It goes against every instinct of a New Zealand sport fan, but why would anyone side against Australia's cricketers in their protracted pay dispute?

Thursday's announcement from Cricket Australia chief James Sutherland that the financial affray between players and their paymaster would probably require arbitration only extended the nine-month conflict, threatening the upcoming Ashes and begging the question above.

It also posed a couple of others: why, for example, would any impartial observer assess the situation across the Tasman, see athletes fighting to earn the money they deserve, and decide their sympathy in fact belongs to the administrators?

And, to break down the argument to its base level, what kind of supporter of sport would back anyone other than labour in a feud with the bosses?


That last riddle often arises in the contemporary era of professional sport, an era in which cricketers' bank balances swell exponentially beyond their batting averages.

In any other conflict over money - think a doctors' or teachers' strike - public affinity almost always lies with the aggrieved worker, rather than the those wearing the suits. But not sport.

In sport, as argued by a significant slice of the fan base, the workers are already overpaid and their avarice extends beyond their ability. They're merely lucky to chase around a ball and collect a pay cheque, the thinking goes, and in any labour quarrel the athletes should acknowledge that privileged place and back down.

But there is so much wrong with that thinking. To begin, the notion that sportsmen receive more remuneration than they deserve is flawed. Sportsmen - and, unfortunately, the same can't be said for sportswomen - are indeed paid extremely handsomely, but they have earned every cent.

Australia's cricketers, among others, are not greedy for seeking out more; they're entirely justified. Sport is run like a business and is intent on turning profit, after all, even if that comes at the expense of labour.

Which means those in charge of balancing the books will always be inclined to undercut the talent, even if the product itself would ceased to exist without the players. And it also means athletes' value away from the pitch, from their promotion of certain brands to their selling the game to future generations, can often be under-appreciated.

Yes, they still play a game for a living. And yes, they are fortunate for that. But they're far from lucky. Many top-level athletes owe an amount of their ability to inherent genetic ability, undoubtedly, but they owe as much to hard work and sacrifice.

While this correspondent was among many to spend their university days staying sober enough to pass their papers, athletes were ignoring their friends and setting their alarms for early-morning practices. Such determination seems worthy of all the available reward.


And, in any case, no matter how much fame and fortune their determination engenders, the athletes are still the little guy in a labour battle.

In American sport, that's illustrated by the billionaire owners cheating millionaire players out of the extra zero merited by their play. In Australia, it's seen by the administrators continuing to receive a salary while the players practise for free.

Remind me, with that considered, which side is worth rooting for? Which side of the dispute can see their career end in an instant, their earning power forever curtailed courtesy of one unlucky and literal break? Which side is encouraging kids to remain active and chase a dream that is, unlike many other careers, available to almost all? Which side is worth rooting for? Even the most dedicated Black Caps fan knows there's only one answer to that question.