The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not represent the opinions or editorial position of I-Witness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].
Here we go, the money grabbers are at it again! I can hear the chant going up around the Caribbean as yet another confrontation takes place between the players and the West Indies Cricket Board over money. I can tell you folks that there have been occasions in the past where I have joined that chorus myself. But not this time.
The current crisis in West Indies cricket is a lot different from what happened on so many occasions during the last decade. To understand the issue here, we need to look at what caused this impasse. Money is involved, yes, but there is also a principle being abused. What caused it was the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA) signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that the players knew nothing about and are not happy with. Again, I can hear people saying: ‘That’s a fight between the players and their union, not the WICB’, and I agree, but let’s examine the issue in its totality.
WIPA had a meeting with the players way back in February and told them that they had to give up some of the money that they were getting from international cricket so that the players at domestic levels could benefit a bit more. The players were happy with that and agreed to it. They were willing to give up $US 35,000 per match-day (divided between all squad members) that they were getting on tours, their allocation from sponsorship funds, but they needed some of that to be made up back into their salaries in some other format. They were not willing to give up the entire allocation. WIPA was left to work out a deal with the WICB and get back to the players who were going to be affected the most. They were to get consensus on the same before any agreement was reached and signed. I repeat, they all agreed to a reduction, but a fair one. No correspondence passed between WIPA and the said players between that meeting in February and the MoU being signed in September. They did not know what was being signed.
The players arrived in India without contracts, and did not have a clue as to what they were getting. People could say it is their fault, because you should not be going to a job without knowing what you would be paid. But it is a regular feature of West Indies cricket. When I was playing, and perhaps even before my playing days, people went on tours not knowing what their salaries were. You had a fair idea based on what you got the last time, and possibly there would be a small increase, but you wouldn’t expect it to go down.
When the players arrived in India and saw the contract, they called Wavell Hinds, the WIPA representative who signed the MoU, and told him that they weren’t happy with the terms. The reduction was just too much, bordering on a loss of between 60 and 70%, depending on who you were. Hinds told them not to sign the contracts and that he would renegotiate a few things the players weren’t happy with. The WIPA representative communicated the players’ unhappiness to the West Indies Cricket Board/Dave Cameron, the WICB President, but Cameron/WICB refused to budge, saying that the contract was already signed and there would be nothing further to discuss.
In the years gone by, that $US 35,000 per match-day came about because a former representative of WIPA conned a former Chief Executive Officer of the WICB and got an e-mail confirming that the players were getting that payment, which obviously the WICB didn’t want. Somehow, the CEO misunderstood what was being asked for and agreed to it. When the final negotiations took place, the former WIPA rep turned up with the e-mail from the CEO confirming the payment, and refused to budge. He demanded that the WICB honour the word of their CEO, which they naturally had to. It would seem that the tables are now being turned. The WICB are now saying, ‘Your representative signed the MoU, nothing will change’. In my opinion, that is behaving like a schoolboy. Plain tit for tat. You conned me once and played hard ball, now it’s my time.
Again, folks, when this took place all those years ago, I was fuming. I couldn’t believe that the WIPA rep would have committed such an act, and called another then-WIPA ‘strongman’, took him out to dinner and expressed my disgust at the action. Of course, that didn’t change anything. But this action now by the WICB cannot be condoned because of what took place then. Two wrongs never make a right.
Failing to even think about talking and renegotiating was childish, and that’s the main reason why we are here. The players could have easily been pacified if the WICB/Cameron told the WIPA rep: “Okay, we’ll work out a compromise to make everyone happy.” There’s no point in just one party being happy in any contractual agreement. Nothing good comes out of any such arrangement and the WICB should have known that from past history. But they refused because they were playing tit for tat. The WICB/Cameron have shown their unreliability and lack of judgement, to put it mildly.
Since my arrival in India, two days before the first One-Day International, I had been hearing talk of this dispute and that the players would not be turning out for the first game on October 8 as they had had no resolution to their complaints. But they played the game due to intervention by an official of the Board of Control for Cricket in India. This is not under dispute as the second BCCI press release that came out on October 17 when the tour was called off testifies to this. Nothing in that press release has been challenged by the WICB.
The WICB challenged the first press release put out by the BCCI, though. That was the press release stating that the WICB had cancelled the rest of the tour after the fourth ODI. The WICB then put out a press release stating in effect, contrary to media reports being circulated, that they had not cancelled the rest of the tour and would make a statement at the end of the fourth ODI. That probably riled the BCCI, as that directly contradicted their press release, and I suppose that’s why they released the second press release with the timeline showing exactly what had occurred between October 7 and October 17, when the tour was cancelled.
