Since the refusal of the West Indies players to complete their 2014 tour of India, there has beeen no end to the letters, articles and columns written to either condemn or exonerate the offending parties. I had just about shelved the idea of writing this piece when I heard the opinion of St. Lucia’s former Football Association President, Earl Huntley. He called for the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) to resign after the players refused to play. Not only do I disagree with this, but I am also very disappointed at his assessment of the facts, coming from a practising diplomat and a former sporting administrator himself. I expected him to put the blame where it really belongs: on the players who unilateraly terminated their contracts knowing full well what the consequences were likely to be.
There are certain basic facts that Mr. Huntley, and many others who have expressed similar sentiments, seem to have overlooked in their assessment of what transpired in India. Lest anyone forget, let me remind you that I have been a strong critic of the previous WICB and with good reason; at least the courts agreed with me. I hold no brief for Mr. Cameron and company; I have never even met the man. I don’t know that his board is, or will be, any better than that led by Dr. Julian Robert Hunte, bearing in mind he was Hunte’s running mate and Vice President, but so far I have not seen them behave in a manner worthy of the condemnation that their predecessors received over an extended period of time.
Much of the commentary I have heard and read of the incident, especially in St. Lucia, seems to be based on either pure uninformed emotion, political affiliation or petty insularity. It seems clear to me that the parties who are really to be blamed are the West Indies Players’ Association (WIPA) and the players who supported him. When one considers all that went on between the former board and the WIPA, there is no reason why the members of the WIPA on that ill-fated tour should have been allowed to travel to India before seeing what was in the new CBA/MOU. Notwithstanding the difficult character that Ramnarine was, he would not have allowed the tour to commence before the members knew of the details. I rather suspect Wavell Hinds, and by extension the WIPA, had good intentions when they signed that agreement with the WICB but made a major error in procedure. The problem that arose was between the WIPA and the complaining players, not the WICB.
Now what really led to this mess? Nothing but the small matter of US$35,000 per match day that those players want paid to them. This money is supposed to be paid out of sponsorship money the board receives. The very fact that it comes from sponsorship monies means it is neither a guarantee nor an entitlement. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing; they want it paid irrespective of the fact that they are handsomely renumerated. We’ve since found out that Bravo and company agreed to give up this money, either in whole or in part, to help fund the retainers for first class cricketers but only on condition that what they were giving up was made up in other areas! If giving up something, why do you want it made up elsewhere? When a team has been ranked at number 8 out of 10 competing members for as long as anyone can remember, what right does that team have to make such demands?
As in any other industrial relations environment there is a bargaining unit between the WICB and the players; it is called the WIPA. When Mr. Bravo and the players he claimed to be speaking for discovered that their expectations were not met in the CBA/MOU, he was right to dispatch his first letter to Wavell Hinds. However, he was palpably wrong to ask the WICB to disregard the WIPA as their representative. Dave Cameron was also right to inform him that the WIPA is the only entity the board recognizes and will negotiate with. I am not a lawyer but I am aware that there are laws that govern contracts and/or agreements between parties. If Bravo and company wanted to dispense with the WIPA at that point, they needed to realize that the number of players who were in India was just a microcosm of the overall membership of the WIPA and therefore did not have the legitimacy to do so.
There are in excess of 100 more cricketers, including the 90 who just recently signed retainers funded by the same money Bravo and company are bellyaching over, who are members of the WIPA. Therefore Bravo and his team could not on their own give directives to the WICB regarding their bargaining unit. Since it would have been impractical, if not impossible, for the WIPA to convene a general meeting to replace the current WIPA executive before the tour ended, they had every right and obligation to complete the tour, bearing in mind they were under contract.
Some persons are of the view that Dave Cameron, who was at ICC headquarters at the beginning of the dispute, should have taken the three hour flight and gone to India to speak with the players. Oh yeah! Is this the sort of thing we want to advocate? The employer bypassing the bargaining unit and going directly to the employees to negotiate? Then again this is what we do here; Jimmy Fletcher knows a thing or two about that, I suppose. Would that not be in breach of the CBA/MOU? Would that not leave the WICB open to a lawsuit by the WIPA?
And for those of you who think this is what should have been done, are you aware that a three man delegation comprising Michael Muirhead, CEO; Julian Charles, Chairman Cricket Committee; and Wavell Hinds, President/CEO of WIPA was due to arrive in India one day after the ODI series would have been completed? Their role, as I understood it, was to inform the players of the workings of the new CBA/MOU. It is also reported that after receiving Bravo’s letter, Dave Cameron informed Bravo that Wavell Hinds would also address the concerns raised upon arrival in India. Bravo and company disregarded that; they didn’t even have the courtesy to wait for the arrival of the delegation to see what tidings or mandate they were bringing. In Bravo’s first letter he threatened that the board would be brought to its knees if their demands were not met. Why did they not wait to see if their demands would be met by Mr. Muirhead?
Now let us assume for a moment that Dave Cameron was audacious enough to bypass the WIPA and go to India. What would he have accomplished? What would have been his options? It seems to me he would have had only two: 1) Inform the players that he has a signed CBA/MOU and will stick to it (although he would be right, we would still be where we are today, you could count on that); 2) He could make them an empty promise in order to get them to play, tell them a lie that the money would be paid later, knowing very well that the board dosen’t have it. The tour might have been saved and we might not be faced with an impending lawsuit from India at this time, but I can assure you, dear reader, that some other tour would be in jeopardy when the money didn’t come up. After all, these players have withheld their labour for less in recent times. If Cameron was stupid enough to redirect the money from the upcoming Professional League, the WICB would be faced with 90 lawsuits.
Any time abortion takes place there are bound to be at least two wounded parties. As a result of the players refusing to play and the WICB recalling them, the BCCI has incured major losses which have left them with a bloody nose. Likewise the WICB, which had been ailing for a long time, now has to indemnify them via what could very well be the ultimate sacrifice. It is bleeding profusely. In the WICB’s last annual financial report, the auditor expressed major concerns about its viability as a going concern, due to its poor financial health. If therefore the WICB has to find this US$41.9 million that the BCCI is claiming, the mutinous bunch must have their feet held to the fire. The implications for removing them from the team at this time are too grave to contemplate but the WICB should start by stripping all three captains of their jobs.