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The transformation in West Indies Cricket

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

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An edited version of the keynote address delivered by Cricket West Indies President Whycliffe “Dave” Cameron on Saturday, October 6, 2018 on his being inducted in the Cricket Hall of Fame in New York, United States.

I am pleased and humbled to be here tonight, and would like to take this opportunity to thank the Cricket Hall of Fame for this tremendous honour to address you and to be among the honorees.

As a young boy growing up in Jamaica, the names of the men similarly honoured by this organisation were seared in my memory as men of legend — the great George Headley, Sir Garry Sobers, the 3Ws and many others — and so for me, it is almost surreal that I am being called to occupy space within this fraternity of giants. Again, I am humbled and proud to be selected for this honour.

I would also like to thank and recognise the Cricket Hall of Fame for the work it does and continues to do in support of cricket, both here in the United States and in the Caribbean. I know the hard work that so many of you here tonight have put into building this organisation, and the volunteer hours that you spend to ensure that events like this happen. On behalf of Cricket West Indies (CWI) I would like to thank you all, and to recognise your unwavering support for the sport we all love.

To my fellow awardees, congratulations all. May you all continue to give unselfishly to the development of cricket, and again, thank you all for your service.

Tonight I would like to tell you the story of the transformation of West Indies Cricket.

As we speak, this transformation is well underway, and we are seeing the first positive results of measures we put in place between 2014 and today.

The goal of Cricket West Indies Inc, simply put, is to establish a foundation to allow West Indies Cricket to survive and thrive for generations to come. Overall, the idea is to bring West Indies Cricket into viability, which involves changing the way we think of cricket, specifically, changing the way we organise ourselves as a region around a brand and a franchise. It means, as the president of the Caribbean Development Bank Dr Warren Smith said to me shortly after I assumed the presidency, that West Indies Cricket “must have a financial imperative”.

We must have a financial imperative because, beyond our collective passion for the sport, there has traditionally been little more to unite a team sourced from a number of independent nations scattered thousands of miles apart from each other. Because we are not a single country, the West Indies Cricket brand is — and has always been — a bold experiment fuelled by our passion for the sport.

Now, while that passion has kept our brand viable through the decades, in the 21st century our region can no longer treat cricket as a mere pastime, not when as many lives and livelihoods depend on it, and not when we can see in other sporting franchises' successes, the power of sport to deliver sustained development.

The cricket world of 2018 is one that encompasses the greatest variety of opportunities to play the greatest variety of forms of the sport ever in history. The purses are the largest, due to the many forms of media, the audiences are the largest, and cricket is steadily growing in popularity around the world. For us in the Caribbean, West Indies cricket has, at its most glorious moments, highlighted the tremendous power of unity, and in its darkest hours offers glimmers of our fate divided.

When I assumed the presidency of the WICB (West Indies Cricket Board) in 2013, it was with a clear understanding of the reverence and relevance of the sport to our people, but also of the sequential failures associated with West Indies cricket in recent years. I believed then, and I continue to believe now, that West Indies Cricket, as one of the two most recognisable regional brands, the other being The University of the West Indies represented by Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, can present a blueprint for Caribbean unity, built around passion and productivity related to cricket.

In 2013 when I began my first term as president, there were between 15 and 25 professional players in the West Indies, that is, 25 or fewer cricketers who had contracts to play full-time and were paid to do so. Today, due to our restructuring measures, we have the largest global growth in professional players. According to the 2017 Global Employment Report issued by the Federation of International Cricketers' Associations, the West Indies has 177 active professional cricketers, all of whom hold retainer contracts with Cricket West Indies, allowing them to earn a living from playing full-time. Our cohort of 177 professional players puts us in the company of Australia, which has 188, and New Zealand, which has 134.

Included in the figure of 177 players, we have 13 professional contracts with female cricketers, allowing us for the first time in West Indies history to field a full squad of professional women. Before 2013, we had fewer than 10 full-time women playing under contracts, and they were being paid less — much less — than the men were being paid. I am particularly proud of the fact that we have not only increased the number of contracts offered to women, but we have also achieved pay parity. Today, the West Indies women players earn the same as the men on regional contracts, and enjoy the same terms and benefits of a full-time contract.

In terms of the women's game, we have started to see immediate benefits of offering more professional contracts: today we play more women's tournaments, there are more women playing cricket, and, importantly, our women are winning!

