Need for brand-new approaches to age-old regional problems (Part IV)

Honouring CARICOM’s heroes in living colour!

I NEVER found out how many CARICOM Heads of Government attending the 43rd Annual Summit in Suriname woke up in time Monday morning, July 4, to start CARICOM Day officially walking a mile together and planting trees, by special invitation of their hosts, to mark the 43rd Summit and CARICOM’s 49th Birthday.

They’d had a very late opening-night reception, followed by the usual longer-than-usual dinner; and (admittedly) I had only what Bajans (Barbadians) call ‘bare sport’ in mind, envisioning who among them would have found what reasons and words to kindly say ‘Thanks, but No Thanks…’ to both invitations to early-morning symbolic acts they’d prefer, in the circumstances, to designate.

But on the Sunday night, July 3, I’d shared with them a rare personal sporting moment when Sir Viv Richards mounted the platform to say ‘thanks’ for being bestowed (at the Golden Age of the Biblical ‘Three-scores-and-ten’) with the Order of the Caribbean Community (OCC), CARICOM’s highest honour.

I watched the ageless world legend trot-up and down the platform with the same grace and eloquence like when walking in to bat decades ago for the West Indies, during his 121 Tests and 187 One Day Internationals between 1974 and 1991, scoring an accumulated pile of over 15,000 runs in just 17 years – and the team never losing a test while he was Captain.

I’d earlier in the day read that Brian Lara had graciously tweeted his congrats to India’s Jasprit Bumrah for having broken the younger Caribbean legend’s world record of having scored the most runs in an over, but (honestly) the West Indian in me didn’t even try to find out what Lara’s record really was.

My memory-of-the-moment was the reminder in the citation that the Antigua-born Caribbean master blaster always held that his “best innings ever” was “not affixing my signature” to the million-dollar cheque offered him to play in Apartheid South Africa, “and seeing Apartheid end in my lifetime!”

Richards also always held that played not only for West Indies fans, “but for all the people looking like me everywhere in the world…” – and he repeated it all last Sunday night.
Watching V.V. Richards receive and accept CARICOM’s highest honour ‘live’ and ‘in full flesh and colour’ (instead of posthumously), my free mind flirted slightly down memory lane to February 2009, when several big-name West Indian players paid very high prices for banking their bets with American billionaire Allen Stanford.

The UK’s Mail Online published back then (February 19, 2009) an article by Paul Newman, headlined: West Indian winners miss out on their Stanford millions following fraud probe.
The article reported: “Five West Indian players, including Shivnarine Chanderpaul, are set to lose their million-dollar winnings in the fall-out from the Allen Stanford fraud probe that has left English cricket reeling…

“The players — Chanderpaul, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Kieron Pollard, Sylvester Joseph and Dave Mohammed — were part of the Stanford Superstars team who thrashed England in Antigua last November in the first of what was supposed to be five Twenty20 matches with a million dollars going to each member of the winning side…”

And it added: “The five players are not the only West Indians to regret trusting Stanford with their money. Joel Garner, one of the Stanford ‘Board of Legends’ sacked in December (2007) when the American’s problems were first exposed by Sportsmail, is said to have invested his earnings with Stanford, while Lance Gibbs, the Superstars manager, has not been paid the $100,000 he was due for working with the American…”
Back then, Saint Lucia’s Darren Sammy (like Richards much earlier with the open million-dollar cheque before him) had refused to sign up to deposit his hard-earned earnings through Certificates of Deposit (CDs) in the paymaster’s private bank — and he wasn’t alone.

But since Australia’s Kerry Packer and Stanford stamped their profitable dollars-and-sense schemes on West Indies cricket, the region’s team has hardly been the same, as international sporting competitions are no longer considered friendly games but business wars, well-financed and highly-sponsored business investments where dollars matter much-more than scores.

In today’s sporting business world, games are hosted on the basis of which country will yield the most profits and players face nerve-wracking challenges of balancing between talent and temptation, opportunity and loss – and letting the rest take the hindmost.

The ghosts of the original West Indian Horsemen of the 50s and 60s played cricket as a friendly sport, while also demonstrating they were not just equal, but better than and dominant over the colonial masters at their own game.

The business models that benefit the same common investors and corporate branded sponsors and their products has suited its tailors over the decades.
But when smaller nations also with big cash do likewise, the Europeans and Americans cry foul:  Qatar is accused of having ‘bought’ the right to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup and the Saudis are being accused of ‘sports-washing’ — using their oil money to offer millions of Pounds, Euros and US Dollars to attract the biggest players in PGA Golf to join the kingdom’s cash-cow LIV Series.

Meanwhile, with too many CARICOM heroes being honoured posthumously every year across the region, the OCC is also a fitting tribute to those who’ve paid their dues but were never acknowledged while alive-and-kicking, or in full bloom.

Three-per-year is just not enough to even to catch up, what with cases like Marcus Garvey and Robert ‘Bob’ Marley, who were more than nationals of just one CARICOM nation but have been formally adopted and honoured as regional citizens.

The secretariat will always explain why CARICOM can’t or won’t increase the number of OCCs awarded annually, but even so, I’m still simply glad to the max to have witnessed the master blaster still blasting through history’s pages at 70, instead of through an afterlife award in what the late Saint Lucian calypsonian ‘Mighty Mighty’ described in song as a “Dead Heroes Society.”

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