The West Indies Cricket Board "has killed or is killing" women's cricket in the region, according to a former board employee who is calling on the ICC to intervene.
Dr Michael Seepersaud, the former chief cricket development officer of the WICB under whose portfolio the women's cricket fell and who is now the secretary of the West Indies Women's Federation (WIWCF), believes that the WICB has fallen well short of the ICC mandate to integrate women's cricket, saying: "It is doing very little."
Without much-needed funding and organisational support from the board, the once-strong women's game will flounder, he believes - and it is already dying on its knees. "It's a bleak situation," he says.
West Indies women haven't played a game in two years and have no more matches scheduled until the next World Cup in 2009. If they fail to play any cricket in that time their place at the tournament is in serious jeopardy, as the ICC has minimum requirements for competing. They are supposed to host Pakistan and India later this year, but without funding the tours cannot take place. Unsurprisingly, the cricketers are in low spirits, as Dr Seepersaud says: "It's affecting the morale of our players and administrators very badly."
West Indies do have some very good players coming through, and the side qualified automatically for the last tournament, while one of their best players, Nadine George, has recently received an MBE. Women's cricket is the WICB's responsibility, but the players are still required to pay their own travel costs to participate in regional tournaments, nevermind not being able to play international cricket.
We cannot continue to treat our women with this kind of disrespect
In this year's senior tournament, several territories, including Guyana, Grenada and others who have always participated, can't afford to fly over to Barbados to take part. This situation, says Seepersaud, would never occur in the men's game regardless of age.
Funding used to come through an annual grant from the WICB of $100,000 per annum, which Seepersaud had secured when he was on the board. But when the WICB took over the women's game, this sum was discontinued. It's unlikely to be reinstated, either, as the board is $15million in debt.
Under an ICC mandate, each board must look after the women's game in its own country, but WICB has largely ignored the players since it took over in 2005. The board did provide some funding for the Under-19 inter-island competition which was held in Jamaica in 2006 - although the money didn't cover airfares and accommodation. That, says Seepersaud, is encouraging but he believes it borders on tokenism where the process and funding are concerned. "The WICB must shed its old boys' club image. We cannot continue to treat our women with this kind of disrespect."
He has also called on the ICC to put pressure on the WICB to designate some of the $11.5million generated by the World Cup to the women's game to help keep it alive. "The ICC can't sit idly by and allow the WICB to destroy women's cricket in the region," he says. "By taking over women's cricket they have accepted responsibility for its development. They must step in to redress the situation."
The WICB Integration Steering Committee, which was established to manage the integration process jointly with the WIWCF, has met just twice since its formation in 2004. The WIWCF is entirely staffed by volunteers, who rack up hundreds of dollars in telephone bills between islands.
The WIWCF has, says Seepersaud, the administrative capabilities to step in and save the proposed visit of Pakistan and India, but without any representation on the board, or access to the requisite funding, they are powerless to assist. "If they make X amount of funding available we will do it ourselves, but some full time employee of the WICB must be directed to provide the logistical and organisational support. The very least they could do is to reinstate the annual subvention."
No money is currently available to the WIWCF even for executive meetings. Seepersaud says that he has requested less than $2000 for airfares with the executive looking after their own accommodation. Yet every time they have asked, the board has turned their request down. "We are not begging for anything. We just want an historical wrong to be righted, and for the women to take their rightful place."
Ironically, the ICC move was seen as a potential saviour of women's cricket in the country. Before the merger, West Indies women had struggled to gain sponsorship to enable them to participate in the 2005 World Cup in South Africa. Governments and sponsors stepped in, and once there, they thrived.
Seepersaud blames what he calls "the chauvinistic nature" of the WICB and the lack of leadership at the board and secretariat levels for the current malaise. In 2005, consultants from Ernst and Young recommended that women's cricket be given a voice on the board, with one seat, but "that was kicked out in a very aggressive way." He adds: "Yet a short time later the board expanded its membership by three - males, of course."
Perhaps the telling indication of the board's attitude towards women's cricket is that the WIWCF specifically, and women's cricket generally, played no part in the recent World Cup in the Caribbean. The board invited the president to one match after lobbying from the WIWCF, but, again, Seepersaud believes that was tokenism. "I just don't think that in the 21st century this kind of insult should be allowed."
Nobody from the ICC nor the WICB was available for comment when Cricinfo contacted them.