Can the decline of WI cricket be reversed?
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the withdrawal of the West Indian cricket team from the Tour of India, which should have been taking place now, is one of the most significant tragedies to have befallen cricket in its 86-year history.
At the same time, the opportunity has been presented to save West Indian cricket from its eventual demise by the removal of the present governance structure in the form of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and its replacement by the new structure as recommended by the Patterson Report since October 2007.
It is not the purpose of this article to apportion blame by percentages, since all of the major actors, ie the WICB, WIPA and the players must all share the blame. Instead the purpose of this article is to remind the West Indian cricketing public that this tragedy has been in the works for at least two decades or more.
What has happened in the last few weeks is the culmination of multiple missteps by a dysfunctional WICB, which under its present structure is unlikely ever to be able to act in the best interests of West Indian cricket. The focus of this article is on the WICB.
The players are not to be exempted from adverse comment, but that is for another occasion.
We have to face the harsh reality that West Indian cricket as we know it is unlikely to be the same again, and has been undoubtedly in a mode of irreversible decline for almost 20 years.
A reminder is necessary, because in these islands we have the infinite capacity to deny the truth and to live in a state of almost permanent denial of harsh reality. We always put on blinkers or seek to turn a blind eye to the unvarnished truth.
When confronted by a fundamental crisis we delude ourselves into believing that a few meetings, where the main actors are pictured smiling and shaking hands followed with a news release saying that the problem has been solved, will actually be an end of the matter.
It is not difficult to understand why the WICB has been engaged in so many multiple missteps, and seems unable to chart a clearly communicated course to reverse the decline of West Indian cricket and seek to improve its lot.
This explanation in my opinion clearly resides in the present governance structure of the WICB. The main elements of that structure which make the Board accountable to no one and devoid of any incentive to communicate and implement a plan are as follows:
(i) The WICB is a private limited liability company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands under the International Business Companies legislation.
(ii) The legal owners of the company are the six territorial boards, ie Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the Windward Islands and the Leeward Islands. They are supposed to be the shareholders who own the company. The directors are primarily comprised of two representatives from each one of the territorial boards referred to above. In addition, the president and the vice-president of the WICB are elected by the directors appointed by the territorial boards.
(iii) No person can become a member of the WICB unless the existing members (who are the territorial boards) approve of that person’s admission. In essence, the WICB is an exclusive private club to which membership is restricted. Its controllers are accountable to no one but themselves. It is devoid of the governance structure of a modern corporation.
In a situation where there is an absence of accountability there are certain consequences which are likely to follow having regard to human nature. It means that the Board can act or not act with impunity.
It means that personal and business agendas can be advanced and pursued with your colleagues turning a blind eye because their time will come to do so. This is fertile ground for conflicts of interest to prosper and thrive. That is the reality of the corporate world.
It is against the foregoing background that it is imperative if the decline of West Indian cricket is to be reversed, that we should have a new governance structure. This brings me to the recommendations of the Patterson Committee of October 2007 (known as the Committee on Governance of West Indies Cricket).
Notwithstanding the passage of seven years, the fundamental change which the Patterson Report said was urgently required has not taken place. The fact of the matter is that the WICB, if it were to act in accordance with the new governance structure being advocated by the Patterson Report, would be engaging in its own extinction.
It would cease to exist in its present structure and all its directors would no longer hold the positions which they currently enjoy. The West Indian cricket public is likely to wait for a new century before this happens.
In my opinion the only way for a new governance structure to come into place is if there is an external event which leads to the dissolution of the present structure. That is where the present claim of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) comes into play.
However surgical or cynical it may sound, it may be that the new governance structure for West Indian cricket would emerge if the BCCI were to pursue and seek enforcement of its monetary claim for compensation in the sum of US$42 million for the WICB’s cancellation of the recent cricket tour to India.
If such claim were to be pursued and upheld, then it would mean the end of the WICB under its present structure simply because all indications are that it would be unable to pay its debt and would have to go into insolvent liquidation.
If that process does take place, a caretaker regime under the supervision of the ICC can be put in place to administer West Indian cricket before the new governance infrastructure advocated by the Patterson report has been created and established.
It is too early to say whether the foregoing will transpire. However in years to come it may be that we will acknowledge that the BCCI by pursuing its claim has done West Indian cricket a “favour” and saved it from its total demise.
This would be the case if the pursuit of such a claim results in the emergence of a new governing structure with the prospect of reversing the decline of West Indian cricket. The BCCI claim may come to be regarded in time as a “blessing in disguise”. It would have done for the West Indian cricketing public what we are unable to do for ourselves!
• Dr Claude Denbow is an attorney at law who has written on West Indies cricket for over 40 years.