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In at the deep end

Julian Huntethe, new WICB president, inherits unenviable burdens

Vaneisa Baksh

July 29, 2007

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Hunte: new man in © AFP
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The West Indies Cricket Board's annual general meeting would likely have graciously received the farewell speech of the outgoing president, Ken Gordon, and welcomed the latest, Julian Hunte OBE, by the time this article is published.

On reflection, Gordon's two-year tenure was no less turbulent than those of his predecessors for the past decade or so. As with the others, he entered an organisation fraught with problems, and he leaves with only the permutation slightly changed: the problems continue to outlast every presidential intervention.

From Peter Short to Pat Rousseau, Wes Hall, and Teddy Griffith before him, no one managed to penetrate the bubble wrap insulating the organisation from radical change. When Gordon took up the position he was 75, a retired media stalwart who had chaired several corporate boards in Trinidad and Tobago (Neal & Massy, First Citizens Bank, and BWIA, the airline).

He must have felt that his skills would be more than adequate to turn things around, and he fell to it purposefully, mandating himself to reduce debt and spending, prepare for the Cricket World Cup, and restructure the board. He couldn't have imagined how ornery the directorship could be, and he didn't accept that his style would be considered abrasive, arrogant and autocratic to those around him.

From early, he was in the thick of it. A month after taking office he stepped into the chairmanship of the CWC Board after Rawle Brancker's angry resignation at a meeting. A report on internal relations and practices had been prepared by a committee headed by Julian Hunte, and was presented. "Out of the discussions that followed, Mr Brancker decided that he was going to resign," Gordon told BBC Caribbean. "He didn't like the tone of the criticisms that were made in the recommendations and he resigned. You have problems all the time in every organisation."

Hunte is entering an organisation that has managed mainly to demonise its inhabitants, and the task ahead is protracted, complex and painful

It wasn't the same story as the one told by other parties, but nevertheless Gordon took Brancker's seat. That there has been no love lost between them was evident in his recent response to Brancker's proposals for a new structure for the WICB. He called Brancker "petulant," a remark that left Wes Hall so irate that he deemed Gordon without "moral authority" to ask anyone to apologise for anything until he offered a proper apology to Brancker.

What has deeply shadowed Gordon's tenure is the manner in which all disputes descended to the point where truthfulness was questioned. The WICB's veracity had been challenged by Brian Lara (over selectors), Allen Stanford and Michael Holding (the Pakistan tour), Chris Gayle (diary), the board's former Chief Cricket Operations Officer, Zorol Barthley (the Future Tours Programme), and the West Indies Players' Association (everything). Whatever Gordon made up for by cutting costs, he lost by deepening the mistrust that already plagues WICB dealings.

It is one of the key problems to be addressed Julian Hunte, an experienced politician and diplomat. Hunte set to work as soon as he knew the presidency was his, and has been quietly offering olive (and other) branches to various parties, including WIPA and the University of West Indies, as he attempts to build his own cabinet.

Hunte is no stranger to the WICB. For twenty-something years he served in various capacities, ending as vice president in 1998 when he took up the post of St Lucia's representative at the United Nations. He has been president of the 58th session of the UN General Assembly, a senator, member of parliament, JP, and has his own business empire. At 67 he must feel that he can turn things around, just as his predecessors probably thought their experience qualified them to do.

But he, too, is entering an organisation that has managed mainly to demonise its inhabitants, and the task ahead is protracted, complex and painful.

In the first place there are all these dysfunctional relationships to be healed. How will Hunte manage the latest feud that has left the WICB's CEO and WIPA's president virtually calling each other liars and saying they cannot work with each other? Will he insist on a public apology from Gayle, or institute disciplinary measures against him? Will he reach out to Allen Stanford for an arrangement that shares the rights and responsibilities for West Indies cricket? Something along the lines suggested on this website by Jayaditya Gupta for Indian cricket: "[The Indian board] can outsource the administration of Twenty20 cricket to the [Indian Cricket League], and let the new league throw up a pool of players who can be cherry-picked for the national team."

New relationships will have to be built, and it may require changing personnel from within. Will Hunte be able to replace staff?

He will also have to deal with the declared intention of Caricom governments of seeking to have a greater say in West Indies cricket given their big spends for the World Cup. Finding the balance there will be as delicate a task as any demanded from him in his career as a diplomat.

He will also have to address issues surrounding sponsorships, and must find it disturbing that a major contract with Digicel was sewn up just days before the AGM. It reduces manoeuvrability, and he could have reasonably expected that negotiations would have been left for a new team to lead.



Ken Gordon may have streamlined the finances of the board but he leaves behind a legacy of mistrust © Trinidad and Tobago Express
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One issue holding public attention will be how Hunte treats the recommendations of the Governance Committee. One of its first suggestions was that the WICB "give way to a more representative" body. It is a difficult proposal to execute even if the new president is willing to do so, because the rest of the board will fight it down to the end. Hunte must know that historically no president of the WICB has come from his Windward island home of St Lucia, and that this grouping would want to savour this moment before any constitutional change denies them another chance.

The published aide memoire of the committee said:

"If there is to be a new departure, which we regard as urgent, there are at least four important questions which the public will expect the Governance Committee Report to answer forthrightly.

1. How can the governance of West Indies cricket be made more effective?
2. How can the current performance of the flagship team be taken to a higher level?
3. How can the broad base of the game, and its immediate prospects, in the Region be strengthened?
4. How can the fragile financial base of the West Indies cricket be improved and secured on a lasting basis?

"Any structure to move forward must ensure full accountability and transparency. Precise goals must be established, so as to measure performance at every level on a regular basis."

And these, more or less, are the issues that stare Hunte in the face, just as they have confronted those before him. Waters may be even muddier now, given the level of mistrust (never low in this swamp), but concentrating on issues, not egos, will make a difference.

It is difficult to say whether Hunte is up to the challenge, simply because it is not a responsibility for any one person to bear. He will need to concentrate on fostering partnerships and nurturing relationships as his primary task. If he has the philosophical centre to enable this, and can build trust, then he may find that support can outweigh the opposition.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad

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Vaneisa Baksh Vaneisa Baksh has been studying West Indies cricket's history for ages, and has been writing on the game for even longer. She has been admitted as a member of the Queen's Park Cricket Club in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, which recently opened its doors to females. She hasn't become one of the boys yet, though.

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