West Indies in crisis October 8, 2008

Another mess of its own making

Martin Williamson on why heads must roll after yet another spectacular foul-up by the West Indies Cricket Board

Allen Stanford and his money: but the West Indies Cricket Board get greedy and looked to make even more than was on offer © AFP
While the media concentrates on whether the much-hyped Stanford 20/20 for 20 will go ahead, the arbitration decision will have massive ramifications in the Caribbean.

For the two corporations - Digicel and Stanford - this was a fight over branding. To their two high-profile bosses - Allen Stanford and Denis O'Brien - it was also about egos and image. The sums involved are, to them, small.

To the WICB this was another major blow to its shredded profile, one that could cost it millions of dollars and only serves to confirm its reputation as the most dysfunctional board in world cricket. Tens of millions of dollars of debt it had run up was cleared by the World Cup last year, but its finances remain parlous and it is in no position to take hits on this scale.

Digicel, which had recently signed an extension to its sponsorship contract, has pumped close to US$30 million into Caribbean cricket. In a fit of greed, the WICB tried to pull in millions from Stanford, in effect selling the same product twice. All it achieved was to upset both sides. And given that without Digicel and Stanford it is financially unsustainable, the board's gamble almost defies belief.

The way it handled this affair is also yet another tale of gross mismanagement and corporate naivety. In short, it appears that it tried to have its cake and eat it, claiming, despite warnings that it was heading for trouble, that its deal with Stanford was not conflicting with that of its major sponsor. That it left Digicel to find out about the Stanford arrangements through the media, and then in effect hid underneath the sheets and let Stanford fight its corner for it, showed its collective lack of bottle.

It's not as if the product the WICB is peddling is so marvellous that people are falling over themselves to be associated with it. The national team is a shambles, the domestic set-up is not much better, and the board seems to spend as much time in conflict with its players and sponsors as it does promoting the game.

In return for its investment, Digicel has little to show for its investment other than a succession of battles with the WICB. Bizzarely, it and not the WICB takes the flak for much that happens, and even after yesterday's decision, much of the feedback accused Digicel of corporate greed in taking the WICB to court.

It was on [Julian Hunte's] watch that this current mess developed and, as such, he must take the ultimate responsibility
Nothing short of a top-to-bottom purge seems likely to end the succession of WICB disasters. Julian Hunte, who took over as president in 2007, has done a good job in tightening things in a number of areas, but it was on his watch that this current mess developed and, as such, he must take the ultimate responsibility.

The sight of Tony Deyal, the man who was until July the WICB's corporate secretary, giving evidence against the board highlighted how shambolic and self-interested the whole set-up has become. In his role, Deyal must have been privy to the inner discussions surrounding both deals, yet here he was giving evidence against the organisation that employed him until three months ago.

Deyal is suing the WICB for unfair dismissal, but he had a much bigger impact by revealing the inner workings of the executive. It should ensure that Hunte and Donald Peters, the board's chief executive, stand down sooner rather than later. There can be no other outcome for leading West Indies cricket into such an expensive and completely avoidable farrago.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo