This newspaper has often had reason to be extremely critical of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB). Today, however, we feel compelled to defend the regional cricket administrators in the face of reported condemnation from Guyana President Donald Ramotar.
President Ramotar took umbrage to the West Indies facing visiting New Zealand in two twenty-20 games in Florida last week rather than at regional venues. Speaking at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference in St Lucia, Mr Ramotar is reported to have said: "Governments have invested millions of dollars in building facilities to enhance the game and to promote the growth of the sport... However, today we face the abomination — key matches are now being taken out of the region, while some of our territories are deliberately deprived. This must be of great concern to us."
We disagree. It is our view that this move by the WICB to take advantage of a ready market for West Indies cricket in the United States should have occurred a long time ago.
We agree fully with WICB President Dr Julian Hunte that "Given the huge number of West Indians who live in the United States and neighbouring Canada, as well as the commercial possibilities both for West Indies cricket and the game, this was long overdue".
We recognise the concern that regional cricket infrastructure which, as Mr Ramotar quite correctly says, was built by regional governments at great cost — mostly for the 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup — is underutilised.
But we would suggest that simply looking inwards won't resolve that problem. For Caribbean cricket to grow and achieve the kind of commercial success required to sustain its programmes it must seek to attract an expanded audience, directly and most crucially, via television. To do so, West Indies cricket must embrace as much as is possible the Caribbean diaspora in North America, and also the huge cricket-loving Asian population there.
The Twenty20 game, because of its short, excitement-packed format, is tailor-made for the US market and should be exploited to the hilt. So the highly successful contests staged in Florida last week should just be the first two of many more of its kind in the USA. The aim, the plan, must be long term in our view.
We agree with Mr Ramotar that the WICB should move to overhaul its governance structure as recommended by the PJ Patterson-led Committee report on West Indies cricket. However, that very comprehensive report from the Patterson Committee also urged regional cricket administrators to move proactively and with speed to exploit commercial potential in North America, Latin America and even emerging markets in China, wider Asia and elsewhere.
The Patterson Committee held the view that cricket "can become an important economic driver for West Indian economies" in the context of sports tourism and the service industry. And further, that the push towards that goal should begin with the North American market.
Note this extract from a section of the Patterson report dealing with Economic and Financial issues: "The economics of market development in the West Indies should be cast in its global setting. ...a number of non-traditional playing countries are exhibiting greater interest in the sport. The West Indian cricket authorities need to track and influence the spread of the game in North America and in some Latin American countries. This falls within our special responsibility under the ICC arrangements. We must, however, move speedily to conclude arrangements with these countries, starting with the USA and Canada, where particularly lucrative arrangements are in prospect."
We are of the view that this recommendation should point the way forward and that last week's initiative in Florida fell exactly in line. We believe Mr Ramotar should take another considered look at this matter.