The conundrum of West Indies Cricket
Caribbean politicians continue to amaze and perhaps embarrass many of today’s sportspeople with this decidedly blinkered and perhaps more than a little jaundiced stance in respect of West Indies Cricket.
This Columnist remains insistent that the approach of the politicians is woefully out of sync with contemporary trends and certainly reflective of an era when they were children and listened to coverage of the sport by radio. There is a certain lack of understanding of West Indian youth and their interests. There is also a failure to grasp the nuances of international sport as well as the motivating factors impacting those who offer themselves sup for office in a sport that is undergoing rapid change in its effort to keep pace with the global sport scenario.
To the enthusiastic sports analyst, it appears that the Caribbean politicians who have so readily formed themselves into a Caribbean cricket committee of sorts are stuck in their own historical epoch. Just as many are unable to catapult themselves into a political philosophy and ideology that is significantly contemporary they are deeply rooted and confined to the sport as they knew it in their own time.
Perhaps there is no more compelling evidence of the archaism that characterise the politicians that constitute the cricket committee within Caricom than the fact that they have chosen to focus on cricket rather than on sport.
Their fossilised approach to cricket has inhibited them from seeing the development of Caribbean sport and the role it has played in bringing greater recognition to the region and hence the importance of locating this aspect of Caribbean life as one of the critical pillars of their development strategy. Like so many others they may well be mistaking the leaves for the forest.
Caribbean cricket is founded upon the all-important concept of liberation. Evidence of this has already filled volumes of researched documents and publications, much of which has probably never been read.
While the sport was brought to the Caribbean by the colonising British the descendants of slaves learnt to play it well enough to master the craft, much to the chagrin of those who had so eagerly condemned them to being essentially brainless idiots fit only for the rigours of manual labour.
The intelligence of blacks in the Caribbean, even under colonialism at its worst, produced a generation of individuals who saw the immense potential of sport to liberate them from the mental slavery that imprisoned so many of their contemporaries.
Those black cricketers who blazed the trail in England in the early wave of Caribbean migrants understood only too well the impact of the sport on the peoples of English society and committed themselves to leading the struggle for Caribbean liberation both on and off the field of play. They rallied Caribbean peoples in England around the plight of their brothers and sisters back home and sowed the seeds of change.
Learie Constantine did Caribbean peoples a great service by encouraging the likes of CLR James to bring scholarship to the fight for the liberation process all through the medium of cricket.
The history of early Caribbean cricket through to the era of the legendary and incomparable, Frank Worrell, is one of a legitimate use of sport as a vehicle for social, political and economic transformation, not only of the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised but more importantly amongst colonised peoples of the Caribbean.
It is unfortunate however, that whilst the likes of Viv Richards may well have felt strongly about seeing cricket as a vehicle of black empowerment they showed themselves woefully deficient in making an effective link with the plight of the peoples of the region in their own cricketing era. There appeared to have been a radical shift to individualism rather than a shift towards regionalism.
While the West Indies cricket team showed great unity of purpose on the field of play and the Caribbean people enjoyed an important era of cricket euphoria the powerful role of sport in building broader Caribbean unity was never acknowledged. Indeed, none of the great players of the post Worrell era has been able to articulate the power of their achievements on the field of play to positively impact the condition of the peoples of the region. They did not articulate a position that positioned them as representatives of the aspirations of the peoples of the Caribbean.
Interestingly, Caribbean politicians have, until now, left the sport to the local and regional body. They did not interfere much, except perhaps in one or two instances, the most glaring of which would probably Guyanese President, Forbes Burnham, and the case for Clive Lloyd.
The fortunes of the regional cricket team have been much like a see-saw. However, the regional team has spent much of its time up in the air, literally at the mercy of the opposition. For the West Indies cricket team success appears to be relative. It depends on which character turns up to play at any given time, regardless of the opponent.
Whilst many concentrate their criticisms of the performance of the cricket team on the players not much time is really spent analysing the West Indies Cricket Board beyond the Selection Committee. Even in the case of the latter the emphasis is merely on blaming them for not selecting a player or players from the critics’ countries.
