Windies board faces up to bleak future

Amid the news that Allen Stanford's love affair with cricket is cooling, one aspect has been largely overlooked. Without Stanford's money and publicity, West Indies cricket faces an increasingly bleak future.

It was estimated that Stanford's investment in the Caribbean was worth around US$130 million over five years. Large sums would go to each island participating in his domestic Stanford 20/20, with even bigger amounts heading to the West Indies Cricket Board. The added value of the legends group providing endless media opportunities was unquantifiable.

The WICB's financial woes are well known, but yesterday Donald Peters, the board's chief executive, was looking to put a brave face on things.

"We have an agreement with Stanford that includes the ECB for the Super Series and one for the regional Twenty20," he said. "In both cases, we would have stood in a position to earn a huge sum of money. But while the WICB's revenue streams and projects are budgeted for, we do not depend totally on Stanford, so while we may lose revenue, we will have to make the adjustment.

"He [Stanford] has been a major sponsor and it would be good if we get the money down the line, but as an international sporting body our responsibility is to work with as many sponsors we can. So if Stanford can't continue, we will have to find alternative sponsor from around the globe."

Peters' bullish rhetoric cannot disguise a much bleaker situation for a board that lurches from one mess to another. Despite almost US$100 million from the World Cup, it is again strapped for cash, and this time in a world when multi-million dollar sponsorship deals are increasingly hard to broker. And this is the same WICB who this season failed to even find a sponsor for its domestic one-day competition, and whose relationship with it one remaining major backer - Digicel - is close to tatters.

It is because of the sponsorship row between Digicel and Stanford that preceded the Stanford 20/20 for 20 that the whole edifice might come crashing down around the WICB. The conduct of the board in the affair wasroundly condemned, as it tried to pull the wool over the eyes of two major corporations.

By trying to pass off the "Stanford Superstars" as an entity distinct from the Digicel-backed West Indies, they effectively sold the same product twice, and suffered a humiliating defeat at the High Court in London. At the time their legal costs of close to US$1 million seemed a big enough blow. It now appears that the real price is massive.

Stanford might still remain involved - he has said he will make an announcement next month - but the great and the good within the WICB will have to do some desperate pleading if that's to happen. And the legends, sacked by Stanford yesterday, will have to use their influence to persuade him to keep faith in the game, if not those running it.

Not for the first time, the biggest losers resulting from the mismanagement of the WICB are the hundreds of thousands of those who play and follow it. If Stanford does take his ball and go home, the future for cricket in the Caribbean will be bleaker than it ever has been.