February 5, 2012

The bizarre world of USA cricket

The national side will shortly be playing in the World Twenty20 Qualifiers but if you go by the controversies and drama off the field, it's a miracle there is a team left to compete

National elections delayed. A national championship played on a field littered with broken glass and drug paraphernalia. Regional election results blocked. A national championship cancelled. A board member suspended for being critical of the organisation. The board's website mysteriously going offline for a month. Players dropped for a World Cup Qualifier after fighting with the board about stipends…

National elections rescheduled. An off-duty cop used as a security guard to keep suspended board members out of a board meeting. A captain arrested for alleged mortgage fraud. The further delaying of national elections. Threats of a lawsuit from a presidential candidate. National elections rescheduled again. The postponement of a national championship…

The events of the last year would seem bizarre, perhaps surreal, under most circumstances, for the majority of governing bodies in world cricket. For the USA Cricket Association, it's par for the course.

In the coming days, the findings of a compliance review process, headed by attorney Robert Chance, are due to be announced by the USACA board. As part of the announcement, the board is expected to decide which of its member leagues are eligible to vote in the regional and national elections to follow - elections that have been by turn delayed, postponed or declared null and void since last spring.

A source of bewilderment among member leagues is trying to figure out what they are getting in return for submitting annual membership payments to be affiliated with USACA. The answer is: not much. At the very least, though, leagues would expect that paying their league membership dues would allow them the right to vote in regional and national elections. However, even that simple yet significant benefit is being denied.

Yet, in a show of continued antagonism and arrogance, a message was recently posted on the USACA website stating, "2012 Membership fee and Insurance information will be posted shortly." It might as well have said, "We will continue to take your money if you are foolish enough to trust us with it. You will continue to have scant returns on your investment. If you ask questions or complain, we will continue to ignore you, so don't waste your energy."

Even when voting does take place, it is not necessarily recognised. In the strange world of the USACA, the Atlantic Region election results were blocked from being released in July, after USACA president Gladstone Dainty wrote an email to stakeholders informing them that Shelton Glasgow, the USACA's former elections compliance officer, had "produced a body of evidence which is clearly demonstrating that the USACA honor system of compliance has been abused by several leagues and officials".

A source of bewilderment among member leagues is trying to figure out what they are getting in return for submitting annual membership payments to be affiliated with USACA. The answer is: not much.

Prior to Chance arriving on the scene, Glasgow's job was to investigate and compile information to ascertain which leagues were legitimate and which were bogus, and thus obtaining the ability to vote under false pretences. Glasgow is also the board representative of the Atlantic Region. In this absurd yet seemingly acceptable scenario, the Atlantic Region elections took place when the leagues within the region were deemed to be legitimate by Glasgow, the national compliance officer. Only after the votes were tallied, and it was rumoured that Glasgow's own region was removing him from his position on the USACA board, were leagues within Glasgow's own region deemed to be potentially illegitimate, following which Dainty blocked the results from being released.

Such manoeuvrings, which have been employed over the past year to stall, delay and subvert elections, would make a third-world country proud.

As for the company it keeps, that's another story. New Zealand Cricket curiously climbed into bed with the USACA at the end of 2009. Along with Neil Maxwell's Insite, and Indian businessman Rajiv Podar, the two boards signalled their intention at the end of 2010 to launch an IPL-style competition by the summer of 2012. All parties had planned on hiring a commissioner by the end of 2011 to get the ball rolling on coordinating such a bold initiative, but there has been no news about it since October last.

When New Zealand played Sri Lanka in a series of Twenty20 matches in Florida in May 2010, the USACA hoped to have Full Member sides playing on American soil on an annual basis. Last spring, rumblings were made about New Zealand possibly playing matches in New York during the summer, but nothing materialised. Nothing significant is happening on the ground to prepare a cricket facility to international standard in the coveted New York market in order to make an event likely to happen there this summer either. The uncertainty surrounding the USACA's governance has a role to play in this.

Such murkiness also threatened to keep USA's teams off the field, but for the time being that crisis has been averted. In 2007, USA were barred from participating in ICC tournaments after their administration failed to ratify a constitution and hold elections by an ICC-appointed deadline. This time around they have been spared the ICC's wrath. In less than six weeks the men's team will head for Dubai to take part in the 2012 ICC World Twenty20 Qualifier. A young squad has been assembled, one that has a herculean task of attempting to reach the main event in Sri Lanka this September.

On March 16, USA faces its biggest test of the qualifier's group stage, against Ireland. Twenty-four hours later and 7000 miles away, national elections are scheduled to be held. Nobody is expecting the first set of results to be positive, but positive results are a must for the country's cricket to truly be headed in the right direction, toward stability. Not that it would make things dull.

Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey