Questions abound over Stanford 20/20
There have been some curious, if hardly surprising, official responses to the Stanford 20/20 tournament, from the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB), from the International Cricket Council (ICC) and from one prominent regional sponsor.
Presumably the new leadership of the WICB, formally installed at the annual general meeting in Port-of-Spain last weekend, will quickly clarify the relationship between the two.
It is still not clear whether the WICB has agreed to ratify Stanford as the official, regional 20/20 tournament, setting aside a period of five weeks at the start of the season in exchange for an annual fee of US$1 million. As it would eliminate the financial, organisational and administrative responsibilities while still being under its auspices, such a deal would seem to be money for jam for the WICB which has seldom been known to operate anything at a profit, far less of $1 million.
A statement by Tony Howard, the WICB cricket operations manager, last month that the next first-class season would start three months earlier than usual, in October, and the follow-up from the Stanford organisation that confirmed the dates, and fixtures, for the 2008 tournament as January 25 to February 24, suggested that an accord had been reached.
Yet the swift and indignant reaction of Colin Murray, marketing manager of Carib Beer, sponsors of the first-class season for the past five years, indicated otherwise.
Stanford's dates are in the middle of what is usually the Carib tournament and he wondered out loud whether Stanford's 20/20 wasn't for his "own personal and selfish gain". Seeing the Texan billionaire intends to repeat the grants in the inaugural year of $280,000 to each of the participating territories, increased to 21 for 2008, in addition to the $1 million to the champion team, $500,000 to the runners-up and equally unprecedented sums for individual performances, it was a comment seemingly based on pique rather than reason.
It was hard to spot anything selfish in such numbers.
Such money goes to struggling individual associations that received little or nothing from the WICB in the past and is appreciably more than all the other sponsors of West Indies cricket put together. Murray further questioned how Stanford's investment would guarantee that the WICB operations "are stable and will continue to benefit from his involvement". That, of course, is up to the WICB to determine although its record in financial matters is not encouraging.
While Murray was making his objections known, Malcolm Speed, chief executive of the ICC, was revealing his members' "genuine concerns" over Stanford's plan for a Super Stars tournament, provisionally scheduled for June 2008. It would feature four ICC full-member teams playing against each other on a single elimination knockout basis with the winner to take on the Stanford Super Stars for a jackpot of $20 million, all at the Stanford ground in Antigua.
But it needs the ICC's approval, for which Stanford has guaranteed the WICB $1 million for "successfully negotiating". It is an extension of the planned match between the Stanford Super Stars and South Africa that was baulked last November as it clashed with the first week of the official West Indies tour of Pakistan.
While Speed said ICC members were wary about the effect it would have on players' workloads, the cap on 20/20 Internationals and the television agreement with ESPN-Star, he also noted that they wanted a slice of the cake "to ensure that their participation will benefit as many of the game's stakeholders as possible to help facilitate its continuing strong growth".
This really is a bit rich coming from ICC members who drove a torpedo through the fragile hull of the WICB's finances six years ago by altering the payout for teams on overseas tours. Whereas such contracts had previously been subject to bi-lateral negotiations, a system on which the WICB heavily relied for its very survival, the other nine ICC full members voted to standardise it. It meant that the host was now responsible for all the expenses of the touring team while retaining gate receipts, sponsorship, broadcasting rights and the like.
The upshot was obvious. While Australia, England and India, for instance, raked in the money from attendances (up to Â£3 million for a Test at Lord's or the MCG) and phenomenal television contracts, the West Indies, with the small size of their populations, economies and grounds set against the high costs of accommodation in the tourist-cricket season, scrunted.
So the rich and powerful became richer and more powerful, and the poor and weak, of which the West Indies are the prime example, got poorer and weaker. It is an arrangement that officials estimate cost the WICB $10 million in six years. Yet, now that a wealthy investor comes forward to give West Indies cricket the financial boost it badly needs, and to encourage its development in unfamiliar Caribbean outposts previously ignored by both the WICB and the ICC, the ICC wants in on the action to further what he calls the game's "continuing strong growth".
That, presumably, means helping fund ICC tournaments such as the Under-19 World Cup qualifiers in distant lands involving countries such as Afghanistan, Japan, New Guinea, Qatar, Thailand and Vanuatu and the Intercontinental Cup of four-day matches between the likes of Canada, Kenya, Namibia and Scotland that do not play four-day matches in their own competitions - and never will.
Whether that represents "continuing strong growth" or not, Speed and the ICC might recognise that there has been just the opposite among some of the more established members, not least the West Indies where there is continuing strong decline.
With the cooperation of the WICB, Stanford's money can help turn the present weakness into traditional strength again. But the ICC should appreciate that it is not for sharing.