Lawyer Jamie Horner examines the legal issues around this winter’s Ashes series between England and Australia, which remains in the balance due to Covid-19 restrictions Down Under.
What are some of the key legal issues around this Ashes series?
The key issue is the difference between Covid-19 restrictions in the UK and the more draconian strategy in Australia. The impact of this unprecedented scenario on travelling players and their families is, understandably, at the forefront of the ECB’s and players’ thoughts.
The ECB is working with Cricket Australia to reach a solution but, quite rightly, regards the “safe and comfortable passage” of players and their families as non-negotiable.
Many Australians are unable to return from overseas due to its strict quarantine requirements, however, so the Australian government does not want to be seen to be granting an exemption.
Other leading sportspeople have had to quarantine on arrival in Australia but the issue for England is the length of time that they have already spent in “bubbles” coupled with the prospect of another long winter away from home, subject to quarantine restrictions.
What wider legal issues does the ECB face in respect of the tour?
The ECB already faces a tricky balancing act upholding player welfare in the face of its intensive summer and winter schedules.
Mental health, meanwhile, is rightly a key focus for players and the governing body, even more so at present, so any attempt to force a player to tour against their will with the threat of contractual penalties is unthinkable.
The schedule’s impact has been seen in Ben Stokes taking an indefinite break from the game for his own wellbeing and Moeen Ali having only recently returned to the test side after several months on the sidelines.
If a workable compromise cannot be achieved, and the tour is not cancelled, then it will be down to each member of the squad to decide whether they will accept the Australian quarantine restrictions unless there is a collective dressing room decision.
The recently cancelled Old Trafford Test, where the Indian team withdrew citing Covid-19 concerns, has highlighted the demands faced by sport in the face of the ongoing pandemic. This has set a precedent and potentially made players more confident in their stance.
England will not want to field a weakened team and potentially suffer a heavy series loss, which may threaten the tenures of captain Joe Root and coach Chris Silverwood. If England are not able to muster a strong squad then it is likely that the Ashes would be cancelled with both a sporting and financial fallout.
The contracts offered to players by the ECB and across sport will surely be subject to future amendment in order to guard against the future implications of a repeat of the pandemic.
How would the cancellation of the Ashes affect sponsors and broadcasters?
If the Ashes were cancelled there would also be knock-on issues with both sponsors and broadcasters and the associated legal and revenue-related issues that would need to be resolved.
The integrity of Test cricket, and the greatest of all Test series, is under threat and no decision will, therefore, be taken lightly nor should it be.
Jamie Horner is a sports law specialist and partner at Keystone Law.