The increase in number of male and female professional cricketers is the direct result of two measures: restructuring of the players contract system, but also the introduction of the regional franchise system.

Today we have two full franchises operating in the West Indies:

1. The six-team Caribbean Premier League, for Twenty20 Cricket, which recently ended its 2018 series, and includes the St Lucia Stars, Amazon Warriors, Jamaica Tallawahs, Barbados Tridents, Trinbago Knight Riders, and St Kitts Patriots.

2. The Professional Cricketers' League, which administers regional four-day and 50-overs tournaments among the Windwards Volcanoes, Leewards Hurricanes, Barbados Pride, Jamaica Scorpions, Guyana Jaguars, and Trinidad & Tobago Red Force.

I cannot overstate the impact that those two changes — restructuring of player agreements and the introduction of the franchise system — have had on West Indies Cricket. First, our cricketers play much more cricket, the administration of cricket across the region has been professionalised, and importantly, the changes have provided structured avenues for new talent to develop and rise through the ranks.

The introduction of the franchise system has meant that we have significantly increased the number of paid administrators right across the region to support the various teams in each franchise. Today, each franchise is expected to have a full support staff with a CEO, marketing, accounting, and administrative support, as well as a full coaching staff including specialists such as physiotherapists, strength and conditioning coaches, and so on. We have also increased the number of coaches across the region at all levels of the game, and today we have some 38 CWI-certified coaches, and a number more being trained.

While we are are not yet seeing the results in global team rankings, the West Indies has won three major titles in three years: in 2016 you will recall we won both the men's and the women's World T20 competitions, as well as the men's Under-19 world title. Having concluded the CPL T20 tournament in September, we continue to be excited about the number of fans following the league and coming out to matches, as well as the quality of cricket being played by our young talent.

Our Super 50 Tournament includes the United States and Canada and we continue to showcase our immense talent. We have included a West Indies B team as well to continue to showcase some of the talent that have not been able find their way into the franchise system thus providing even more opportunities. The Combined Colleges and Campuses also participate in this tourney, thus giving university students the opportunity to play competitively while attending college.

Our journey thus far has not been an easy one. In fact, one particular moment that bears some review is the dispute that led to the players abandoning the 2014 tour of India. That was a painful episode for West Indies Cricket, but one that ultimately, with the passage of time, has proven to be a critical defining moment, not just for the leadership of West Indies Cricket, but also for the vision we are moving forward with today.

To allow you to understand how we got to that point, let me give you some background and insights.

Some say that this dispute began with the start of my presidency. At the start of my presidency the players and the players' association were never happier. We took them on a trip to Orlando and an NBA game in Miami and I was heavily criticised for having this bonding session.

The truth is, for years the WICB had been trying to renegotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) enshrined in the Memorandum of Understanding between the West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) and the WICB. A watershed moment for us came in the form of a decision of the High Court of Trinidad and Tobago, which effectively allowed the WICB to terminate the MOU.

That decision was handed down on March 12, 2013, about two weeks before I assumed the position of president.

The ruling presented for me, as a new president, an opportunity that my predecessor Dr Julian Hunte did not have but provided for me: for the first time in years the WICB was given a “blank slate” to revise its revenue structure, and to design and implement a path to sustainability for West Indies Cricket.

Now, although the WICB won the case in Trinidad, I had just assumed the presidency, and I did not see any benefit in starting my term with antagonism. For that reason, from the start, the WICB engaged WIPA, and made a commitment to the players that we would not make any changes to payments until we developed a strategy for West Indies cricket that ensured the best outcomes for all parties.

This led, as some of you may recall, to the first engagement of Richard Pybus as our director of cricket on a three-year contract. Richard played a significant role in helping us diagnose problems with the way we were administering and playing cricket in the West Indies, and one of the first revelations was that we simply were not playing enough cricket. To resolve that, the WICB consulted broadly on his proposals, and we implemented several measures — notably the restructuring of the franchise system — to correct that.

The other situation we were forced to handle wasn't quite as easy.

Under the old CBA, players earned a US$35,000 “sponsorship fee” for each day of play, regardless of how many or how few sponsors we had, regardless of how well or badly the players played, or how much revenue the board earned. The annual average number of days played per year was about 70, meaning that the WICB was handing over some US$2 million — or 60 per cent of its annual revenue — to 15 players. This money was being paid in addition to annual retainers, match fees, per diems and paying for business class flights and five-star and above hotels for our beloved players.

