The high price of principle LETTER TO THE SPORTS EDITOR
Guyana Chronicle
December 19, 2001

THE "Keith Semple Affair" - as it is now being aptly referred to in cricketing circles - is a rather unsettling example of institutional authoritarianism at its most perverse. For the administrators who run the affairs of the Guyana Cricket Board it seems the players are mere serfs who must be content with the crumbs from the table and not utter a word of displeasure, much less protest. The penalty for challenging this feudal set-up: professional execution or banishment. This is what has happened to Keith Semple.

In a letter to the President of the Demerara Cricket Board (who also unsatisfactorily happens to be the President of the GCB) Semple as captain of the Demerara side politely expressed his dissatisfaction with the salaries/stipends being doled out to the players in the just concluded inter-county competition. He not only questioned the princely sum of $1500 being paid to players, but noted the Board's departure from the tiered system of payment according to the seniority of the players with the skipper obviously receiving the higher fee.

According to Semple enquires by the team's manager had met with no response from the Board and as such it left him with "no other alternative but to withdraw from the team". What was quite explicit in Semple's letter was that he was withdrawing because of the Board's failure to stick with the "tiered system of payment". If the Board recanted on this then his availability was a given. The pittance given to the players, though a justifiable sore point, was not the issue on which Semple took his rather admirable stand. The Board accepted Semple's submission and instituted the payment differential. But (deliberately one suspects) failed to inform him, excluded him from the team and named a new captain. The Board, as later events showed, was laying the foundation for the larger punishment to be meted out to Semple for daring to challenge the establishment.

When the names of the players from which Guyana's team for the Busta Cup was to be selected were announced Semple's was not among them. Why? Because, the GCB said he had made himself ineligible by not playing in the inter-county final. What utter BS...or is it CS! Principle it seems is only for the administrators, not the players. Semple is being penalised for standing up to the powers that be. Joe Solomon, the Chairman of Selectors, promised a detailed statement, but then thought better of it.

This is callousness at its pettiest. Perhaps because statistics are so much a part of cricket the administrators are prone to treat the players as statistics. But they are human. For the professional, cricket is a game, but it is also a means of earning a livelihood.

Only in the most extreme circumstance should they be denied the opportunity to do their job and to be in line for promotion; in other words they ought not to be whimsically dismissed. At 31 and still in cricketing terms a young man, Semple has the ability and talent to force his way into West Indies reckoning once again. He has been there before.

But what the Board is effectively doing is removing him from regional consideration, and the opportunity for career advancement. To say, as was done at a certain exclusive get together on Sunday evening, that Semple had his opportunity to make money, now others must be given the chance is to miss the point and to reveal the real intent.

The GCB whose key influentials are Chetram Singh, Bish Panday and Joe Solomon should not be allowed to get away with playing fast and loose with a player's career, his very lifeblood. The media, the cricketing public and, yes, the Minister of Sport should put this decision under the microscope and subject it to the closest scrutiny. Aggrieved public servants have recourse to the Public Service Appellate Tribunal, private sector employees to the Ministry of Labour and in both instances, their trade unions. Local cricketers have recourse only to the Court of Public Opinion. The players themselves should now seek to organise in a coherent way to voice their concerns and represent their interests.

Those on the Board's executive who feel strongly on the matter and resent the high handed, highly personalised manner in which it is being dealt with at that level should have the courage and decency of Terry Holder and speak out.

Discipline yes, but at all times with a human face. At the end of the day Chetram Singh will go back to his lucrative betting shop; Bish Panday to his successful insurance brokerage firm and Joe Solomon to his assured job at GUYSUCO. Semple, a professional cricketer, would have been laid low by one below the belt from the GCB and would, in this yuletide season, be wondering about the high price of principle. How manifestly unfair!
Concerned Cricket fan