In a letter to the President of the West Indies Cricket Board of Control (WICB), Whycliffe ‘Dave’ Cameron, the Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves made a compelling statement about the existential threat to West Indian cricket. He said “I do not think this huge, complicated matter can be handled in an “ad hoc” manner or by the WICB alone. This is an extraordinary enterprise which takes us beyond the boundary;“. How right he is about the scale of the problem.
The West Indies Cricket team and the University of the West Indies are the only two remaining entities that are both the unanimous expression of the West Indian peoples’ unity and their collective capacity to compete favourably in the world.
The grave financial effects are bad enough, but even worse is the damage done to West Indian cricket. There are obvious protracted and troubling differences between the West Indian cricketers and the WICB. But, whatever those differences are, the manner of resolving them should not have been a public walk out of a tour of India before the television cameras of the cricketing world. That single act shamed the people of the West Indies and injured the reputation of West Indian cricket. The action was simply not the West Indian way and washed dirty linen in public in a disgraceful manner.
West Indian people have watched the West Indies team – once the king of all they surveyed, sweeping away the mightiest of cricketing nations – sink to number 8 in the International Cricket Council Test rankings ahead only of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. As the performance of the West Indies team declined so did the pride of the West Indian people and the belief in themselves. And the latter point is the most important – the deep and hurtful wound to the West Indian peoples’ self esteem.
On the University of the West Indies (UWI), it is singular in its accomplishments despite severe challenges that face it. Over the past 5 years the university produced 46,000 graduates. Where would the Caribbean be without them and hundreds of thousands of qualified persons graduated since the UWI began in 1948? Despite this record, some Governments owe the UWI millions of dollars and want to reduce their contributions. Private sector support is also insufficient.
Yet, as I had occasion to say recently, the UWI “has added considerable value to the talent of thousands of Caribbean citizens who now work in high-flying positions in developed countries. The University has also produced many of our region’s present leaders in government – 17 Prime Ministers among them – and in the private sector. It has also produced a multitude of men and women who are putting to work for the betterment of our region the knowledge they acquired in this institution“.
Without the UWI, the West Indian-Caribbean region would not have achieved the level of development it has today. But, it too is under threat if governments and the private sector do not step-up to ensure its continued contribution to West Indian development.
But, even if that issue is resolved, the West Indies will still be faced with the chronic and persistent problem that the game by which they define themselves in the world – and indeed by which much of the world defines them – is no longer about superior performance and West Indian pride and dignity. Sadly it has descended to power struggles and personal avarice.
All of this is why Prime Minister Gonsalves is right that, addressing the devastation that events surrounding West Indian cricket has caused, is an extraordinary enterprise which takes us “beyond the boundary“.
Throughout the West Indies people are angry. They feel a deep sense of being let down and of being deprived of something precious to their souls. Yes, the matter is about the West Indian cricketers; yes, it is also about the administration of West Indian Cricket and the WICB; but beyond everything else it is about the ethos and self-worth of the West Indian person. That is what is at stake – and all the parties should keep that foremost in their minds.