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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cari on October 10, 2008, 15:55 GMT

    I have always had issues with Martin siding with big corp & not da lttle man - more corp than journalsm in views? , but...The Caribbn (part da people) must take heed, read betwn the lines for wat he is not saying, & to be inspired from his piece. What amazes me most is the lack of voices questioning the whoring the Sanford efforts appears to be. How is this any diff than lining up for the SA dollars in the 70's? Players must feed their families, yes, it must be with a heavy heart that anyone can begrudge them $$. I see the Sanford effort as puttn the Caribbn in 2 much a servitude position, so I will not embraced this even if the funds are good for WI cricket. We need to be on equal terms (as much as possible). I watchd with horror, as if the work of the past century was for naught, as the 'greats' appear to kneel and 'grovel' at the presence of the'Great Sanford' during the last tv 20/20. Best for the Carib? Cozier? news? What do u say?? Indians lead their pro league. Can Caribs? yes!

  • Graham on October 9, 2008, 8:50 GMT

    Although Martin puts across a fair and realistic view of this particular situation, the bigger issue, which most journalists quite stunningly seem to continue to gloss over, is the ridiculous Lalit Modi-enforced ban on unauthorised cricket. What possible harm does the ICL do? What possible harm could this match do if it was unrecognised by the ICC? None whatsoever. The fact that the ICC has been hijacked by Modi and his IPL brainchild, entirely to ensure he secures the maximum profit from his venture, is a travesty. It is high time that this gross and immoral restraint of trade (that has been admitted in the UK, which thanks to the EU actually recognises this fact) is ended once and for all. Lalit Modi does not own the game of cricket and should not be allowed to effectively prevent any cricket other than that which is in his interests being played. Forget the Digicel/Stanford kerfuffle, Martin, and please start a groundswell against this profiteering control freak.

  • Sean on October 8, 2008, 15:44 GMT

    As usual the knee-jerk reaction is to blame the WICB. The WICB is to be blamed for a lot of the shambles in the past, but in this one particular instance I can't see how the WICB is to be blamed. I find it odd that nobody seems to question the spirit of the ruling (which in effect restrains the trade of centrally contracted players) or question the premise of Digicel's argument. Firstly the ruling sets up a contradictory situation whereby the $20m match is now unofficial, but centrally contracted players are barred from playing. Logically speaking this would fly in the face of the idea that boards (or their sponsors) cannot restrain the trade of players in leagues like the ICL. So now that it's unofficial, the WICB shouldn't be able to restrict the likes of Sarwan from playing anymore than they would restrict him from participating in an impromptu curry-goat match while visiting St. Lucia. Secondly, Digicel's argument is overly simplistic, but as usual the WICB has crappy lawyers.

  • Abraham on October 8, 2008, 15:25 GMT

    I honestly feel that the author seems to be somehow strongly prejudiced towards the cause of Digicel. To the best of my knowledge, I never read any article talking about the so called "greed of WICB" until now. This claim simply sounds like "a stereotypical ridiculous media 'whatever'...." We all accept that WICB in itself is infected and all that, but Stanford 20/20 was one of the best things that happened to West Indies cricket in recent times. At the outset, how would things have looked if the WICB never gave official recognition to the event. The media would have been all over them, left, right and corner for such a decision, nonetheless. I honestly think that its time all concerned parties got together to salvage what can be salvaged so that cricket finally wins. The final looser in the whole issue can only be one - "West Indies Cricket" ! That would be a sad sight to retrospect over, provided the current state of cricket in the Carribean.

  • Shiva on October 8, 2008, 14:53 GMT

    I understand why it might seem "bizarre" that Digicel is taking flack at all but seriously, no one in the region expects better of the WICB. This is par for the course with the board. The irritation with Digicel, regardless of their legal correctness in this, is quite possible in part because this is not the first legal issue to arise out of their association with WI cricket, and WI cricket is none the better for it. Looking at the comments posted on several of the related stories, the posters whose comments are relatively "pro-Digicel" have usernames that are perhaps indicative of indivduals outside of the WI. Caribbean people on the other at this stage are willing to believe that it's not just the board that needs to be purged (this goes without saying), but a change of the sponsorship beacause of it's association with this bad period of WI cricket might be necessary as well.

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