In a letter to the President of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICB), Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves made a compelling statement about the existential threat to West Indian cricket. He said “I do not think this huge, complicated matter can be handled in an “ad hoc” manner or by the WICB alone. This is an extraordinary enterprise which takes us beyond the boundary”. How right he is about the scale of the problem.
The West Indies Cricket team and the University of the West Indies are the only two remaining entities that are both the unanimous expression of the West Indian peoples’ unity and their collective capacity to compete favourably in the world.
Undoubtedly, West Indian cricket has now been dealt a mortal blow. The enormous financial consequences of the team’s abrupt termination of their tour of India are far reaching. The WICB is in no position to repay the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) the estimated US$65 million in revenue losses. If the BBCI presses its claim with a lawsuit, the WICB will not only be unable to raise credit, it will also have no money for the development of cricket including paying the many players now on contract.
The grave financial effects are bad enough, but even worse is the damage done to West Indian cricket. There are obvious protracted and troubling differences between the West Indian cricketers and the WICB. But, whatever those differences are, the manner of resolving them should not have been a public walk out of a tour of India before the television cameras of the cricketing world. That single act shamed the people of the West Indies and injured the reputation of West Indian cricket. The action was simply not the West Indian way and washed dirty linen in public in a disgraceful manner.
The act was that of the team, but the blame must be shared by the WICB. The festering sore of West Indian cricket administration has not been cured despite many attempts to do so, not least the 2007 Report of a three-person committee headed by former Jamaican Prime Minister P J Patterson.
West Indian people have watched the West Indies team – once the king of all they surveyed, sweeping away the mightiest of cricketing nations – sink to number 8 in the International Cricket Council Test rankings ahead only of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. As the performance of the West Indies team declined so did the pride of the West Indian people and the belief in themselves. And the latter point is the most important – the deep and hurtful wound to the West Indian peoples’ self esteem.
There is little to which the West Indian people can point that establishes them as meaningful competitors and champions in the world. While we have had phenomenal athletes from a few countries that have given the entire West Indies great joy – Usain Bolt, simply par excellence among them – they have been national representatives in narrow fields. The two most notable areas of West Indian civilisation that have distinguished the West Indies in the world are cricket and the talent produced by the University of the West Indies.
On the University of the West Indies (UWI), it is singular in its accomplishments despite severe challenges that face it. Over the past 5 years the university produced 46,000 graduates. Where would the Caribbean be without them and hundreds of thousands of qualified persons graduated since the UWI began in 1948? Despite this record, some Governments owe the UWI millions of dollars and want to reduce their contributions. Private sector support is also insufficient.
Yet, as I had occasion to say recently, the UWI “has added considerable value to the talent of thousands of Caribbean citizens who now work in high-flying positions in developed countries. The University has also produced many of our region’s present leaders in government – 17 Prime Ministers among them – and in the private sector. It has also produced a multitude of men and women who are putting to work for the betterment of our region the knowledge they acquired in this institution”.
Without the UWI, the West Indian-Caribbean region would not have achieved the level of development it has today. But, it too is under threat if governments and the private sector do not step-up to ensure its continued contribution to West Indian development.
Now calamity has overtaken West Indian cricket. Governments will have to step in to resolve, through diplomatic means, the major financial problem that the players’ abandonment of the tour of India has created. The resolution will require employing the most credible high-level West Indians to secure the Indian government’s intervention with the BCCI to work out an arrangement that will not kill West Indian cricket.
But, even if that issue is resolved, the West Indies will still be faced with the chronic and persistent problem that the game by which they define themselves in the world – and indeed by which much of the world defines them – is no longer about superior performance and West Indian pride and dignity. Sadly it has descended to power struggles and personal avarice.
All of this is why Prime Minister Gonsalves is right that, addressing the devastation that events surrounding West Indian cricket has caused, is an extraordinary enterprise which takes us “beyond the boundary”. Throughout the West Indies people are angry. They feel a deep sense of being let down and of being deprived of something precious to their souls.
Yes, the matter is about the West Indian cricketers; yes, it is also about the administration of West Indian Cricket and the WICB; but beyond everything else it is about the ethos and self-worth of the West Indian person. That is what is at stake – and all the parties should keep that foremost in their minds.
(Sir Ronald Sanders is a Consultant, Senior Fellow at London University and former Caribbean Diplomat)