Throughout the confrontation, the attitude was ‘Play or the tour is off, no compromise’. With that now in the public domain, the WICB/Cameron then had to backtrack and admit that they did cancel the rest of the tour. Folks, all these press releases are available on various readily accessible websites. It sounds like a fairytale but it can be verified. The WICB/Cameron went beyond unreliability this time, that was being dishonest.
The problem with West Indies is that the WICB always pushes things to the brink and waits till the last moment. That’s why so many tours begin with players having not yet signed tour contracts. This MoU was signed in September. Why didn’t the players know exactly what was in the MoU until they got to India at the end of the month? Why weren’t all the players e-mailed the MoU? I’m sure the WIPA and the WICB have e-mails and contacts of all the players. But no. They wait until they get to India, and then try to manipulate the players. They had all the leadup time before the first ODI to try and iron something out but no, no compromise. From the very first instance the prospect of the players striking came up, on October 7 as the BCCI release says, the WICB/Cameron were willing to cancel the tour immediately. The WICB have not denied it. As a matter of fact, the WICB have not even mentioned the BCCI press release. All they’ve done is put out another press release to divert attention from the BCCI release and of course trying their very best to blame the players. Again, dishonest.
What is so ironic is that about five or six of the current players were in the team that represented West Indies when the regulars went on strike a few years ago. They were happy to get selected for West Indies when the players went on strike last time, but now that they have seen how the WICB treats their players, they are happy to join the strike. It includes Darren Sammy, the then captain. How ironic is that? It just shows that the WICB have learnt nothing.
What shocks me most about this particular case is the fact that Hinds signed that MoU. If Hinds was playing today, he would be the most upset man in the team. I sat down with Hinds for around three hours once during his playing days in Guyana, when they were about to strike on an England tour, to convince him not to strike. Hinds has been on that side of the fence, and it is again ironic to see him being the person involved in signing the MoU. He must also have realised that the guys wouldn’t be happy with the terms. Ok, I have heard that with Hinds taking over the reins, things are now less confrontational and I’m happy to hear that but still, the players need to know what they’re signing up for before the deal is done. Having known Wavell Hinds for so long, I am at a loss to understand how he did what he did, and I know most of the players are, as well.
I know the above still will not appease some of us in the Caribbean as I know many are displeased with the remuneration of the players anyway. I have heard the shouts around the Caribbean claiming that the players don’t deserve the salaries they are getting because of the poor results on the field. Again, I have joined in sometimes, I am not afraid to admit that. But again, I repeat, they finally agreed there was an imbalance that needed to be addressed but the process obviously was faulty.
A lot of West Indies’ failures in recent years is due to the administration. If you’re not happy with the people you are working for, you are not going to perform the way you possibly could. There is no way you can put out the same level of effort and commitment. Times have changed from when I played. We had no idea who our board members were and we would just concentrate on cricket, but it is now a business. You know who the board members are, what they do and the rubbish that sometimes goes on. That will infiltrate the players’ minds. People may say ‘they shouldn’t worry about that, their job is to play cricket’, but it isn’t as simple as that.
Just one last thing. Whether you agree with anything that has been written above or not, whether you think the players or the board or WIPA are at fault, whether you believe the fight should have been between the players and their union WIPL, and not the WICB, does anyone believe that the action taken by the organisation entrusted with the safekeeping and development of West Indies cricket, WICB/Cameron, was the best option going forward for the welfare of West Indies and world cricket?
I have no idea where this is going to leave West Indies cricket, because it all depends on the BCCI. I don’t know, and I don’t want to speculate. But if I’m a parent of a kid who wants to play cricket, I would encourage him in every way but only to play recreationally. I would tell him to not even think about playing for West Indies until the way the board administrates the game changes. If he wanted to play sport professionally, I would tell him to try another sport.
I am sorry, I know I said previously ‘Just one last thing’, but it has just come to my attention that the WICB/Cameron have sent a document to the players trying to get them to sign saying that they were the ones who went on strike and caused the cancellation of the tour. Needless to say, no one has signed. Again, the WICB/Cameron are trying to paint the picture that the tour was cancelled because of the players’ actions. Folks, the players threatened strike action from the very first ODI and again before the third, but played all three games in ‘good faith’, hoping for a resolution. Because they again threatened strike action doesn’t mean they intended to carry it through on this occasion. The WICB cancelled the tour as the BCCI press release stated.
*By the way, the players on tour in India had still not received a copy of the signed MoU although they had asked for one since their arrival.
Michael Holding played 60 Tests for West Indies between 1975 and 1987, and was part of the team that won the World Cup in 1979. He was an integral part of a team that lost just one series in nearly two decades, and is now a popular TV commentator
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].