Heaven yet to make election strategy
JAMAICA Cricket Association (JCA) President Billy Heaven says although he is seeking re-election this year he has not fully strategised for his campaign.
But Heaven says that while the JCA annual general meeting (AGM) will be sooner rather than later, there will be time to prepare.
“We’re still in the early days; I have not really addressed my mind to that part of the process,” Heaven said. “If you look at the time frame here maybe you’re looking at March, so we have some time. I have not really settled down to put some serious thought into that.”
Heaven, who has served as JCA president since 2013, faces a potential challenge from Dr Donovan Bennett who now serves as the JCA’s first vice-president (VP). This is not the first time Heaven has been challenged by a sitting JCA VP as Mark Neita opposed him unsuccessfully in 2019. Fritz Harris also contested the presidency in 2016 while serving as the JCA’s honorary secretary.
But Heaven says he was not caught off guard by persons he trusted to make up his executive body being among those wanting to challenge him.
“In a democratic process you should not rule out anything,” he said. “You are to expect anything and everything because it’s a democracy.”
Heaven deciding to contest this election for another term came as a surprise to some who believed he wanted to make way for Bennett to lead the JCA.
“The process of having a president at CWI [Cricket West Indies], and the JCA, and all the territories is not [carried out] by ushering in [someone] — it’s by election,” Heaven said. “I can’t usher in anybody. They have to go through a process of contesting an election or go unchallenged.”
Bennett is also the chairman of CWI’s medical panel, as well as a CWI director. He told the Jamaica Observer recently that concerns about a possible disconnect between clubs and parish associations and the JCA have led him to challenge Heaven this year. This, he said, has caused Jamaica to decline as one of the top cricketing nations in the Caribbean.
“My focus would be to repair that [matter] and work with the clubs and parishes and see if we can get cricket to where it was about 10 to 15 years ago,” Bennett said in November.
Heaven acknowledges that local cricket has had issues in recent years, and says a key reason for this was the inactivity between 2020 and 2023 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he says the programme he has established at the JCA will continue.
“COVID took about three years out of our development work,” he said. “That has set us back significantly, especially with our Under-15s, but I believe we hit the ground running after COVID and we’re out there now in full swing. We’re playing a lot of cricket now.
“Whenever I say this, people raise their eyebrows but: I believe we may even be playing too much cricket. We need to get the focus to build stronger teams and to have better competition. That is what will sharpen us.
“We need to now focus on the cricket aspect of the JCA. When I came into the JCA I said we have two strong sides to cricket — it’s a business and it’s a game. We have done remarkably well as a business. We have retained several business initiatives – the lights at Sabina Park, and all the other things that we have put in.
“We have played cricket throughout, except during the pandemic years.”
Heaven says he is responsible for the return of the Senior Cup, the top division of club cricket in Jamaica. It was on hiatus in 2012 because the JCA could not fund the tournament.
“We have never had that experience since that time,” Heaven said. “What we need to do now is to finish the revision of the constitution and to place some strong emphasis on our development programme so that we can get the results that we’re looking for.”
A key item that stakeholders say must be addressed, regardless of who wins the election, is upgrades to Sabina Park. This is a move deemed essential for the continued growth and development of cricket in Jamaica.
The Government and the JCA have said that over $450 million is needed to redevelop the facility so as to ensure it hosts cricket at the highest level. This is one of the key reasons no bid was made by Jamaica for games in the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup, which will be hosted by the West Indies and the USA this summer.
But after re-election in 2019 Heaven did promise a significant renovation to the stadium, which was to include a new digital scoreboard, a jogging trail outside the perimeter of the playing surface, a restaurant, and an expansion of its lodging. There were also plans to sell the naming rights to the stadium. All of these projects were being planned with the intention of the stadium being more self-sufficient and earning significantly more revenue.
JCA Chief Executive Officer Courtney Francis told the Observer in October 2023 that these plans were hampered by the disbanding of Sabina Park Holdings (SPH), which was operated by both the JCA and Kingston Cricket Club that also uses Sabina Park for its events. SPH’s responsibility was to manage the maintenance of facilities and equipment.
Although Heaven says he expects the AGM in March, no official date has been mentioned by the JCA.