New direction, new leadership
The United States of America Cricket Association (USACA) is the national cricket organization of the United States and the only participating link with the international cricketing community, through the ICC. Suffice it to say that nothing gets stamped USA without the express written consent of USACA and/or the ICC. Therein lies the need for a more dynamic focus at the domestic level, and through a national organization that properly represents the interests of its members, at the ICC level.
It has been more than a year since USACA was suspended from international competition and funding by the ICC, for the second time within the past three years; a clear indication that something is broken - communication, proper governance, true accountability, transparency, credibility, you name it. Some may even argue all of the above.
Following the suspension last year, ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said: "It is especially disappointing that the USA players have had to be penalized in this way for matters that are largely beyond their control."
A national organization must represent the interests of the majority of its members, more so, when that representation is linked to an international organization that has the last say on the participation of the national organization's members in the international arena. The current USACA administration has failed to demonstrate an ability to represent itself in the international forum, by its own failure to represent the interests of its members domestically, and in so doing lost the majority support of its membership, mainly through its lack of transparency and true governance.
Cricket in the United States has hit rock bottom, with the ICC's suspension of playing rights and finance to USACA. As a result, the morale of the players is matched only by the general malaise of the clubs, leagues and regions they represent. The lethargic nature of those who seek to be represented by USACA is a direct result of the organization's failure to articulate its vision, while its governance is shrouded in mystery and secrecy.
Since a national organization must first and foremost represent the interests of those it governs, it is important that it does so in an open and transparent manner. USACA has failed in this regard. On the contrary, it has demonstrated a blatant disregard for true governance and has failed to address some core issues raised by many of its stakeholders. Though these charges are not new, it is necessary to note them, because, if we fail to acknowledge our past, we are doomed to repeat it. It has been said that stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Cricket in the USA has been managed the same way for some time now, with no innovative approaches attempted by the USACA administration. The current situation has existed for far too long. The time to effect change is now.
At the behest of the ICC and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), along with the nudging of the League President's Reconciliation Commission, an effort was made to correct the wrongs that stood in the way of USACA being readmitted to the international cricket community. Out of that intervention was born a document embraced by a margin of affirmative votes that was less than that rendered at the beginning of 2007, when an attempt was made to ratify a constitution without due process and schedule.
I do not believe it was a reflection on the content of the document so much, as it was a reflection of the general frustration and lethargy of those exercising, or refusing to exercise their franchise.
None the less, the current document was ratified under the guidance and astute leadership of an Independent Third Party - Chris Dehring, representing the WICB and by extension the ICC. Such intervention should not have been necessary, were it not for the stubbornness of the current USACA administration and the public outcry in some quarters. An outcry though not reflective of proper protocol, begged the question - "Was USACA being governed properly?" The ICC answered that question with another suspension and the withholding of funding, until the WICB recommends that such actions be reversed.
"The suspension will stand until such time as the West Indies Cricket Board recommends and the Executive Board (ICC) agrees it should be lifted," noted an ICC statement at the time.
Now that a constitutional document has been ratified, members must look to it as the beginning of new hope. However, such new hope cannot emerge from the bosoms of the incumbents, because they have failed to cradle and protect the development process of US cricket, by throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Lost opportunity, lost confidence, lost interest. USACA now, can only survive under the new constitution, with new and dynamic leadership, willing to take USACA in a different, but positive direction.
Though cricket in the United States is generally regarded as a recreational activity, with the majority of clubs getting together on weekends, to participate in a sport that for the most part, is linked to the players' cultural heritage, it can be made into a viable and more productive pastime.
The survival of cricket in the United States is largely dependent upon the generosity of some community donors who financially "prop up" the sport in an ad hoc manner. Organized cricket is dying for dynamic leadership that would provide platforms for those players within the appropriate age ranges, to excel at the national and international levels.
However, such advancement will not take place without the support of the players, clubs, leagues and regions. This vital support can only be derived from the sale of a vision for cricket in this country, through a development program articulated by USACA, and "sold" to the players, clubs, leagues, regions and potential sponsors. Such a covenant must be based on the reality of the current structure of cricket in the USA, and a program that recognizes those clubs with an express interest in being a part of an energetic national organization.
Current trends suggest that not too many of the estimated 600 plus clubs in the United States have any genuine interest in what USACA can do for them, and even less, what they can do for USACA. Simply stated, USACA needs the clubs and their membership alliances, more than the clubs appear to need USACA.
How then does one create a mutual trough, from which both parties can benefit? Only through the creation of a new and dynamic direction, can USACA reintroduce member clubs and players to the national organization and the benefits of belonging to USACA. Such a new direction must be based on mutual respect, clear communication, transparent operations, true governance and the development of an organization by the members, and for the members.