Ultimately, that sponsorship fee paid to the elite 15 players had a devastating impact on the WICB's bottom line.

There is no sustainable franchise that can grow and re-invest in itself under those conditions. Faced with this untenable payment structure, from 2013 to September 2014 the WICB worked with WIPA in developing a new model, one in which all West Indies players, at both the regional and international levels, would receive fixed contracts, plus, for those at the highest level, a performance-based incentive of a fixed 25 per cent of the WICB revenues profit. The new agreement would mean that the WICB could offer seven times as many full-time contracts to players across the region, increasing the number of professional players from 15 to 105, and would offer increased rates scaled according to player categories.

The new proposal was said to be discussed and agreed at the WIPA annual general meeting, and in September 2014, just before the start of the India tour, WIPA and the WICB signed the new MOU.

What happened afterwards has been chronicled extensively by the global media.

In short, the players on the tour took issue with the new agreement, and publicly began airing the grievances with their association president, Wavell Hinds, and with the agreement itself. The players appealed to the WICB to intervene, but we took the principled position that we had negotiated and executed an agreement with WIPA in good faith, and that the players, represented by their association in those negotiations, should raise their concerns with the WIPA leadership.

I won't speculate on where exactly the breakdown happened, but the ensuing impasse was ugly, and it was embarrassing, but I'm still not sure it was avoidable.

The outcome, as we know, was that the players went on strike, the tour was abandoned, and both WIPA and the WICB were chastised for the handling of the matter. I do concede that the WICB perhaps could have done more to bridge the gap between WIPA and the players for the sake of the tour, but the central question remained: would we, as a board, be swayed by individual player demands that would have derailed our programme of transformation, or would we be governed by the letter and the spirit of the agreement we had painstakingly hammered out with WIPA?

Today, with the value of hindsight, I feel somewhat vindicated by the stance we took in insisting that WIPA remain the sole negotiating body representing players. The 2014 agreement still stands, slightly modified for players who represent the West Indies without a retainer contract unmodified, and all the players who walked off the India tour in 2014 that are still playing cricket today. took part in the Super 50 Cup and had indicated that they would play in the PCL's 50 overs series.

Slowly, but surely, the transformation continues. Eventually, the vision is for West Indies Cricket to move beyond the boundary, and to cement its viability by creating a talent pipeline, by bolstering and improving the value of the West Indies brand, and by generating the income that we know we can command.

We are working towards a structure that sees Cricket West Indies Inc be the parent company to at least six lucrative subsidiaries, each financially secure and self-sustaining, that encompass all aspects of the sport: marketing, talent development, infrastructure and facilities management, travel and outreach to future and retired players. Today we have bought the Stanford Ground renamed Coolidge Cricket Ground Inc, which is now our high performance centre and future site of our head office in Antigua. We are looking to develop our Windies cricket experience to be franchised, established the West Indies Retired Foundation to assist our heroes who were not so fortunate, and on the way in establishing a Windies Foundation to assist in funding the future of cricket in the West Indies.

The future of West Indies Cricket, I assure you, is very bright.

Indeed, the future of cricket globally is bright as well. This brings me to my final point of the evening: that the future of the sport lies here, in America.

For cricket, the United States represents the final frontier; the last continent to adopt with fervour the sport we all love so dearly.

The sport is growing here in the US, due in large part to the dedicated efforts of many of you here tonight, and and many others, from coast to coast across America. At Cricket West Indies, we believe that we have a responsibility to help to develop the sport here in America. We now consciously include the US in all our development considerations. For instance, the CPL has a stipulation requiring each of the six teams to field as least one player from the North Americas, and the CPL regularly holds matches in South Florida as do we as CWI.

This year your own son of the soil, Ali Khan, was a star for the eventual winners Trinbago Knight Riders. In the Professional Cricketers League, we have invited teams/players from the US and Canada to participate in the Super 50 tournament. The America's participate in our Women's tournament, and in the youth Under-15, Under-17 and Under-19 competitions. We continue to provide support and advice to any group in the United States, and stand ready to provide any further support that we can.

We believe that for the game to grow we will need to expand and have full-time franchises in Canada and in particular the US playing in our multi-day game as well as Super 50. These franchises could include some of the best players from the Americas including Bermuda, Cayman, etc.

With that, I thank you for your attention this evening, and ask that you continue to support West Indies Cricket, even as we suffer growing pains. Cricket West Indies remains dedicated to our vision, and undeterred by setbacks.

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