Kieron Pollard, the West Indies allrounder, has been denied a No-Objection Certificate to compete in South Africa's domestic T20 league, after the West Indies Cricket Board made the unprecedented move of levying 20% of the contract fee on any Caribbean player wishing to participate in an overseas T20 tournament.
Pollard, who signed a two-year contract last season with Cape Cobras, was informed of the WICB decision on November 3 by the board's chief executive officer Michael Muirhead in an emailed letter. He is currently still in Trinidad, with the tournament due to get underway on November 11.
Muirhead called the move a "policy" decision, taken by the WICB board of directors. He also said that the WICB had notified all the ICC Full Member boards of this decision.
"The WICB will levy a charge for the granting of an NOC for West Indian cricketers seeking a release to participate in Leagues outside the jurisdiction of the West Indies," Muirhead informed Pollard in the email, which has been accessed by ESPNcricinfo. "This will be an amount equivalent to 20% of the player fee (as defined in the player contract) that is actually paid to the relevant player."
Pollard was told he would not be granted the NOC until the WICB had received "acceptance of our position" from the various boards which feature Caribbean players in their domestic T20 tournaments.
It is understood that the Bangladesh Cricket Board is considering a 10% payment, but might ask the BPL franchises to carry out such a payment. Cricket South Africa has rejected the WICB proposal while there has been no response as yet from the Pakistan Cricket Board and Cricket Australia.
The Federation of International Players' Association (FICA) has described the WICB decision as "restraint of trade" and warned that it could attract legal challenges.
Muirhead argued that a release fee was necessary given how many Caribbean players are now seeking to maximise their earnings in the various T20 tournaments around the world.
"WICB however, having invested in developing a player's talent, is not able to realise a return on its investment if the player is not available to play in local tournament, which would allow lesser experienced players the opportunity to face a more experienced and skilled opposition, thereby improving on the standard and competitiveness of the domestic tournaments," he wrote.
However, the move comes as little surprise to seasoned observers of the current WICB administration. The board has consistently said that senior players who earn big money in the T20 leagues need to compromise and give back something to the regional cricket. Otherwise, as Muirhead noted to Pollard, it "disadvantages" the West Indies team.
"In the end, it compromises the standard of the WICB's international team and that team's performance internationally. The primacy of international cricket is threatened."
Muirhead stated in his email that the WICB move could not be called as restraint of trade. "While we do not wish to act in restraint of trade, we must seek a balance to ensure that there is fair and adequate compensation for the investment made in the players," he wrote. "What WICB seeks is some compensation to recognise the investment made into players, an investment from which another Full Member is benefitting."
Although Pollard is the only player officially contacted by WICB so far, many other Caribbean players are predicting a similar email in their inbox at some point in the near future.
Muirhead said the board could put the fees collected for an NOC from various players into a pot which then could be redistributed as contracts to players who only play T20. Pollard, along with the former West Indies captain Darren Sammy, are some of the prominent voices who have asked WICB to offer them T20 contracts.
"It is our expectation too, that the accumulation of these fees will facilitate the offer of contracts to players participating only in the short format of the game," Muirhead said.
Pollard, however, is not even a contracted WICB player, having been controversially dropped for the tri-series in Zimbabwe, scheduled for later this month. And for that reason, Tony Irish, the FICA chairman, believes that the move is unjustified.
"We have made it very clear to all the boards that any restrictions placed on players are likely to constitute restraint of trade and there challengeable legally," he said. "In the case of Kieron, he is not even contracted by the WICB. Therefore their attempt to levy 20% in exchange for the NOC effectively imposes a restriction on freedom of movement."
Irish called the decision arbitrary, considering the WICB had not even discussed the move with players and the other boards. He added that he will be speaking directly to the WICB on Tuesday about a decision that looks set to prevent Pollard from fulfilling his second year of the contract with the Cobras.
"It is not a good situation. I will be taking it directly as a FICA issue with the WICB and making them aware of the implications."
Insignia Sports, who manage Pollard along with other leading West Indies players including Sammy, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo, has also said it will be challenging the WICB move.
"It is a blatant restraint of trade on a player who has not been selected by WICB for the upcoming tri-series, does not have a contractual tie to the WICB permitting such a restriction," said Eddie Tolchard, one of the partners at Insignia Sports. "Applying an unreasonable and unjustifiable fee and requesting CSA pay it in order to provide a NOC is a restraint of trade."
Additional reporting by Nagraj Gollapudi