In actual fact the leadership of the sport in the region has been a cause for concern from its earliest days of existence.
In the early the leadership of the sport at both the local and regional levels reflected the socio-political leadership of the respective countries. Leadership was essentially racist in nature as were the very societies in the region.
Not surprisingly therefore, the white leaders of the game, regardless of their capacity and skill, controlled the sport and determined who got where in it. Thus players of colour in the sport were forever engaged in a struggle for liberation of a sort akin to what happened in their own societies.
The struggle against racism in the team came to a head perhaps before the same occurred in Caribbean society, thanks in large measure to Frank Worrell.
For many the leadership of the sport in the Caribbean reflected the authoritarianism common in the politics of the region and hence the players were on the receiving end of what the leaders thought was their own largesse. Players were supposed to accept whatever came their way.
Worrell was the first captain to engage his players into an understanding of the politics of the game and the power of sport. This posed a major threat to the established leadership of the game at the regional level at the time. Unfortunately for the development of the sport in the Caribbean, this approach did not impact the leadership at the country and regional level beyond the Worrell era.
The reality is that much like the individual Caribbean countries West Indies Cricket changed the colour of the leadership and nothing more.
Having emerged from individual countries led by authoritarian regimes the leadership at both the individual country and Caribbean levels, the leadership of cricket remained authoritarian. That is still the case today.
Leadership of cricket in the Caribbean is woefully deficient. It cannot be said that the current leadership is not focused. It is instead a truism that their focus is not really about the genuine development of the game as a vehicle for regional unity. They do not see the game as being in any way integrated into regional development.
Contemporary world of sport
Sport is today still one of the fastest growing economic endeavours and therefore a major contributor to national economies.
Sport has shown itself a significant boon to countries that have systematically located it as an integral component of their national development strategies.
The failure of the West Indies Cricket Board to so structure and manage itself as a professional organisation has allowed itself to lose the opportunity to be considered important to national and regional development.
The WICB is a hotbed of confusion and conflict.
The horse-trading that is the electoral process at both the national and regional levels has served to detract and distract from the immense potential of the sport to integrate around cause that Constantine and James saw, articulated and promoted in their time.
While cricket is still considered popular by the WICB the rate of increase of empty seats at local and regional matches is near-exponential. It is often the case that at local matches there are more cars than there are spectators. Local cricket administrators remain spurred on by the legacy of an increasingly remote past. They, and the entire WICB, wait on innovation to come from the International Cricket Council (ICC) rather than engage in their own analysis of the sport in their countries and the region to determine what can and must be done to effect change.
There is no vision clearly identified and hence no programme that appropriately address the aforementioned issues that continue to plague the development of the game in the Caribbean.
If anything the money that players can now access around the cricketing world all through the year constitutes the single most attract feature of cricket in the Caribbean.
The players have no interest in what the WICB does anymore. They ply their trade to the highest bidder. That is the reason that the likes of Dwayne Bravo, Keiron Pollard, Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels are not in the least bit bothered by the actions of the WICB. They are already millionaires and like their counterparts in other professional sports they chart their own destinies both within and outside their sport. They are the examples and role models to successive generations of Caribbean youth.
Shame and Panic
The seeming interest of Caribbean politicians in the fortunes of West Indies cricket in the recent past in bred out of both shame and panic. They are ashamed of the fact that the performance of the West Indies Cricket team, like that of the WICB is but a reflection of how they perform as political leaders of their respective countries and their decidedly poor performance at Caricom. They are ashamed of how the world perceives them.
Secondly, the Caribbean leaders are in a state of panic. Each of them wishes for a better legacy as a leader. But they see in the West Indies cricket team, much of themselves – characterised more by hubris than anything else, eager to write their personal histories dominated by megalomania and economic aggrandisement.
The future of West Indies cricket therefore is a hodgepodge of uncertainty, not in any way different from the predictable fortunes of the individual countries that constitute the membership of Caricom..