To say that accurate and timely communication from USACA is practically non-existent under normal circumstances, is putting it mildly. If USACA's web site is to be recognized as the watering hole of information in a new-age electronic environment, then it must reflect such a trend. It must become the meeting place for the dissemination of information, exchange of ideas, exposure to a larger community, and in a nutshell be the Village Bulletin Board.
A vibrant web site can be effectively used as the crossroads of the most expeditious forms of communication. The pictionary use of the medium and its statistical portals can be the glue that binds those who surf within its walls, creating an electronic environment for camaraderie and a sense of pride. Membership in an organization is usually accompanied by some benefits. What benefit does the existing USACA membership derive from belonging to the national organization? If there are any, it's not properly communicated to the members.
USACA was suspended by the ICC almost one year ago, and to date, the current USACA leadership has not issued one statement; at least seeking to reassure the organization's membership that everything was being done to have the suspension lifted. To put it bluntly, the arrogance and disdain with which the organization treats its members left much to be desired.
At the time of last year's suspension, Speed noted that, "The ICC hopes this measure will serve to focus minds within the cricketing circles in the USA, that sense will prevail and that all those with the good of the game at heart will come together and take control of this unfortunate situation." That was the precursor to the formation of the League President's Reconciliation Commission. However, when that group sought to encourage USACA to reconcile any differences within the organization's membership and leadership ranks, the group was labeled as dissidents and factionalists. And those were the decent condescending terms used in public. Behind closed doors, the words and names used to describe those seeking to change USACA's behavior cannot be repeated here.
Such actions sent a message of fear rather than one seeking to communicate the positive. Further, USACA sought to send such negative messages to the very membership it is purported to serve.
Much of what the current USACA administration does appears to be done behind closed doors, and in a clandestine manner. Alas, such behavior has undermined the confidence of even those who still believe in Santa Claus and USACA.
Why a national organization that claims to represent such a vast and diverse group not communicate its plan of action in an open and transparent manner, is beyond common sense. With transparency comes confidence, with confidence comes support, and with support comes growth. Three things USACA badly needed to convince the ICC and other affiliates that it was ready to lead from the front.
What USACA needs to restore the confidence of the few believers still left, and earn the respect of those who still dare to dream, is a sign that says "Under New Management." A new management comprising individuals with a passion to do the right thing for the people USACA represents - its members. Those members have been subjected to so many wrongs during the reign of the current administration, that I am sure they would welcome a new and dynamic leadership with fresh ideas, zeal, commitment, passion and a willingness to be honest with itself and its members.
The new constitution calls for a hired CEO, for whom funding must be realized to keep him/her employed. However, beyond the role of the CEO, the organization needs an energetic individual as its president, with demonstrated leadership abilities, excellent interpersonal skills, communications savvy, business acumen, and self-honest enough to be willing to surround him/herself with equally smart, honest and committed people.
It is no secret that in order for cricket to be successful in these United States, funds must be realized to create development opportunities at the grassroots level. USACA therefore must be perceived as a business with a mission, clear vision, and plan to effectively realize such ambitious development goals.
The next leader of USACA must bring a different approach to the cricketing community. That individual must have a CV than encompasses the business acumen that drives corporate America, as well as an understanding of the technology that helps to drive the economy. USACA must rise to the level of competency necessary to win friends, influence people, and encourage investors, while rebuilding a membership base that has given up long before reaching the finish line.
The ideal candidate for the leadership role of USACA should be one with a proven business track record that is clearly defined in today's terms. He/she must be an individual willing to traverse this vast country, meeting and listening to the needs of the members within the various regions. An individual humble and smart enough to understand that he/she serves at the will of the members, and willing enough to admit any mistakes, while making a concerted effort to correct them.
A new USACA administration should reflect the cultural and ethnic diversity of the organization's membership, as well as the vast geographical nature of the various regions of the organization. This is the end of the road for the existing administration. Now is the time for all of the incumbents to step aside, including those who albeit are still faithful to the game and the members, for they too have unfortunately been tainted. The USACA desperately needs to hang out a new shingle that says "Under New Management," if it is to encourage greater participation of its members in the development of the sport here in the USA, and to be once again recognized in the international cricket community.
There is no greater opportunity than now, for all of the cricket stakeholders, including those who unfortunately find themselves on the wrong side of the track, to declare it a new day, a day full of new opportunities, optimism, passion and a brighter future for cricket in these United States of America, and under a new and dynamic management team.
Let the electoral process begin!
John L. Aaron is a cricket club president and league president in the New York Cricket Region of USACA, and last year served as chairman of the USACA League President's Reconciliation Commission. He also served on the 2006 USACA Constitution Review Committee. He is a college administrator in New York City