Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey
USA's senior team has been hit by controversy less than a week before it is supposed to leave for Hong Kong to take part in the ICC World Cricket League Division Three, with two of its senior members threatening to stay home over non-payment of a bonus that was promised to them by the USA Cricket Association for winning ICC World Cricket League Division Four.
USACA President Gladstone Dainty confirmed to ESPNcricinfo on Friday that a bonus payment was promised, and said the players will receive the money in due time, but that financing tournaments and selection camps took precedence ahead of paying out any bonuses to individual players.
"We don't deal kindly with those kind of threats," Dainty said when informed of the players intentions. "Tell them that I say if it's the case that they're not going to go to Hong Kong, we'll send another team because this is about the growth of US cricket. It's about everybody. It's not about them. The money that we spend is for everybody. If they think we're going to give them money and not have a national championship or not prepare the Under-19 teams, they got something else coming, not under my watch. They can stay home.
"With this amount of cricket being played, we're spending a lot of money and we've got to prioritize it. We're not going to not have a national championship because we're giving players a bonus. They're going to have to wait."
The two players, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, claim that Dainty promised the team a $1000 bonus for winning Division Four in Italy. Dainty, however, would not confirm that figure. "I don't know how much they were promised. I told them we'll give them a bonus based on the money that we have, but generally we don't give them less than $500. What we're not going to do, the ladies team won also, we're not going to give them more than we give the ladies. It's going to be all of them, and the ladies, so we've got to look at the money but it's not going to be less than $500."
The USA women's team swept a three-match 50-over series against Canada in July to win the ICC Americas Women's championship, clinching a spot in this year's Women's World Cup Qualifier in Bangladesh.
"They were promised a bonus," Dainty said. "We didn't tell them when they'd get it and the reason why we didn't tell them when they'd get it… for the national tournament we were broke. So to give those players a bonus and not have the national tournament, which one is the priority?"
Dainty said that he hoped USACA would receive its quarterly ICC development grant as early as Monday. "We're getting funding in, including the ICC money. Even today I had a discussion with the treasurer about as soon as that money comes in, not only they're gonna get their bonus, we promised the ladies some money and those ladies, they've been very nice and gracious. So we'll pay them and pay the ladies when the money comes in."
In addition to the delayed bonus payment, the two players are unhappy that their stipend for the upcoming tour to Hong Kong has not been increased from the tour of Italy. According to the players, they received $200 per day on tour in August for a total of $3000 but have been told that they will receive the same amount for Hong Kong. Team sources have also said that first time tour members receive either $125 or $150 per day. The anonymous players feel that because they advanced to play in a more competitive tournament, they deserve an increase in pay.
"It's not all about the money," the second anonymous player said. "It's about respect. If you make a promise, we expect it to be fulfilled."
The USA squad is due to meet in New York on Friday before leaving on Saturday January 15 for Hong Kong with the tournament starting on the 22nd. "This tour is a make or break tour for USACA and if they don't get things right by next Friday, there may be a few senior players who won't be going to New York to get on the plane to Hong Kong," the first anonymous player said. "It's about time USACA thinks about the players instead of themselves because it's us going on the field representing USA, and not them."
Another issue bothering both players is that they claim they do not receive any portion of the tour stipend until they get to the airport to go on tour. As a result, they say they have a hard time depositing the money or sending it back to their families to be able to use while they are gone and that the tour stipend does not adequately cover the money they are forgoing in lost wages by taking time off work.
"They're giving us $750 at the airport and then the balance while we're gone," the first player said. "Can you take care of your family from the airport? These people are not treating us even halfway how we're supposed to be treated."
"We've got a situation, they're getting ready to go on tour and we always give them money before they leave," Dainty said in response to the complaint about the delivery of tour payments. "So they'll be getting that money and hopefully they can get the bonus. It's not that we had it. We have to prioritize. Although we signed this big deal, we haven't drawn down all the money yet, a lot of the money, because a lot of paperwork is still going on. We're not trying to run away, they'll get the money, but as the money comes in, we're trying to prioritize."
With USACA due to receive $5 million in 2011 for its share in the newly formed Cricket Holdings America, the players say they've been underpaid for a long time and now they want their share of the spoils.
"We need to form a players association," the second player said. "USACA doesn't negotiate with anyone. They just give us whatever and expect us to take it. For cricket to move forward, the players need to feel comfortable. Nothing has been improved for the players so I don't understand how the cricket is going to get better. Cricket is not about those [administrators]. It's about the players. It's just a bunch of jokers controlling the cricket."