July 16, 2009

Hurtling down an old precipice

Seven times in the past the WICB has come off second best in arbitration with its players, and this time seems no different. Little will change unless the entire structure of the board is overhauled

If anyone in the higher echelons of the West Indies Cricket Board really believed they could do without several dozen of their leading players, the shock of their makeshift team's humiliation at Arnos Vale by Bangladesh, a country with one win in their previous 59 Tests, surely shook them into the real world.

The background to the latest in a string of disputes between the board and its players is well documented. While there is a history of animosity between employer and employee going back generations, the real confrontation started in 2005 and has continued, with a few lulls, ever since.

This time, however, the board appears to be trying to play a game of hardball to which it is completely unsuited. It has issued inflammatory press releases, its president has shunned a meeting with the players he called, and it has even gone so far as to pay thousands of dollars for newspaper advertisements critical of the players. The board's own media department has also been in overdrive, issuing releases stating its position - although proving less prolific when asked to answer direct questions.

The WICB has repeatedly sought to portray the players as highly paid cricketers who want even more. But the reality is, this is not a standoff about pay, but about terms and conditions, and one that had been resolved before the WICB not so much moved the goalposts as rewrote the rule book. The timing of the row might well be connected to board elections on August 11 and pre-election posturing by key men.

As Jimmy Adams said earlier this week, things have changed. Players can now earn better money outside the Caribbean, and yet the board still treats them with the contempt of a Victorian factory owner. The rest of the world has moved on. The WICB has not. The demand on Monday that negotiations could only resume when the players apologised for being naughty boys was verging on pathetic.

Clearly there are two sides to every story, and the players' association, WIPA, has issues it needs to resolve. Michael Holding said that WIPA should "have a good look at their organisation [and] who they represent", but he added that the WICB "are a dysfunctional organisation that needs to realise they are dealing with a modern game and changing times. They have been left behind due to their inept staff and an outdated board of directors, most of whom take up space instead of [offering] something to the organisation or the game."

On seven occasions since 2005, WIPA has agreed to go to arbitration in disputes with the board. On all seven occasions the board has lost. Despite this, which suggests that those responsible struggle to realise when they are on shaky ground, the board has again picked a fight when it appears to have little to support its stand. It's not hard to see which way the eighth ruling will go.

The reputation of the game is in tatters, the players are in open revolt, and sponsors have turned their backs or are preparing to walk away. The only people oblivious to all this are the WICB's executive

And it's not just about players. A source at Digicel, the only significant sponsor of West Indies cricket, said this week that the WICB "don't give a stuff about players and don't give a stuff about commercial partners". The company has been treated with disdain ever since it got involved, and there are growing suspicions that it is growing wary of becoming tainted by association.

The all-time low came last October, when Digicel was forced to take the WICB to arbitration after the board, again seeming to believe it could pull a flanker, in effect sold rights to Allen Stanford it had already signed over to Digicel. The board lost, resulting in public humiliation and a legal bill close to US$1 million. Denis O'Brien, Digicel's head, was even moved to call for WICB president Julian Hunte, among others, to resign. Of course, Hunte didn't.

This was not an isolated incident. The WICB also double-sold mobile rights in the Caribbean, resulting in another climbdown, though, once more, no accountability. Last season there was no sponsor for any domestic competitions. Why would anyone want to be associated with such a rabble?

Closer to home, in late 2007 an independent report into the WICB by former Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson pulled no punches, citing "a lack of high-quality leadership with the requisite capacity for corporate management" among other stinging criticisms. It was quietly shelved.

What is obvious is that this can't go on. The reputation of the game is in tatters, the players are in open revolt, and sponsors have turned their backs or are preparing to walk away. The only people oblivious to all this are the WICB's executive. But in an era where TV income is vital, even the most blinkered of them should have sat up and taken notice at Sky TV's decision in the UK to bin coverage of the Bangladesh series at the last minute because of the dismal fare offered.

In the short term, the dispute needs to go to arbitration. But if we are not to end up back at square one in the medium term, a drastic overhaul of the entire structure of the game is vital. The complex nature of the WICB means it is a nest of self-interest, where little seems to get done other than score-settling and politicking.

That complex structure, however, means that an overhaul is unlikely to happen, so we can expect more of the same until the day comes when the public, commercial partners and the media cease to care. Only then will the remnants of the WICB sit up and take notice. By then, it will be too late.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo and managing editor of ESPN Digital Media in Europe, the Middle East and Africa

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ricardo on July 18, 2009, 15:34 GMT

    I can understand the frustrations, but still find it dissapointing that people are suggesting that various islands/regions breakaway and form their own federation....Now more than ever the region needs to stick together. The politicians have let the caribbean down, and during the 70's & 80's the cricket team was the only collective sense of pride!! I sincerely hope members of the larger regions of Jamaica & Trinidad see the bigger picture. We can't break away. I am from the UK & live in London. I was raised by my mother who was born in Jamaica, and I am against Jamacia breaking away. Apart fromb the credit crunch, the major political talking point is the Europe Union. Why don't we get it?? Clive Lloyd acheived what our political leaders could never do...although we lacked the economic clout of the UK & Australia, our collective....let me repeat COLLECTIVE...cricket team was unbeatable for decades. We need to remember that...why? because the issues are not cricketing

  • Simran on July 17, 2009, 5:04 GMT

    Fire the whole board, or break the WI squad into 2 squads 1)JA/Guyana/Tnt squad, and 2) a barbados/leeward/windward island squad

    Get rid of West Indies cricket so the root of evil WICB falls. Down with the WICB. Fire all of them.

