TONY COZIER: Legends’ stance widens the fault line
THE DIVISIONS WITHIN West Indies cricket that have transformed the once dominant force in the world game into one of the weakest are ever widening.
The latest gaping fissure has pitted the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) against the Legends, an imposing group of eminent players from the years of unparalleled supremacy.
The eight, comprising the most renowned, Sir Garry Sobers, along with Sir Vivian Richards, Sir Wes Hall, Sir Andy Roberts, Deryck Murray, Desmond Haynes, Charlie Griffith and Roger Harper, met in Grenada under Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, head of the CARICOM committee on cricket, to discuss last year’s review committee report on the WICB’s governance and structure.
They stated their unanimous support for the main recommendation that the board should be immediately replaced by a completely reformed body.
They described the WICB as “an oligarchic structure that considers itself answerable to no one but itself”.
“Although the WICB might see itself as a private entity, it is there for the public good and should therefore be accountable, in some way, to the governments and people of the Caribbean,” their statement added, reinforcing the point by citing India’s Supreme Court’s similar point to the privately-run BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) last year.
It basically matched a paragraph in the Patterson Report in 2007, the first of the reviews on governance and structure by a panel headed by former Jamaica Prime Minister P.J. Patterson.
“The status quo is unacceptable,” it stated. “If there is absolutely no change in the structure and the method by which persons are chosen for a board that is manifestly dysfunctional, there will be no change in performance. We will continue to lurch from one crisis to another, to defeat after defeat, so long as the present structure remains with the fatal flaws that now exist.”
Proclaiming they are “very proud of our legacy”, the Legends said they could not “‘in good conscience stand idly by and watch everything we fought so hard to build and achieve disappear right before our eyes because of the actions of inept board members and incompetent board”.
It was a position flagged on the West Indies tour of Sri Lanka last year by Sir Garry’s emotional response to a question at a media conference about the state of West Indies cricket.
While the WICB offered a measured, detailed rejoinder, listing what it claimed were its advances over the past couple of years, the presence of Mitchell emboldened Conde Riley, a Barbados WICB director; Gregory Nicholls, a former secretary of Barbados Cricket Association (BCA), and articles in the Jamaica Gleaner to charge that they were “pawns in a game that is very much bigger than they themselves”, as Nicholls put it.
On a radio show in Barbados, Riley said he didn’t “like them using my National Hero [Sir Garry] to achieve what they are trying to achieve”.
Riley and Orville Higgins, in his column in the Jamaica Gleaner, introduced the red herring of the Legends’ salaried roles on the board of the Texan Allen Stanford’s 20/20tournaments on his custom-made ground in Antigua in 2006 and 2008. Before Stanford’s arrest on fraud charges in February 2009, the WICB, under president Julian Hunte with Dave Cameron his deputy, along with all the individual boards, took part. So did the England Cricket Board (ECB), sending an England team to the US$20 million match in 2008.
“Many of us suspected his wealth couldn’t be all above board,” Higgins claimed. “None of that stopped some of these same legends from being his personal sidekicks, smiling and nodding for the cameras while their bank book was being fattened.”
Riley said that he didn’t want “someone to again so use my Legends for whom I have great respect”. There was no suggestion that Riley’s unequivocal support made him president Cameron’s “sidekick”.
On the same radio programme, Fazeer Mohammed, the respected Trinidadian writer and commentator, made the obvious point in answer to such comments, noting that it infers that the relevant Legends “don’t have a brain of their own”.
“They are all individuals with great standing in the game who have shown their intellect in the game,” he noted. “To imply that they are mere pawns of Caribbean power-hungry prime ministers or whatever almost seems to suggest that they don’t have the ability to speak in their own right.”
The WICB conceded that one proposal rejected from the several of its commissioned reports on governance and structure was for the addition of another level to the organisation; otherwise it listed what it claimed were its improvements in recent years.
Congratulating the teams, the two held contrasting views on the reason for the West Indies victories in the Under-19 World Cup in February and both women’s and men’s World Twenty20s in India in March and April.
The Legends saw them as “outstanding achievements considering the weaknesses in the WICB and poor relationships between the board and its players and coaches as highlighted by captain Darren Sammy in his heartfelt comments after the T20 final”.
The WICB held that they were due to the influence of the high-performance programme implemented just over two years ago.
“That there are small groups clamouring for the board’s dissolution is reason to ask, what more could a region want?” it asked. The fact that six West Indians in the XI in the final were committed to various domestic franchise leagues told a different story on that score.
Such differences will continue to open the cracks between them even wider, to the continuing detriment of West Indies cricket. (TC)