Stanford 20/20 for 20 October 2, 2008

Court to rule if Stanford game can proceed

Martin Williamson previews the hearing in London which will decide whether then Stanford 20/20 for 20 will go ahead


Brand wars rumble on in the Caribbean © Digicel
 
The future of the Stanford 20/20 for 20 could be decided in the next few days at the High Court in London. Should arbitration, which starts on Friday (October 3) fail, a ruling will be made in an increasingly acrimonious dispute between Digicel, the telecommunications giant who are the long-term sponsors of West Indies cricket, and the Stanford organisers.

Sitting in the middle, with little to say and plenty to lose, is the West Indies Cricket Board. At the heart of the matter is its recognition of the Stanford 20/20 for 20 which, Digicel argues, makes it an official tournament. Although the team that takes the field against England on November 1 will be known as the Stanford Superstars, Digicel argues that it is a sanctioned national side in all but name. It adds that the WICB also cleared the decks to allow all players to be available for the Stanford training camps ahead of the event, underlining its legitimacy.

The WICB, through the Stanford organisers, counters that it is no more than a private venture taking place with the board's blessing and, as such, Stanford are free to seek their own sponsors and brand the event in any way they like.

Digicel, who have sunk tens of millions into Caribbean cricket only to find themselves embroiled in a series of contractual rows, maintains that as an official event it has rights to shirt branding and other commercial spin-offs. What really appears to have rankled the company are rumours that Stanford was lining up Cable & Wireless, Digicel's arch rivals and predecessors, as the Superstars' sponsors.

In August, Digicel, stalled by the WICB and rebuffed by Stanford, filed an injunction in London (anachronistically, the highest court in Antigua) and after more terse press releases from both camps, the warring factions are due to meet in arbitration.

Last weekend, Digicel sidestepped Stanford when it refused to allow them a seat at the arbitration process, insisting the dispute was between itself and the WICB. Given the consistently hapless way the board has handled its relationship with its sponsor in the last few years - insiders insist that the WICB was warned on several occasions before it struck the deal with Stanford that doing so would put it on a collision course with Digicel - a dynamic and robust defence from it is not predicted.

Given the sums at play, and the loss of face for Allen Stanford if the event is shelved, the likely outcome remains a compromise. The tournament will probably go ahead and Digicel will accept a degree of branding, while allowing Stanford some freedom to run the commercial element of its own event.

The losers, for the umpteenth time, will be West Indies cricket and the already shredded credibility of a board which appears to do little of note other than stumble from one crisis to another, and almost all of them of its own making. And of the three parties, it is the one that needs to hang on to every cent is has.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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