A missed opportunity
Deb K Das with his report on the USACA's EGM and what it achieved - or didn't achieve
Of the two season-ending events in US cricket from which a great deal had been expected, the Interstate Tournament at Brian Piccolo Park in Florida ended with a decided bang, and the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) called by the USA Cricket Association (USACA) the following week hardly rated a whimper.
Much had been expected from the EGM on December 10 in Dallas. For one thing, it was supposed to formalize the end of the protracted conflict between the USACA and the Council of League Presidents that had brought US cricket to a standstill for nearly a year. A final agreement on holding a new USACA election was to have been achieved, and a complete redraft of the much-criticized constitution was to have been set in motion. The gag orders on all parties were to be lifted, and the websites of the USACA and CLP were to be free to operate and were to resume the communications that had been rudely interrupted by the legal disputes. In other words, this was to be new beginning for the USACA, and a chance to convince a sceptical ICC that the USACA was on a new and constructive course.
US cricketers, too, had been making clear that there were questions it wanted answered, and issues they wanted USACA to address. What was the present status of the USA within the ICC; was it an Associate Member, an Affiliate Member or neither? If the USA was an Associate Member, why had the ICC failed to schedule the USA in any events for the next two years? What plans did the USACA have to be re-instated into ICC's good graces? With no ICC money coming into the US, would the USACA now raise the dues of individuals or clubs in order to stay solvent? US cricketers wanted straight answers to these questions, and hoped these would be addressed at the EGM.
There were also questions on other matters, which had been raised directly with USACA leadership. What action would the USACA take on two proposals: one concerning mainstreaming of US cricket and the other on changing dues payments from a per-club to a per-member basis, which had been formally prepared and presented to USACA leadership? Also, how and when would USACA initiate exploratory discussions with Major League Cricket (MLC) for cooperation in the interests of US cricket, and would it also actively disavow all efforts to sabotage, undermine or otherwise denigrate MLC's policies and programs? Clearly US cricketers had been looking for specific answers to all these questions, and the EGM looked like a likely place to find them.
The first warning signs that all was not well with the EGM came with the fact that there was no mention of such a meeting on the USACA's own website, and only a brief reference on the CLP's. Only Cricinfo carried a story on the EGM, and that too over a month after it was supposed to have been decided upon.
As just about everyone in US cricket knew, a USACA EGM is not easy to hold; it requires that at least 15% of the membership from across the USA be represented in person at the meeting, which would mean that given the USACA's registered membership, 30 to 40 representatives of member clubs would have to be present in Dallas to secure a quorum. In the only two previous EGMs held in the past five years, there had been concerted efforts to get clubs to send representatives, and three to four times the numbers needed had shown up at the meeting. This time, there seems to have been no such effort; USACA leadership simply sat back and waited to see who would show up in Dallas.
The full extent of the shortfall was not known until Vinod Shankar, an observer who had produced the first independent review of the MLC Interstate tournament, produced a similar one for the EGM. Until then, neither the USACA nor the CLP had seen fit to issue any kind of report. According to Shankar's tally, there were 17 persons (including him) at the EGM in Dallas. Three were USACA officers; six were Board members (one short of the number needed to have a board quorum); five were present and former officers, and current members, of the North Texas Cricket Association that was hosting the conference; one and possibly two were from the neighboring cricket league at Houston. There was not a single other USACA member club representative from anywhere else in the USA. Far from not being able to achieve a quorum, the EGM had scored a big fat zero. And though some USACA supporters were bitter in blaming member clubs for their absolute apathy, the blame really needs to be placed squarely on USACA leadership for totally failing to persuade their members of the importance of the Dallas meeting.
Under the circumstances, those present in Dallas decided to make the best of it, and conducted an open-ended discussion. Gladstone Dainty talked about focusing USACA's energies on youth (non immigrant) cricket development, put the past behind, and work towards the development of cricket in the United States. The meeting minutes of the previous AGM were unavailable, as the secretary was not in attendance. Caesar explained that the chanelling of Project USA funds to Gary Hopkins through a separate USACA account had led to some problems that the auditors were currently working with USACA to sort out. Dainty said that all tournament dates would be announced by Jan 15 for the 2006 calendar year, so that different leagues could prepare accordingly.
Lu Rehman, a vice-president, said there were no funds to host all these youth tournaments that were being proposed. Laks Sampath, a North West Regional Director, challenged Rehman to come up with some accomplishments in the next two months towards cricket development. There was talk about forming a constitution committee. A deadline for completing the task of having a new website in place was set by Dainty as January 31, 2006. Dainty also declared that any player could play in any tournament (MLC, ProCricket etc) in the United States and that would not harm that player's chances of playing in Regional Championships or to represent USACA in ICC events.
An interesting point did emerge during the discussions. It seems that even though both the CLP and USACA execs had reached an amicable agreement and had sorted out their differences, no statements were issued to the press or the ICC because they were still waiting for people to sign off on the lawsuit before they could issue that statement. It was decided to get this signed off as soon as possible so that "the curtain could be closed on USACA's darkest hour"
Some USACA supporters take a Pollyanna-ish attitude towards these deliberations, and declare that this was proof that USACA was at last beginning to move in the right direction. I find it difficult to share that optimism. For one thing, none of the issues raised by US cricketers appears to have been addressed, let alone resolved. Even the Under-19 team preparations were not brought up. And the revelation that even the agreement between CLP and USACA on ending their disputes has not been acted upon because it is waiting on the disputants to sign off on it is somewhere between outrageous and unbelievable. If this is the way that the USACA is going to run its own business, it is no wonder that people are losing any hope that the USACA will ever be able to get its house in order -- now, or at any other time.
Deb K Das is Cricinfo's correspondent in the USA