of potential members and the problems would be leaders experienced in finding the time to perform necessary leadership functions, such attempts fell at the first hurdle. In many cases they were little more than a call in the wilderness on the need for something to be done to improve the lot of players. There have been 22 such attempts, the first occurring in Australian Rules Football in Victoria, before World War I.

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