The fight for control of West Indies Cricket
Antiquated! Obsolete! Anachronistic!
The foregoing terms are used in the official report submitted by the group that has been labelled, the CARICOM cricket review panel.
Led by Professor Emeritus, Professor Eudine Barriteau and including Sir Dennis Byron, Dwain Gill, Deryck Murray and Warren Smith, the CARICOM cricket review panel was mandated to evaluate the current state of the game in the region amidst the declining fortunes of the West Indies cricket team in the international arena.
Indeed, the sport itself has become seeming unappealing to people in the region to such an extent that attendance at local cricket matches in any of the Caribbean islands is down to a minimum.
It is however clear that the political leaders in the Caribbean, having grown up with an appreciation for the game and its role in the awakening of the political consciousness of our peoples, are piqued and are now anxious to use their political stature to intervene in the sport.
Over the past several years we have had the spectre of what may well be described as political spats between the political leaders of CARICOM and those of West Indies cricket. The issue really should be one of sports but the more one analyses the situation it emerges that there is much by way of political intrigue and anxiety over possession of power.
Politicians often behave as though they have suddenly, on assuming office, become so wise and knowledgeable on all issues, that they exhibit little recognition of the knowledge and experience of others.
We have used this Column on numerous occasions in the past to highlight the fact that politicians must understand the difference between what they are mandated to do by virtue of accessing government and what others know as their areas of responsibility and competence.
Most recently, Caribbean politicians have taken themselves and their often over-inflated egos so seriously that they actually behave as though they believe that they are working in the best interest of those they govern.
The insistence on the appointment of the CARICOM cricket review panel is but an attempt to venture out into an arena they perceive as at once satisfying their own personal interests and assisting them in garnering more votes in future general elections in their respective countries.
The report of the CARICOM cricket review panel seems an endorsement of the stance of the politicians and it offers a seemingly legitimate rationale for their direct intervention in sporting associations.
Sport is popular around the Caribbean. Everywhere, our people seem keen on participating in and following sports.
The history of sport in the Caribbean reveals the stark reality that the colonisers were the very ones to introduce these activities in the region.
We often forget however, that they introduced the different sports in order to satisfy their own selfish interests. In not a single instance under colonialism was it ever the case that a p/articular sport was introduced by the colonisers in the interest of the peoples they colonised. To do otherwise would have been anachronistic.
Caribbean peoples, former slaves, were forced to play cricket merely to ensure that the colonisers were able to engage in the sport for recreational purposes. They were not to bat but rather field the ball when struck hither and thither during an entertaining afternoon.
That the Caribbean peoples learnt the craft of playing cricket was really not in any way a deliberate strategy on the part of the colonisers.
It should also be remembered that the leadership of cricket in the region, in every country, was in the hands of the colonisers and their successive generations. The whites controlled the game through to the 1960s even when blacks had started to emerge as quality players, possessive of the leadership required by the game.
The vestiges of slavery, particularly racism and racial discrimination, featured in the selection of the West Indies cricket team as much as was the case in the selection of the different national cricket teams in the region. Not surprisingly the West Indies cricket team to Australia in the early 1950s saw a then highly discriminatory stance adopted where the black members of the West Indies team were being told that they could not enter the players’ pavilion using the same steps and entrance as the whites on their own team. This was one of the major events that brought the struggle for liberation in the sport to a head.
CLR James and others have already recounted the development of the sport amongst local peoples and the ways in which they allowed their involvement to feature in their mental liberation from the legacy of slavery.
It is this latter reality that remains with the older politicians of the region. It is this aspect of Caribbean popular culture that resonates with them. It is also true that today’s Caribbean political leaders understand the political currency of cricket to the average individual and hence their seeming involvement in the sport may well be deemed a means of enhancing their own political fortunes.
It is however very unfortunate that our current crop of political leaders has failed to grasp the reality of change in the sport of cricket impacted as it is by global changes in sport, more generally.
The West Indies cricket team has not been playing consistently well for several years now. What we have witnessed is the failure of all stakeholders of the sport in the Caribbean to engage in a scientific approach to the development and sustainability of cricket.
It hurts cricket aficionados to watch the decline of the West Indies cricket team. This is not limited to the Caribbean. Cricket enthusiasts all around the world are amazed that the West Indies cricket team today no longer poses the great challenges of teams of the past.