  • Winston on July 17, 2009, 3:30 GMT

    I believe there is a fact that is not lost on the common West Indian public is that all they hear recently with the West Indies team is that they play and have not been consistent in winning but year in year out there is some dispute over money. In our heyday while it might have been a problem it was not like this and hard core fans are not accustomed to this kind of behaviour. I have taken a simple poll and this time the public seems not to be supporting WIPA and the striking players. Most people are looking for commitment and they feel that these crop of young players are about the money. I would suggest that they leave the West Indies and go to the IPL and county cricket and earn their living. The next question you will ask is where will sponsorship come from, we still have talented youth who can develop and take on the current giants of world cricket.

  • udendra on July 17, 2009, 3:09 GMT

    WIndies should be stripped of their test status, until this dispute is resolved.

  • Tyrone on July 16, 2009, 23:38 GMT

    I think the major problem with WI cricket is that there is no country known as the West Indies, it always makes me laugh to hear them play that 'rally round the West Indies' song as an anthem because it is not. The WICB are a body that just employs some guys and calls them the West Indies Team, I have always hoped that Jamaicans will eventually realise that this is rubbish and go it alone, A Jamaican cricket team would include Gayle, Marshal, Samuels, Nash, Parchment, Bernard, Baugh, Taylor, Powell, Miller, Richardson not to mention quite a few excellent youngsters. That team if given the proper resources could beat many other top test teams. Lets wake up and smell the coffee the WICB will never adopt the Patterson report and fix itself so it will always suck. Just last month the Jamaican government had to bail out the Jamaican World Cup Cricket Committee I think we as Jamaicans should get our moneys worth from this cricket thing.

  • salman on July 16, 2009, 23:36 GMT

    Being a Pakistani supporter my second choice is always been WI and whenever they played I love to see bating Gayle, Chanderpaul, Sarawan, bravo, after so long waiting for a strong batting side, specially after Richardson, Desmond haynes, Legend Lara, carl hooper, but I feel sorry for the player who wants to represent their country, doesn't matter IPL can be highest earning for the cricketers but when it comes to represent country its totally a different situation. I feel Cricket Board of any country is control by our governments, that needs to change and it needs to be privatize.

  • Izzy on July 16, 2009, 20:17 GMT

    Julian Hunte reminds me of General Thade in Planet of the Apes, with his human hating attitude. If you replace Human with Cricketers then the story is about the same: General Thade (Julian Hunte) tries to destroy the West Indian Cricketers, but the West Indian Cricketers keep winning the battles only to find out that they lost the War a long, long time ago.

  • 100% on July 16, 2009, 18:54 GMT

    It is indeed great shame for us in the West Indies. Even the youths that is not interested in cricket knows about the Highly Corrupted Complex WICB. This is not a new discovered disease in this Organization and certainly everyone that is responsible to make things happen, they are just buying time and to fill there own pocket. This was the only hope we had to make our West Indies counterparts unite as one and to move forward in unity and harmonised togetherness. This will not and never happen in our life time -so be it! ECB take a pluk at our West Indies side buy just saying there is no unity. Should everyone ring our bells? best option is to desolved WICB and let a new one born... WICB is more of a disgrace board.

  • Nigel on July 16, 2009, 18:29 GMT

    I can only hope to support West indian cricketers who play the game internationally now, such as a Bajan in the Minor counties, a Guyanese in South Africa or a Trini in Australia; NO WAY can we expect that the WICB will be dismantled, or that a blueprint for REAL change will be effected anytime soon! Are we to expect corrupt governments which build stadia that cannot be finished on-time or on-budget, (e.g. Brian Lara Stadium - Trinidad), cannot be considered international class (Sir Vivian Richards - Antigua) or cannot be accessed by the real sports fans (Trelawney -Jamaica, new stadium in Guyana, or Sir Vivian Richards - Antigua) to really solve these problems??? How will they pressure the WICB, disallow them from using stadia in their home islands???

    The WICB is an organisation that need not abide by the governmental machinery in CARICOM, as is the case for any regional or international sporting organisation. Hence, we are better off with supporting tiddley-winks championships!!!

  • Fred on July 16, 2009, 13:20 GMT

    The arbitration record of the WICB speaks for it self,so they will resist any attempt to go before arbitrators again. David Simmons and group of caribbean jurist found against them, Privy council ruled against them , so dont for one minute think that the WICB has found a solid legal foothold in 2009. In 2009 , it is time for the people , cricket fans of the Caribbean to take cricket back from the WICB. There needs to be solidarity, boycott all WICB events in the interim.... a boycott now would be more meaningful now than in 1992 against South Africa as Andy Cummins prove just to be a trundler..lol. We must, take the bluebrint from the alleged swindler Stanford and set up a parallel and superior product and ensure that never again will a whole geographical region be held hostage by inept,incompetent and ill equipped administrators. RIP WICB

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