December 18, 2008

Stanford 20/20 for 20

What's the deal, Stanford?

Nishi Narayanan
Allen Stanford arrives at Lord's in style to launch Stanford 20-20 for 20, Lord's, June 11, 2008
 © AFP
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Allen Stanford, the Texan billionaire underwriting much of West Indies cricket, has denied reports that he is set to pull the plug on his investment in the game, although his future involvement with the Caribbean remains up in the air. The Daily Mail reported the Stanford 20/20 for 20, which included a US$20 million match between England and a Stanford Superstars side,made a US$40 million loss and if now Stanford walks away from cricket, the impact could be devastating for the England board.

In the Guardian Andy Bull writes that Stanford is a swift and ruthless businessman who made his fortune through wealth management, and his experiences so far have left him unconvinced that English cricket is a wise investment.

Just 23 days after the deal was announced it was reported in the US financial press that two former employees of Stanford Financial were suing the company on the grounds that they had been forced to resign because they refused to participate in illegal activities. The case is expected to reach a verdict next autumn. More seriously still, the same men stated that they had been issued with subpoenas by the Securities & Exchange Commission – the regulatory body which oversees over-shore banking regulations in the USA – as part of an ongoing investigation into Stanford International Bank. The Stanford Group denied knowledge of any formal action, and described the claims as "totally without merit." The ECB refused to address the issue.

In the same paper, Mike Selvey writes that what needs examination is Stanford's stated primary motive - the betterment and future development of West Indies cricket.

... there are those who see a wealthy man with an incongruous, slightly batty affection for a game that is alien to the vast majority of Americans, who understands what cricket once meant to the Caribbean and would move mountains to reinstate that feeling. He is, they say, a generous benefactor, a first-rate philanthropist. Then there are those who see only an opportunist, intent on milking a precious heritage to make a few more bucks. He has, they say, been using Caribbean domestic cricket, and his promotion of it through his own competition, as a loss leader to develop his credibility in those circles in which he aspires to mix.

To Michael Henderson in the Daily Telegraph, Stanford's departure would be a wonderful festive gift to all true lovers of the game.

It was an arrangement that could never harmonise, so widely did the interests of the parties diverge. Stanford is a rich man who, in the manner of rich men, was looking to get richer. He spied a convenient bauble in the form of cricket, and, armed with wads of the folding stuff, which he literally waved under the noses of England’s governing body on a day of infamy at Lord’s, he made them dance to his tune.

The Daily Mail's Paul Newman believes that while Giles Clarke's future as ECB chairman may hang on what he can salvage from the Stanford deal, it is the people of West Indies that one must feel sorry for.

Stanford has been playing with people's lives in the Caribbean, giving them false hope that he was bringing professionalism and cricketing pride back to the region. The warning signs were there when he suspended the professional teams he had created in several islands as soon as he made more important friends at the ECB. Those warning signs were flashing like a beacon to the great Michael Holding, who resigned from the Stanford board and told this paper last summer that Stanford was only in it for himself.

Nishi Narayanan is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo

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