The passion for the game appears to have been lost.
Whereas in the past matches involving the West Indies team saw patrons hasten to sales outlets to garner early tickets today this is hardly ever the case.
In almost every version of the game today the West Indies team is regarded as one that is so inconsistent that anything can happen on any given day. This inevitably impacts ticket sales, sale of television rights and interest in the overall team’s performance.
No one ever thought that sport fans in the Caribbean would label the regional team, ‘Worst Indies’ and be very serious about having done so.
Individual players continue to emerge within the region and establish themselves sin one version of the game or another. However, as a team, the West Indies is often a cause for sarcastic remarks.
Now that sports of any variety receives global attention through extensive television and social media coverage, the performance of the West Indies cricket team is known everywhere.
Poor performances led to low ranking and failure to qualify for this year’s Champions Trophy. If they do not make it among the top seven in the world by September 30, they will not gain automatic qualification for the Cricket World Cup 2019.
Many of our leaders in the Caribbean still see sport as a frivolous but nonetheless popular activity.
Despite the claims made at the political level of the immense economic value of sport to the national economy, most of our leaders do little more than pay lip service to this activity. They are first to come forward at airports to welcome home winners even when they paid no attention to the team’s preparations for the same competitions at which they succeeded.
We can state here without fear of contradiction that the establishment of a Cricket Committee within CARICOM had more to do with politicians of the region seeing and seizing an opportunity to curry favour with large segments of the electorate in their respective countries than any genuine interest in understanding the value of physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport to the human condition of the peoples of the Caribbean. Therein lies the problem.
Had the region’s political leaders any understanding of the value of physical literacy, physical education, physical activity and sport to the human condition they would have established a broad-based Committee on these aspects of life in the region and ensure that the regional and national universities we have are driven to focus attention of forging a strong research and development component so we would have sustainable physical education and sport development.
The CARICOM –appointed Panel that reviewed the status of cricket in the region reported, “It is now past the time to accept that the current governance structures are obsolete…There is an inherent and as yet unresolved tension between the evolution of the game of cricket into a powerful, professionally driven, entertainment and sporting industry and a system of governance predicated on an earlier, more simplified set of requirements.”
This is most interesting and may well be true. However, the issue is why did the CARICOM Heads believe that they should have gone ahead with this work without involving the stakeholders and leadership of the sport?
What was their motivation to do so?
What does the approach say about the way in which the CARICOM Heads view sport and sporting organisations in the region?
The Panel concluded by recommending, among other things, …” the immediate dissolution of the West Indies Cricket Board and the appointment of an Interim Board whose structure and composition will be radically different from the now proven, obsolete governance framework. These two key measures are absolutely necessary in order to transform and modernize the governance, management, administration and the playing of the game.”
Again, the Panel makes an interesting point. The problem is why? How could they recommend the dissolution of an independent sporting organisation to government leaders of the region?
Here again, what is the motivation?
Did the Panel not understand that they were engaged in a very serious political activity?
Did they not realise that they were also recommending a course of action that could easily have been directed at the very political leaders and their style of governance of the peoples of their respective countries?
Of course, the CARICOM Heads were only too eager to receive the aforementioned recommendations since this would afford them a pathway to intervention in independent sporting organisations, starting with cricket.
After cricket what would be the next sporting organisation they would wish to address and transform into their own image and likeness?
It is a sort of tragi-comedy that the regional leaders who now clamour for change in the way the cricket is administered in the region all, individually and collectively, vehemently reject similar calls from their respective populations for change in the way they lead their respective countries.
Once elected they insist that they have a mandate to do whatever they please. However, they are not prepared to allow those who have won mandates in sport to lead the sport. They see no contradiction in their conduct here.
Just as the politicians have established a committee to review the cricket situation they once established a committee to review the state of the Caribbean. How many of the political leaders were prepared to accept and follow through on the analysis and recommendations incorporated in the document, ‘Call to Action’. They had appointed the Caribbean academic luminaries to do the research and make recommendations yet found the outcomes virtually unpalatable and in many instances decried the members of the committee for having gone too far.
But since sport is perceived as frivolous, the region’s politicians believe that they could and should do anything they want, however this contradicts their own approaches to governance.