Two things you should know about me: one is that I’m Guyanese from head to toe. My father came here as a young child from Portugal, and my mother’s parents came from there, but Portugal is just another part of the world to me; there is no special connection; I have no desire whatsoever to go there. The place that stirs me or calls me, and sometimes distresses me, is Guyana. The second thing is that in my heart, not always my head, I am a Caribbean man, and the songs I’ve written over the years reflect that – that’s my lens – and so I’m a follower of what we call the West Indies Cricket Team. However, I’m not a blind follower; for instance, I’m not jumping up and down in ecstasy when, as recently, we defeat a team such as Ireland and we’re carrying on as if we’ve just conquered the Goliath of cricket. (I get the philosophy of “we beat whom we meet”, but come on, people…Ireland?)
One salient point to make about West Indies cricket is that the name is a bit of misnomer because it suggests when we play the other cricket nations (India, South Africa, England, etc) that the West Indies is a country or a nation, and I’ve noticed in a recent international series the promotions referred to our team as the “West Indies Cricket Board” which, realistically, is truly what it is. Considering the cabal of nations making up the team, with no national flag or anthem, not to mention T-shirt or souvenirs, the comedian in me suggests that we should probably change the name to “Dem Boys”, you know, make it colloquial, a kind of cultural thing, in line with the current buzz phrase of “cultural economy.” Every country in the Caribbean would relate instantly to that tag – it’s actually how many of us refer to the team now – and the print media would have a field day with it. As we lose to India the headline would be “India Curries Dem Boys”; in Australia, “Dem Boys Fall Down Under”; and if we beat England (how I wish) papers would say, “Dem Boys Turn Limeys Sour.”
In a serious vein, however, solving our cricket problems will take more than a name change as the recent re-election of David Cameron to head the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) demonstrated. Only days before that election, SportsMax television carried an interview with Jamaican Pat Rousseau who was president of the WICB from 1996 to 2001. Rousseau, who is a lawyer and holds the Order of Jamaica, spent 15 minutes or so, speaking without notes, and in a calm and factual manner, delivered what one would have thought was the elimination of Cameron as a candidate. Among other things, Mr Rousseau cited the woeful financial position of the WICB in recent years and noted “When I came in as President it was in the black, and when I left it was in the black.” He strongly condemned David Cameron’s decision not to go to India as our team’s abandonment of the tour loomed. “In my time, when there were problems with our South African tour, I went to England, with Stephen Camacho, and we negotiated that situation successfully.” On the interviewer’s point that Cameron had sent the WICB’s CEO to India, Rousseau said, “That’s not how you do it. The President has to be there. He’s the man.” Speaking softly but firmly, Rousseau criticized Cameron’s “arrogance” in dealing with the Indian Board after the cancelled tour left us owing them US$41million. “This is the most powerful cricket board in the world, and US$41 million is a lot of money. You can’t treat them like that.” He also mentioned the subsequent behaviour in the Ralph Gonsalves debacle where the WICB President did not honour a commitment made to Vincentian PM Ralph Gonsalves, a representative of Caricom. “This is Caricom,” said Rousseau. “They have given much support to the WICB – I met with them several times during my tenure – and they have never tried to interfere in the running of our cricket. It’s Caricom. If you give them a commitment, you have to honour it. It’s fundamental.” At the interview’s end, asked directly if he would support David Cameron’s bid for re-election, Rousseau replied simply, “I don’t have a vote, but if I had a vote it would be no.” After that presentation, one would have thought Cameron’s chances for re-election were slim; in fact, of course, the 12 Caribbean directors of the Board, 2 each from six territories, voted 8-4 to return him.
The election result serves as yet another justification of the often repeated call for a complete revamping of West Indies cricket. In light of the imbroglios of recent years, all calm reason tells us we need an organization with clear accountability and with professional sports managers running things, even if initially we have to import some of them. Included in the change should be the abandonment of the current Board system of an old boy’s club with 2 representatives from each of its 6 members (Jamaica, Barbados, T&T, Guyana, Windwards, Leewards). Furthermore, as much as we criticize David Cameron, the problem is beyond changing the President. We have had several, including four former cricket greats (Jeffrey Stollmeyer, Alan Rae, Sir Clyde Walcott, Wesley Hall), but the dysfunction gets worse as the years go by.
Changing the head of a dysfunctional organization does not remedy the dysfunction; a radical overhaul is needed. There is an urgent need for a respected figure in the Caribbean, free of political baggage, to step forward now trumpeting a transformation plan for the operation of our cricket. The key word will be “transformation”. A “restructuring” or “retooling” will not suffice. We need a complete transformation where, in a region known for the failure of so many of our efforts at union, hopefully we can source creative minds to come to the subject with new approaches, driven by the urgency of the matter. Whoever takes it on, it will be a difficult task because the old insularities will be very much in play resisting change, as we saw in the recent re-election of Mr Cameron, but without a radical change we will continue to stumble. Our region deserves better, and so do “Dem Boys.”