Sir Viv – Nuff respect

by Hilary Beckles
Guyana Chronicle
April 5, 2000

It is rare indeed for a great man to locate his genius within the social circumstances of his humble origins. It is equally rare for great men to humble themselves before social movements that surround them and which they could ignore to much profit. In this regard, I have always felt that Sir Viv was doing something of seminal importance for West Indian people.

The English especially also felt this and were thrown into panic, not because of his aggregates – they had seen them before – but because they sensed that with him it was more than sport; it was the business of history and politics – the struggle against injustice and inequality.

Thank goodness I have had the opportunity on several occasions to offer respect to our Antiguan brothers and sisters for sending him and have begged their forgiveness for not having been allowed to send more of his kind in the past. For me, Sir Viv was the force representing a new beginning for post- Independence West Indians. I remember being weakened at the knees when he told the racist South Africans that no amount of dollars, not one nor five million, could get him to sell out his people.

Many young West Indians felt compelled to do the same for their generation in diverse endeavours because Sir Viv was doing it on the cricket field. The linkage was clear, and the need seemed pressing. I could not separate these things in my mind. Sir Viv, you see, was an icon for those in my condition, and we were inspired by his self-confidence, ideological firmness and determination.

Undoubtedly, Sir Viv was a rare but not phenomenal type of West Indian cricketer. Sir Frank Worrell had anticipated his coming, and C.L.R. James would have been surprised had he not arrived. It has to do with a certain kind of reading of Caribbean history, its logic, internal dialectics, and ideological trajectory. There is nothing random about it. It is the science of those who can feel and sense the evidence of things not seen.

Sir Viv did not walk onto the cricket field in search of himself. Neither did he discover his consciousness within the context of sporting contests. He was sent in to do battle by villagers, not only those in Antigua, but all those from little places in this diaspora.

His strut was not designed as part of a sterile social discourse that speaks of conceit and arrogance, but was an expression of a mind made up, hardened by a discarded plantation landscape that carries the marks of injustice and denial. He was determined to tilt the scales, even if marginally and temporarily, in favour of those whose view of the world is from the bottom up.

Hitting Across the Line, Sir Viv’s autobiography, is precisely this – a manifesto statement on the struggle, the beginning and the end of a single journey. At the same time it is more, much more. It belongs to an old tradition, but breaks new ground, and can therefore stand on its own as a classic in the company of Walter Rodney’s Groundings With My Brothers. Few cricket autobiographies from the Caribbean have had the intellectual content to rise above the specific circumstances of their appearance to generate a life of their own. This statement by Sir Viv therefore needs to be properly understood.

In recent years there have been many cricket publications, but few of them detail a narrative that flows through the hardened veins of West Indian history. Sir Viv’s text reflects the rugged journey from the game’s colonial periphery to its imperial centre and demonstrates how and why polarities had to be exchanged.

It documents a mentality committed to freedom and liberation; it speaks of self-assertion and justice. It is the treatise of the villager who rejects other peoples’ notion of his space, and who always knew that he was global and in possession of the information to prove it as well as the technology to demonstrate it.

Hitting Across The Line, then, is a declaration of a new sense of sovereignty and independence – a rupture with an imperial tradition and a legitimisation of an indigenous methodological approach. In fact it is revolutionary, a unilateral declaration of cultural freedom.

This generation, and those to come, will feel the void created by the alienation of his developmentmentality and spiritual force from the centre ofWest Indies cricket.

They will also question and judge harshly the kind of private agendas, driven by non-cricket interests, that have kidnapped West Indies cricket, driven out its heroes, and are enforcing the continuing exile and humiliation of Sir Viv.

Here then, is the crux of the matter. Sir Viv has given all stakeholders of West Indies cricket a loud and clear warning.

Commenting from recent personal experiences, he spoke about the lack of transparency and public accountability in the dealings of the West Indies Cricket Board Inc. (WICB). He warns us that there are some “individuals looking to ride high on West Indies cricket” despite the problems being experienced with the performances of the team, as planning for the 2007 World Cup in the region unfolds. His warning message is clear, forceful, compelling and disturbing.

For reasons known to himself and many others Sir Viv called for a “watchdog group behind these individuals”.This is as damaging a statement as can be imagined, if read from the point-of-view of a marginalised public wishing to have full confidence in the leadership of this most public of cultural functions.

All members of the WICB Inc. should consider the meaning of Sir Viv’s statement and suggestion, and reflect the best they can on what it says about the quality of leadership in West Indies cricket.The concern they should have is that many statements of this nature will appear in the future as stakeholders continue to keenly indicate a desire to know more.

The questions that have to be asked though is why should such a distinguished leader as Sir Viv be insisting that vigilance is required at this time? Are there any good reasons why the WICB Inc. should be closely assisted with respect to the financial planning of the World Cup? How and why has the WICB found itself in such a position?

Chris Dehring, at the end of 1998, told Tony Cozier that with respect to the World Cup the WICB was looking to generate “something between $40 and $60 million”. Recent estimates are that some US$900 million of business will be generated in the region during the World Cup, most of which will be connected at various levels to decisions to be made by the WICB. Dehring may be correct when he asserted that in financial terms the World Cup “will be the biggest event that will ever come to the Caribbean”.

There are many issues here of a public nature that require ventilation and discussion. One of which concerns the manner in which the WICB was incorporated. The president in a reply to this column stated that the decision to incorporate and register the board in Tortola was taken before his term and that Tony Marshall and Alloy Lequay, board members, saw it through.

Both these gentlemen, however, have questioned the accuracy of the president’s statement and have indicated to me that they were first made aware of the decision to incorporate following the initiative from Rousseau.

The bigger questions though are these: are the systems of accountability in place that will satisfy the public that the wealth generated by the WICB will all go to serve West Indies cricket? Can the president assure the public that every company which is, or will be formed, will operate a best ethics management culture? That is, can the president ensure that there will be no interlocking directorates, conflicts of interests, and that all company ownership patterns are declared publicly? Answers to these questions are required.

All through the Caribbean, the view is being expressed that the World Cup constitutes a “pot of gold” and that the governments and people of the region ought not to allow anyone to go unsupervised as goldminers and speculators. President Rousseau promised at the outset of his leadership that the board would be known for its transparency and accountability. A former West Indies captain has now blown the whistle and the sound is rattling the eardrum of even the deaf.

The recent CARICOM meetings at which a lottery for West Indies cricket has been proposed by the WICB and discussed are also instructive. Heads of government quite correctly wished to know all about the legal arrangements involved, including the ownership patterns within the corporate set up, in order to be satisfied that all is above board and that the public confidence will be upheld. This matter is not fully settled and the public will wish president Rousseau to satisfy all concerned by seeking to remove any doubt that may exist.

It is a sad development indeed that such doubt and concerns should surround the operations of West Indies cricket. All of this is of recent vintage and does not augur well for the future. One would expect that all such matters would be on the agenda as the board seeks to elect a president in May. Hopefully, at the end of the exercise, all clouds will be lifted and the call for watchdogs will cease.