Friday, 20 February 2009

False smugness over Stanford

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.


Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks for the post. Am notconvinced by this: I take several of the points you make but I think the plea in mitigation misses something more important. So, yes, to the point about putting cricket in context against the impact on Antigua. (The nature of Russia's oligarchic capitalism has messed up English football, but that isn't the most important outcome, just a very regrettable one).

I was speaking in Norwich last night so, by the end of two train journeys, had read the Times sports pages in depth. Mike Atherton seems have developed into a proper columnist and sports writer, and while his column may the type of wise after the event piece you have in mind and are warning about, I think it was well judged and that the centre-left doesn't need to go into 'jumpers for goalposts' nostalgia to strongly agree with this.

"And the lessons for those running English cricket? When a game is played for money only, it is worthless, and enough people care about the England cricket team not to want to see them playing worthless fixtures. The England cricket team mean an awful lot to an awful lot of people and they do not like it when they see something valuable, something that represents them, reduced to a rich man's plaything".

I thought about blogging on it, but couldn't once I was already writing about Platini and finance in European football!

Nick Johnson said...

Thanks Sunder. I take the general point about worthless fixtures and the fact that there was a lot which was rather unedifying about the Stanford game.
However, my concern is that when you have the amount of money that the IPL is throwing about, you need to have a counterbalance.
I agree with the sentiment that English cricket shouldn't be selling itself to the highest bidder but neither can we living in some nostalgic backwater.
I did think about making this a an issue about the ICC as I think both the IPL and its intrusion into international cricket and Stanford have been the result of weak global leadership. If the ICC did its job properly, regulating fixtures and ensuring that national Boards had sufficient funds and that much of that was invested in grassroots, then maybe both the WICB and the ECB would have been able to ignore Stanford.
What we need in other words is a Platini for international cricket.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks. Yes, I think we are now pretty much in the same place. I wrote a Foreign Policy Centre pamphlet in this area just before the Sydney Olympics in 2000. (The introduction can be read here). In the end, I decided that the tendency to retreat to 'jumpers for goalposts' was a barrier to reform, because it leaves the Samaranch-Havelange tendency as the only people able to bring in the cash. The boring answer is effective corporate governance of sporting finance, and attention to the various stakeholders, so that we don't start applying market principles where sporting principles should apply. (ie, auction off sponsorship opportunities and TV deals; but not places in the league, etc).

We also need to separate out different cases. The dynamic and developments in football are one thing, but probably different to almost all other sports (though perhaps Indian cricket is the exception). Whereas, the Cronje affair in cricket was partly because of the relative lack of money in the game - how little he could be bribed for - and of course the sheer pointlessness of even the proper (non-stanford) one day game.

The India issue in cricket is an interesting one. The modernisation of sport was largely driven by this post-colonial and pro-commercial coalition. Again, the answer can't be the bufferdom of the amateurish status quo ante.

Sunder Katwala said...

And we could do with a Platini at FIFA too, but let's not hold our breath on that one.

I was pleased that we did manage to bring the might of The Observer's leader columns out against Sepp Blatter's re-election (as "football's Nixon") when I worked there in 2002; also because Denis Campbell, Simon Kuper and others had done quite a lot of investigative reporting. But he seemed to be able to live with that.

One of the issues is how strikingly little media or public scrutiny there is of sporting governance.