The collapse of ‘Sir’ Allen Stanford’s business empire this week forces us again to look at the relationship between money and sport.
Both the English and West Indian Cricket Boards have been heavily criticised for their involvement with the rather dubious Texas billionaire. However, for both maybe it was just too good an opportunity to turn down. Stanford offered such sizeable amounts of money – as much for investment in grassroots cricket in both countries as for individual players – that both Boards had to take it seriously.
Also, despite the rather sordid efforts of the Twenty 20 for $20m last November, Stanford’s investment in West Indian cricket had been stable for the medium-term. His creation of a regional Twenty20 tournament had helped bring new supporters to the game, professionalise many teams and raised the standards of West Indian cricket. Indeed the demands he made of his so-called ‘superstars’ last year – including a 6 week training camp – may well be a major factor in why the team is now beating England in the current Test Series.
Unpleasant brash Texan (and funder of a range of dubious Republican politicians) he may be, but his money has done some good.
Furthermore, his finance offered both England and West Indies a chance to be independent from the ever-growing financial dominance of India. At a time when Test Match dates and player availability were being dictated by the Indian Premier League, the chance to secure a deal that meant both the Boards and their players were not fully beholden to India was undoubtedly an attractive one.
That is not to exonerate the Boards – both have their fundamental flaws and both have abused their supporters and players alike for a number of years. But those who now rejoice at the egg on their faces and the downfall of Stanford should reflect on the real losers here. It is cricket itself. The English Chance to Shine programme, an incredibly positive attempt to move cricket into state schools and be an agent of social change will lose hundreds of thousands of pounds. And the impoverished cricketing islands of the Caribbean will lose the income that has offered a glimmer that the region could regain some of its former glories.
And that is not even mentioning the ordinary Antiguans, 5% of who are reportedly employed by Stanford’s companies and whose earnings are held in his financial institutions. So lets not be too smug about all this.