Say no to the money

Again and again in recent months one continuously hears harsh criticisms of Caribbean cricketers who are accused of being money-grabbers and not doing what their predecessors did in “playing for country” without regard for the dollar.  At the start I concede that I’m not condoning the selfish behaviours of some of our current cricket stars – you know the names; no need to repeat them – but I find it laughable when we condemn our athletes in this day of ODI and T20 cricket, for going after the money available in those forms, instead of making themselves available for our national teams.  What kind of blind reasoning is being applied here?  In this money-crazy whirlpool world we now inhabit, how can we seriously require our young cricketers to turn their backs on the substantial incomes they’re being offered in the short forms available now and to choose to join the national team as their predecessors did?

It’s pitiful that some of our most prominent former cricket stars have made criticisms along those lines, because you can bet your boots that if they were playing today they would be going for the money, too.

They played “for country” in their time because they had no choice.  It was play Test cricket or stay home and scratch for a living, with many of those early stars needing a “farewell benefit” match at the end of their careers. I remember the shame I felt to see these former cricket greats needing to accept a goodbye hand-out.  In this day and age, when athletes in every other sport earn millions in soccer, basketball, American football, baseball, rugby, tennis, etc, it is absurd for us to suggest that our cricketers must choose to work for peanuts.  It is a ridiculous assertion and one we should stop making.

Certainly, demand professional ethics and discipline and integrity from our athletes, but accept that the inevitability of the free market should apply to them, as well.

Our cricket administrators should be negotiating with the players for the national team to ensure there’s a balance that allows them to capitalise on opportunities that may come from the shorter forms.  Certainly, fine Chris Gayle for his sexist comment to a female reporter about “her wicket”, and censure Bravo for publicly describing the WICB President as “an idiot”, but allow them to consider the big money offers that come to them as athletes without this “massa in charge” attitude coming down on them.

I’m not in the cricket inner circle, but through music I’ve met enough of these former WI players to know that many of them would have gone for the money if it had been there.  I’m not going to name names, but I’m sure that persons who are part of the inner circle, would have seen the examples to which I refer.  I’m certainly not condoning the less than honourable behaviour of some of the current players with regard to contracts and negotiations, but to tell them, in effect, to not be influenced by the money is ludicrous. We all want to earn as much as we can.

Our politicians come into office and one of the first things they do is vote themselves a raise.  The folks in the financial sector take on a post in their sector only with a guarantee of a percentage bonus, every year. Workers go on strike to generate an annual raise.  Given the opportunity, most of us, I include myself, will be influenced by the money, but we expect cricketers to be somehow exempt.  It’s ridiculous.

Anyone with even a basic knowledge of our region knows that many of our athletes come from poor circumstances, some even without basic necessities like running water and electricity, not able to afford a car, never mind a vacation in Canada, and the suggestion is we should be telling them “turn yuh back on de international money, and tek whatever yuh country giving yuh”? I’m fed up hearing that absurdity from people who are well off financially, or in positions to obtain favours, and they’re telling poor people to reject financial benefits that can come in their careers.  If the folks making that point were themselves poor, they would be talking differently. Why is this condition applied only to our cricketers?  Why are our politicians not held to the same standard? Why don’t we expect the heads of major corporations to “put country first” ahead of the big bonus?

In addition to the matter of the annual income, there is also the longevity question.  For most athletes, by the time they get to the point where they have established their value for national selection they are already in their 20s; for most of them that means a window of perhaps 10 years in which they have to secure themselves financially.  Sport is the only profession where this applies.  A professional in other fields can be in his/her fifties or sixties and still at the top of his/her earning curve.  A lawyer or an accountant can be in a wheelchair, or come to work walking with a cane, and still be earning huge sums of money for many years.

For an athlete with knee and shoulder problems (just this week, a female tennis player in Wimbledon) earnings can dry up literally overnight; in the other professions – engineer, doctor, consultant, politician, lawyer, etc – the practitioner can continue to command high incomes for decades.  That high-earning period doesn’t last long for an athlete, and for most athletes it never comes.  Think about the current crop of Caribbean cricketers in the professional ranks; how many have managed to reach that upper echelon?  It’s probably around 25 or so, and they will be lucky to last for more than 15 years; it’s a very short now-or-never for them.

One can understand the disappointment among cricket fans when the once mighty West Indies (at Reds Perreira’s nudge, I wrote a song about them ‘We Are The Champions’ in 1978) is on shaky ground, but we live in a free enterprise world.

Like it or not, our cricket administrators have to accept that the money in ODI and T20 is part of big-league cricket now, and the outreaches from it to our athletes will not stop coming; indeed, all the signs are that they will increase.

Any effort to recruit players for a “how we used to be” West Indies team must be built on that premise. It cannot be on this vacuous appeal to our cricketers to “Play for country; say no to the money.”

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