Editorial: Don’t let politicians expropriate cricket
This newspaper continues to be deeply concerned about the continuing efforts about Caribbean governments, despite their protestations to the contrary, to expropriate the management of West Indies cricket from a private institution and cede it to an organisation that is likely to have the characteristics of one of those overburdened public enterprises that drag down regional economies.
In the latest move to hand the oversight of the sport to an unwieldy body of the kind conceptualised a decade ago by a committee headed by former Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, Keith Mitchell, the prime minister of Grenada and chairman of the Caribbean Community's (CARICOM) committee on cricket, has co-opted legendary former Test players, including Sir Garfield Sobers, Wes Hall, Viv Richards, and Andy Roberts.
At a meeting in Grenada this week, these legendary cricketers demanded that the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) acquiesce to the call made late last year by another CARICOM-appointed body, for the board of a corporation whose shareholders are the territorial associations to disband itself, to be replaced by some interim group, while new arrangements are put in place.
We are hardly surprised that the cricketers have rallied to the cause of the politicians, hoping to unravel a polyglot of complex issues that affect the sport in the Caribbean. Generations of West Indian Test players have long nursed grievances against the WICB and its predecessor for matters ranging from disputes over pay, perceived absence of sensitivity in the handling of their retirement, and matters of respect in their retirement. It has not helped that the West Indies, once the dominant team among Test-playing countries, has languished near the bottom for two decades.
Indeed, there runs deep in the West Indies an anti-establishment culture that leads to the knee-jerk stance against the WICB in any and every dispute as has been the case recently with the quarrel between the board and the region's handful of elite players over compensation. A year and a half ago, a West Indies Test squad walked out of a tour of India because their union, the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA), negotiated contracts that did not include the payment to them of nearly all the board's earnings from sponsors.
The bulk of that money went to financing a regional semi-professional league, which, for the first time, allowed the bulk of WIPA's members, who are not among the elite few, to make some money from the game in the region. More than 90 players got contracts. The team to the recent T20 World Cup was in the balance until nearly the eleventh hour as the players held out for more money. The players complain more and perform worse in Tests at a time when they are being paid more.
The ironic twist to all this is that the WICB, under the current president, Dave Cameron, and the agitating players are philosophically congruent - conceptually laissez-faire and market-oriented. Unlike, perhaps, Patterson, cricket for them falls in no large sociopolitical frame. The elite cricketers demand money, which Cameron wants to pay and believes he is structuring West Indies cricket to do.
There may be need for a new, serious conversation about cricket's role in the Caribbean. But the answer to the problems is not the multi-tiered, overarching management monstrosity. Dave Cameron may not be the man; you have to watch those politicians and their appetite for control.