SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s major cricket sponsors, including Qantas Airways, breakfast cereal maker Sanitarium and brewer Lion, said on Monday they were assessing their relationship with the country’s favorite pastime as the Fallout from a ball tampering scandal is intensifying.
The incident, which Australia captain Steve Smith said involved senior players hatching a plan to tamper with the ball during a game against rival South Africa, also threatens to upend ongoing broadcast rights negotiations.
Weetbix maker Sanitarium, which counts Smith as a brand ambassador, said it was reviewing its sponsorship pending the outcome of an investigation by governing body Cricket Australia.
“It is certainly under review as the actions taken by the team in South Africa do not align with our own values - Sanitarium does not condone cheating in sport,” Sanitarium said in a statement.
The sentiment was echoed by nearly every sports business partner in Australia, including Qantas, clothing sponsor ASICS, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, insurer Bupa, Specsavers, Toyota and brewer Lion, which owns the sponsor of XXXX beer.
“Like the rest of Australia, we are deeply concerned,” a Lion spokesperson said in a statement. “It’s not what you expect from anyone in the sport at any level.”
Singapore Telecommunications’ Optus, which is a business partner and broadcasts cricket on its mobile network, said it would not comment on the incident as it was about Cricket Australia.
The camera vision of Australian player Cameron Bancroft hiding a piece of yellow duct tape which was used to try and manhandle the ball for the benefit of the bowler stunned a sport-loving nation where ‘backyard’ cricket and ” beach” are a national pastime. Roughing one side of a ball can help it swing through the air, making it harder for the batsman to hit.
The position of Australian cricket captain is even considered locally the second most important position behind the Prime Minister.
Indeed, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull intervened on Sunday to demand swift action from Cricket Australia.
Cricket Australia said in a statement it would present the findings of its investigation on Wednesday local time.
“We understand that everyone wants answers, but we need to do our due diligence before making any further decisions,” said Cricket Australia chairman David Peever.
BRUISING SALARY DISPUTE
Former sports heroes, including the late Sir Donald Bradman, are revered as much for their conduct as for their victories, helping to create a clean and attractive brand to attract corporate sponsors.
It is now tarnished.
“It is deeply disappointing and certainly not what anyone expects from our national cricket team,” Qantas said in a statement. “We are in discussion with Cricket Australia as this issue unfolds.”
Cricket Australia earned A$338.4 million ($261 million) in media, sponsorship and spectator fees in the financial year ended June 30, 2017, according to its latest annual report. The value of his individual sponsorships is not disclosed.
The ball tampering incident struck at the height of talks over a five-year broadcast rights deal with Australian television networks.
Long-term cricket broadcaster Nine Entertainment declined to comment on Monday.
Cricketers and the governing body also recently emerged from a deadly pay dispute.
Independent media analyst Peter Cox said the ball tampering scandal could prove disastrous for cricket’s reputation and influence in negotiations in Australia.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time,” Cox told Reuters in a phone interview.
“The individual incident will blow up eventually, but they will lose a segment of the viewing market because of it.”
($1 = 1.2945 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Jonathan Barrett in SYDNEY; Editing by Martin Howell/Nick Mulvenney