All eyes on the West Indies

The tension for West Indies cricket fans has been mounting very slowly since the International Cricket Conference World Cup qualifiers began in Zimbabwe last week.

The humiliation the West Indies and their fans have had to endure since faced with the prospect of having to qualify for next year’s World Cup, battling with the likes of Papua New Guinea and Hong Kong, has been a heavy load to bear.

Unbeaten in the first round with wins over the United Arab Emirates, Papua New Guinea, Ireland and the Netherlands, the real test begins tomorrow morning with the opening game of the Super Sixes stage with an encounter with Afghanistan at the Harare Sports Club. By next Friday, following matches with Zimbabwe on Monday and Scotland next Wednesday, the West Indies and their fans will know if they have qualified for the finals on Sunday, 25th March, and one of the two places for next year’s World Cup in England and Wales.

However, the West Indies watch will only be just beginning. Last July, an editorial in this newspaper drew attention to the fact that at the thirty-eighth regular meeting of the Caricom Heads of Governments held in Grand Anse, Grenada, from Tuesday 2nd to Thursday 4th, July, had failed to address the state of West Indian cricket. There was absolutely no mention of the subject in the standard communiqué issued at the close of the meeting.

Subsequently, a Caribbean Media Corporation report emanating from Grenada, a day after the meeting, carried an interview with Dr Ralph Gonsalves, St Vincent and the Grenadines’ Prime Minister and Chairman of Caricom’s sub-committee on cricket, in which he questioned the authority of Cricket West Indies (CWI), formerly the West Indies Cricket Board of Control, which claims to be a private entity, to have the right to control the regional game. In the interview which apparently took place outside of the official forum, Dr Gonsalves, a lawyer by profession, queried, “… how have you as a private entity gotten the right to run and manage a public good to the exclusion of everyone else?”

Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley speaking on a sports radio programme in his country on Saturday, 6th July, further lamented that when he broached the idea of putting the subject of cricket on the agenda he had been greeted with the rousing sound of silence. In Dr Rowley’s words, “Not another sound.” Absolute silence. No Head of Government in the region was prepared, and/or wanted to discuss the subject.

The editorial had concluded that more silence would greet the topic at the twenty-ninth intersessional meeting of the conference of Heads of Governments scheduled for the 26th-27th February in Haiti.

The CWI and the heads of Caricom have been at loggerheads since the regional body intervened in 2014, following the resulting crisis of the West Indies abandoning their tour of India, and the India Cricket Board of Control claiming US$42 million in damages.  The wounds were further deepened after a Caricom-commissioned Governance review panel released the Barriteau Report in October 2015, which described the CWI structure as obsolete, called for its immediate dissolution and the appointment of an Interim Board.

The CWI categorically rejected the recommendation as an “unnecessary and intrusive demand.” It deemed the report limited in its scope and not supported by facts.

Well, the Heads of Government, like the West Indies cricket team, have played true to form. Just when you think that’s the end of that, they have pulled one out of the hat to the surprise of their fans.

At the conclusion of the Haiti meeting, the communiqué issued included the subject of West Indies cricket. “Heads of Government having reviewed relevant legal opinions agreed that cricket in the Caribbean Community (Caricom) was a regional public good and, as a consequence, a course of action could be pursued whereby Governments would intervene in the governance of West Indies Cricket, as distinct from managing the operations of the sport.” the communiqué stated.

Following the seeking and acceptance of the legal opinion of two Queen’s Counsel, that West Indies cricket is a public good, the Caricom Heads of Government have voted unanimously, yes unanimously, to intervene in an attempt to bring about “some sanity” to the management of West Indies.

According to the communiqué, it has been agreed “to move towards the development of a legislative framework for the governance of cricket which was consistent with international best practices and the International Cricket Committee (ICC) principles.” No doubt, Caricom is paying close attention to the landmark case in India, where the Supreme Court of India ruled in 2016 that cricket was a public good and the struggle that has ensued with trying to get the entrenched officials to accept the court’s ruling.

A Caricom delegation, led by Dr Gonsalves will use the occasion of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London from 16th-20th April, to sit down with the ICC to discuss their recently adopted position on the future of West Indies cricket.

Dr Keith Rowley, one of the most openly vocal critics of the incumbent CWI Board, who had stated last year April that “Caribbean cricket had been hijacked by a small clique who were hell bent on destroying Caribbean cricket,” will be a member of the delegation. No doubt the CWI, especially President Dave Cameron, and other cricketing bodies in the region will be paying close attention to the outcome of those talks.

“Anybody will say that West Indies cricket is part of our heritage. You cannot be West Indian and not be aware of the pride that emanates from our history in cricket,” Dr Rowley was quoted as saying by the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday, in the March 2nd edition.

Clearly, he speaks for all West Indies cricket fans who will be looking to him to ‘carry his bat’ when the Caricom delegation meets with the ICC in April.

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