Lara facing the chop as sponsorship row rumbles on
Caribbean cricket has been plunged into further crisis, with the West Indian Cricket Board instructing their selectors not to pick Brian Lara and six other senior players for the forthcoming series against South Africa and Pakistan as a result of the ongoing conflict about sponsorship contracts, unless they sign on the dotted line by mid-March. Teddy Griffith, the president of the West Indian board, made the surprise announcement in a live radio and television statement broadcast throughout the Caribbean yesterday.
Lara and the other players - Ramnaresh Sarwan, Chris Gayle, Dwayne Bravo, Dwayne Smith, Fidel Edwards and Ravi Rampaul - have individual contracts with Cable & Wireless, the team's former sponsor, which brings them into conflict with the new sponsor, Digicel, a rival communications company. Griffith said that the board had asked the players concerned for details - excluding the financial details - of their contracts last year to ensure that no problems arose for either the board or the players. The players declined to provide the details.
Griffth said that the Board had decided "Not to consider for selection to the West Indies cricket team the players who have personal endorsement contracts with Cable & Wireless - Bravo, Edwards, Gayle, Lara, Rampaul, Sarwan and Dwayne Smith - until such time as the Board can be satisfied that these contracts are unquestionably in the nature of individual contracts and contain no provisions which could be construed as passing off by the player of his connection with the West Indies team by attribution or by defining himself as a member of the team." Later he stipulated a March 11 deadline for them to reply.
He added that Keith Mitchell, the Prime Minister of Grenada who had been trying to negotiate an agreement, had been "assured that Cable & Wireless would do nothing in the future to display any advertisement, both in the electronic and print form, to give the impression that any relationship between itself and any of the players [both individually and collectively] in their capacity as members of the West Indies cricket team". This promise, Griffith suggested, was betrayed as "every opportunity has been taken to use the images of the Cable & Wireless-contracted players in ways which trade on their membership of the West Indies team, refer to them as members of a team and make many references to West Indies cricket."
Griffith said that this had put the board in an awkward position with its sponsor, because it had compromised the board's "ability to deliver on its commitments to Digicel". He went on: "It should be noted that the Digicel sponsorship not only benefits those players who are fortunate enough to gain selection to the West Indies team, but in fact contributes to every level of West Indies cricket." Therefore, he concluded, the board had to take action for the betterment of West Indies cricket, as opposed to individual contracts that would favour a few players.
"The Digicel sponsorship agreement has given the Board the opportunity to substantially fund the development of cricket generally, which is its mandate," Griffith said. "For the first time, sponsorship of this nature goes beyond the international team and channels right through to the level of youth cricket, assisting the preparation of a future generation of cricketers."
But in a significant development, Cable & Wireless released a press statement underlining their own commitment to the game and the concessions they were prepared to make: "We have worked within the legal boundaries of our contracts and internationally accepted practice," the statement read, "which predates the WICB's current team-sponsorship arrangement. As matters have continued to deteriorate, we are prepared to make other reasonable concessions in the best interest of West Indies cricket so that the South African and Pakistan tours to the Caribbean are neither compromised nor jeopardised - although these compromises will significantly reduce the value of what we have."
Rachelle Franklin, the vice-president of marketing for Cable & Wireless, also added that his company was prepared to concede more ground in the best interests of the game, by limiting the number of players shown in advertisements, refraining from using the words "West Indies team" or "team", and stopping all marketing activities outside the West Indies.
Earlier, the dispute delayed the announcement of the team for the recent one-day series in Australia, and that tour was marred by internal disputes about the nature of the sponsorships, which were revealed in an explosive memo from Digicel's liaison man on the tour, Richard Nowell.