American cricket at a crossroads
US cricket is rarely away from the headlines, often for all the wrong reasons. Recent developments in the country leave the sport there at something of a crossroads, with the "cold war" between the American Cricket Federation (ACF) and USACA heating up.
On the USACA front is the recent announcement of a "joint partnership" between USACA and the West Indies Cricket Board. The deal will see top players from USACA member leagues be involved with WICB development programmes.
WICB will also assist USACA in its governance reforms, with a member of their board of directors sitting on the USACA board. In return, the USACA CEO will sit on the WICB Chief Executive Committee, though the CEO position is currently vacant after Darren Beazley resigned earlier this year to take up a position with Swimming West Australia.
That resignation was swiftly followed by the resignation of board member Brian Walters, and a recent tax filing revealed that USACA was $3,000,000 in debt at the end of 2010. The "Cricket Holdings America" partnership appears to have collapsed, with that organisation having gone silent. It is notable that, unlike 2010, there are no games in Florida for New Zealand's upcoming tour of the West Indies.
The USACA National Championship - scheduled for the summer in Indianapolis - is in turmoil, with local politicians coming under fire from the media for being involved with such a dysfunctional organisation. Some are even questioning whether the tournament will even take place. Numerous leagues have defected to the ACF, and the organisation is increasingly looking untenable.
With all that, one has to wonder exactly what the West Indies hope to get out of this partnership. That is perhaps summed up by two comments from WICB president Whycliffe "Dave" Cameron.
In the press release announcing the partnership, Cameron says "We will rapidly build plans and open up infrastructure for bringing top US players into the West Indian development system". Are the WICB hoping to pick up the scraps of US cricket and move their best players to - eventually - play for the West Indies? Steven Taylor has already indicated his desire to play for the West Indies - and he certainly has the ability - will others follow him?
And then in an interview with Antigua's Daily Observer he said of the partnership, "what it does is open up a market to us and my understanding is that there is currently in excess of clubs playing cricket in the USA, a Diaspora of maybe 20 to 40 million between the Asian population and the Caribbean and what we are saying is that we are trying to find ways to work with that population that obviously spends way more money than the Caribbean and to see how we could actually get cricket to be mainstream in that country. If we do that then there are a couple of things, one, we would be able to attract more visitors from the mainland to the Caribbean to watch our series but also, that market becomes a viable market for us to play cricket in".
And this is the problem with many people's hopes for cricket in the USA. They - and this goes for the WICB, Cricket New Zealand and the ICC - see it not as a market to be nourished and developed long term, but as a market to be exploited in the short term. They have little interest in expanding the game there, just in taking money from the sizeable expatriate fan base. ACF president Jamie Harrison last year compared this approach with colonialism, and he isn't far from the mark.
On the ACF front was the announcement last week of the schedule for their American Champions Cricket League. The competition, played as a season long league rather than a short tournament, will see 17 league representative sides play in 6 regional conferences before progressing to play-offs in Florida in October.
An almost complete schedule was announced for the league, something that USACA has been unable to provide for their national championship. This comes on the back of a successfully run North American Cricket Championship which saw 2013 ACF Champion Mid West Cricket Conference take on top Canadian club Toronto CC in Arizona, with the Canadians coming out on top.
It increasingly looks as if USACA announces plans, partnerships and committees, whilst the ACF just gets on and does things. And all without the $400,000 of ICC funding that USACA seems to throw away every year.
Between the two sides sits the ICC, who have recently begun to get involved in the conflict between the two organisations. In February, Jamie Harrison submitted a formal request for the ICC to recognise the ACF as a governing body for cricket in the country. The result of this would likely see USACA suspended, as ICC regulations require members to be the sole governing body for cricket in their country. Switzerland were expelled in 2012 due to similar circumstances.
The result of this request saw the ICC ask both bodies to provide letters of allegiance from their member leagues, indicating that they recognised their respective organisations as the governing body for cricket in the country. According to the Dreamcricket website, ACF submitted 20 such letters, including 17 from hard-ball leagues. USACA declined to say how many letters they submitted, though some have suggested that as few as a dozen leagues remain as full, dues paying members of USACA.
The ICC has not indicated that this issue will be discussed at any upcoming meeting, though such things are often discussed at annual conferences. The next such conference is scheduled for June in Melbourne. If the ICC were to apply their own rules, they really have no option other than to suspend - possibly expel - USACA.
They could ask the two sides to work together - as happened in a more minor governance conflict in the past - but Jamie Harrison isn't interested in a merger. He told Cricinfo in February that "There will be no merger. We're not giving an inch. We're going to see that out to the end. We're not talking to USACA, and we're prepared for what comes down the road."
USACA have though survived two suspensions before, so it's not impossible that they could survive a third. Constant through all this has been Gladstone Dainty, a man with so much staying power you'd suspect he'd survive a nuclear apocalypse along with the cockroaches.
But surely his - and USACA's - time is up? The ICC need to realise that the winds of change are definitely blowing through US cricket, and the ACF seem to be on the winning side. It's time for them to decide what they want out of the USA - a market to exploit in the short term due to the failures of the organisation currently in charge, or a market to develop in the long term - bringing even more rewards - run by an organisation interested in doing just that. Maybe we'll find out next month.