September 6, 2007

Marriage of convenience

The implications of the WICB's decision to accommodate Allen Stanford

Julian Hunte has voted in favour of building a potentially beneficial partnership with Allen Stanford © Getty Images

The West Indies Cricket Board's agreement to a five-year franchise for the Stanford 20/20 Regional Tournament, and its decision to include the tournament in its cricket calendar, have opened several significant portals.

To start with, it eases the tension that had been created between the two parties over the staging of the same tournament in 2006, and plans for next year's grander version. The relationship had soured over the staging of the superstar clash (with its first-place prize of $5 million), when the WICB, under Ken Gordon, declared itself unable to modify dates for a coinciding Pakistan tour in October 2006. Matters became muddled when it was revealed that the Pakistan Cricket Board was willing to amend dates. The upshot was a cancelled tournament, and a messy bout of exchanges.

Undaunted, Stanford promised to return in 2008, and unveiled plans to invest a further US$100 million over a three years, while his super bout means to include four international teams in a knockout competition, with a final playoff against his SuperStars for US$ 20 million.

It is a lot of money. Stanford's jackpot alone could have written off the long-standing WICB debt of US$15 million, which it barely managed to cover after hosting the World Cup earlier this year.

Whereas during his tenure Gordon was saddled with the task of erasing this red stain, the new president, Julian Hunte, has a different financial burden. Moreover, Hunte would have seen the divided reactions Stanford's initiatives elicited through the region. Arguments ranged from fear of a complete takeover to demands that Stanford offer his money directly to the WICB if he really cared about West Indies cricket.

Telling writer Telford Vice some months ago that he had no takeover designs, Stanford said, "The WICB has always been, and should continue to be, the governing body for the game in the region." Whether or not that is a valid statement is neither here nor there. What matters is that he has either persuaded the WICB that he means well and should be partnered, or convinced them that he means to press on with or without their blessings and that it might be safer to join him than to fight a pointless battle.

Either way the agreement clears the way for the continuation of the tournament without WICB obstruction, and this has several implications.

To each participant Stanford had provided US$100,000 in capital investment funding and US$180,000 for development of players and coaches, and support and maintenance of facilities and equipment. It is money specifically assigned for these purposes, and Stanford has set up auditing mechanisms for accountability.

The relationship may also provide a sort of outsourced nursery for cricketers in that this Twenty20 format might provide a forum for potential cricketers to be thrust into the limelight. The territorial disbursements will also help to develop training facilities. The WICB can benefit from these investments without having to bear costs.

Additionally, by weaving the Stanford 20/20 into its own calendar, the board allays the anxiety of regional sponsors that their own competitions might clash with this more lucrative one, and it allows better planning of annual fixtures.

Hunte would have taken all of these elements into consideration, and as an experienced diplomat would have deemed it more important to build a partnership that was potentially beneficial than to surrender to fears of a takeover from a powerful hostile force.

The agreement has provided a possible template for the Indian Cricket League and the BCCI, who are in the middle of a similar standoff

On the other hand, he must also recognise that this decision has brought an interesting perspective to the current matter regarding the Indian Cricket League and the BCCI. With the BCCI's refusal to acknowledge the ICL's proposed tournament, and all the fallout that has engendered, the WICB has now provided an alternate scenario for study.

The ICC has taken its cue from the BCCI, and refused to sanction the ICL. At the height of the Stanford crisis, the ICC had been very cagey about sanctioning the tournament, and indeed, had confessed that it had to consider "the best interests of the game", in arriving at its position.

In the case of the ICL, many players have had to opt out of international cricket careers in order to participate, as several countries have issued bans and threats of bans. Now, with the WICB sanctioning the Stanford 20/20, franchising it even, the ICC will have to sanction it.

After recent reports of West Indian players being approached with substantial offers to take part in the ICL tournament, the WICB had said it would have to discuss what its position would be on the matter. No official word has yet been issued on this, but the implications of the deal are that the WICB may choose not to join the ranks of the ICL's enemies, but may proffer a diplomatic handshake instead.

As for working with the legendary brashness of Allen Stanford, the WICB may well find that requires more than a light diplomatic touch.

Vaneisa Baksh is a freelance journalist based in Trinidad