West Indies cricket August 15, 2010

WIPA v weaklings

The impasse between the Guyana Cricket Board and the West Indies Players' Association days before the Champions League served as a repeat of the crisis involving Trinidad and Tobago last year

A West Indies team is ready for an international engagement. Suddenly, the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) notices something in the players' contracts not to its liking. It presses its case. An impasse develops with the relevant, unprepared board, leading to frantic, last-minute negotiations, always overshadowed by the threat of strike action.

It is a well-established tactic, generally known as brinksmanship, and it has served WIPA and its members well since Dinanath Ramnarine took over as its president and chief executive seven years ago. So it has done in the latest instance.

After Guyana won the first WICB regional T20 tournament last month to qualify as the West Indies' representative at the second Champions League in South Africa, the WIPA raised several objections. It questioned the WICB's decision to keep a third of the participation fee of US$500,000 that is paid to the board of each participating team, stating that "retaining such a large sum could have a direct negative impact on Guyanese cricket and its players".

It noted that the WICB passed on the full fee, then US$200,000, to the Trinidad and Tobago Board (TTCB) last year when Trinidad and Tobago were the West Indies' representative. WIPA also charged that the Guyana Cricket Board (GCB) had not responded to its proposals, made ten days earlier, as to how its two-thirds of the participation fee (US$333,333) and the allocated prize money (at least US$100,000) should be shared with the players. It reportedly pressed for a 75% split.

And it doubted the contention that discussions over players' image rights would have to be done directly with the Champions League, rather than with the WICB or the Guyana Cricket Board. It contended that its off-shoot, the West Indies Players Management Company Limited (WIPMACOL), holds its members' image rights and should be involved.

The WICB promptly issued a statement of "clarification" on two points. It justified its retention of a third of the participation fee as a way of offsetting the costs of just over US$2 million for staging the 2010 tournament, pointing out that there were no such costs in 2009 as there had been no tournament.

It stated that the Guyana players had signed terms with the Champions League, agreeing to their images being used by the league during the tournament. Any alteration to such contracts, it stated, would have to be made with the league.

Ramnarine succeeds because he has the most influential players firmly behind him and all contributing to the operation of the WIPA. He has his way, too, because of the proven weakness of administrators he regards with disdain.

By now, the GCB seemed ready to confront the WIPA on its demands. It secured an interim injunction from Guyana's acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, restraining the WIPA, Ramnarine and WIPMACOL from interfering in its contract with the BCCI, the Champions League's parent body. In its application, the GCB said that WIPA's demands would not be met.

The injunction barred WIPA, Ramnarine and WIPMACOL "from doing any act which has the tendency of causing or inducing the GCB to dishonour or act in breach of the agreement for Guyana to participate in the upcoming tournament".

At the same time, the acting Chief Justice granted GCB president Chetram Singh and secretary Anand Sanadie a writ against WIPA, Ramnarine and WIPMACOL seeking in excess of $10,000,000 damages for intrusion in the GCB's contract with the Champions League and a similar amount "for conspiracy" to "prevent the GCB's team selected from taking part unless it does so on their terms as to the sharing or remuneration or otherwise".

It was now clear that, unless there was a settlement, Guyana would not be in South Africa, an unthinkable scenario. The whole country--indeed the whole diaspora-had been energised by the triumph in the regional T20 tournament and the prospects of following Trinidad and Tobago's inspiring example in finishing runners-up in the inaugural Champions' League. Guyana's cricket has been down in the dumps for a long while. Now, according to Travis Dowlin, a linchpin of the team, everywhere they went the players were being hailed as champions. As it happens in sport, their success had galvanised the nation.

Inevitably, the government felt compelled to intervene to break the deadlock. The acting Sports Minister Irfaan Ali summoned a meeting with Singh and Guyana captain Ramnaresh Sarwan, a staunch WIPA member, to sort things out. At the end of it, Singh said "a consensus on various aspects of the Guyana team's participation in South Africa was reached". He offered no details, except to say that he no longer saw the need to follow up the proposed legal action against WIPA. "What I can say is that after today's meeting we have agreed on several issues and now everyone should be focusing on giving the team the best chance to be successful in South Africa," Singh said.

Whatever spin is put on it, it was not difficult to deduce that most of the concessions would have been the GCB's. As a long-standing member of the WICB, Singh would have had plenty of such experiences through its dealings with the WIPA.

Once again, Ramnarine had carried his opponents to the brink. So it has been repeatedly in the past and, last year, just days prior to the Trinidad and Tobago team's departure for the first Champions League in India.

As subsequently revealed by Anil Roberts, ironically now Minister of Sport in the new government, negotiations between the TTCB and WIPA over contracts had broken down when he was on the spot in his role as a sports media personality. Conscious of the repercussions, he stepped in to get them back together. Agreement was reached and Trinidad and Tobago was free to fulfil its date with destiny. As it turned out, the players received an extra 25 per cent from a newly-constituted TTCB on their return.

It might be the same this time but such last-minute disputes are clearly untenable. Ramnarine boasts that the WIPA has won all seven issues with the WICB that have gone to arbitration. He has ensured that even players who twice withdrew from teams on the eve of international series returned to the fold (some as captain) and saw to it that their fees increased to the extent that they are among the best paid anywhere.

He succeeds because he has the most influential players firmly behind him and all contributing to the operation of the WIPA. He has his way, too, because of the proven weakness of administrators he regards with disdain. Perhaps his greatest coup was to wring out of the compliant WICB hefty compensation for loss of earnings for those players who went on strike prior to last year's Bangladesh home series.

Yet performances on the field continue to be an embarrassment. One of the principal reasons for this interminable decline was again clearly evident in events in Georgetown this past week. So it will continue until such nonsense is ended, once and for all.

Tony Cozier has written about and commentated on cricket in the Caribbean for nearly 50 years

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