Nation interview with Dr Julian Hunte
BRIDGETOWN, BARBADOS - The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) will hold an election for the posts of president and vice-president at its annual general meeting on March 27 in Barbados.
The election for the top post is creating widespread interest around the Caribbean against the background that incumbent president Dr Julian Hunte is facing a challenge from Dave Cameron, his vice-president since 2007.
In the build-up to the election, NATION Associate Editor (Sports) Haydn Gill interviewed Hunte on a range of issues, including his tenure in office, his priorities if re-elected and his reaction to Cameron’s challenge, among other things.
Q: How would you assess your six years as WICB president?
A: Thank you for granting me this interview. I’m pleased that the contest is generating a lot of interest around the Caribbean. I attribute a lot of that to changes we have made in the Memorandum and Articles of Association to involve the stakeholders in these elections – as opposed to what went on before where directors represented shareholders at AGMs and elected the president.
I would describe my tenure as being reasonably successful, given the fact that when I took over in 2007, we had had three presidents in row, each doing one term. We had five chief executive officers plus two or three others who acted in the position.
I was able to stabilize the board and full credit must also be given the directors who served with me to stabilize the WICB and to give it some focus, as a result of which we were able to produce a strategic plan and a number of other initiatives.
Q: What were the major highlights the board achieved under your leadership?
A: We won the ICC World Twenty20. We’re now ranked second in the world in that category. We’re No. seven in ODIs. The big one for us is to move up in the Tests rankings. Our women have also excelled. They made the final of the ICC World Cup – their best performance ever and are now No. 2 in the world. The Sagicor High Performance Centre (HPC) is a major achievement. It is something that was discussed and spoken about for a number of years before but it was implemented during my term of office.
There was the sale of media rights from 2013 to 2019 which has been a record for us. In the past, we only made a profit from tours by India and England. These occur once every four years. We were able to get the broadcasters to agree to kind of even out the payments to us to assist with our cash flow.
A major achievement has been the Caribbean Premier League (CPL). When it gets off the ground, we expect it to generate an investment of over US$200 million – at least within the first ten years.
We’ve had improvements in governance. The last edition of the Caribbean Twenty20 was a tremendous success. This was a huge investment on the part of the WICB.
With the departure of Ernest Hilaire, we had a smooth transition of the CEO. Other highlights include the extension of our development programme, the Kiddy Cricket programme, the Grassroots Cricket programme, the special camps that are now institutionalized for our cricketers before they go on overseas tours and, also the for the ladies.
Q: Were there any disappointments?
A: The major disappointment was that we were not able to secure a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the West Indies Players Association (WIPA).
Although a judgment in this matter will be handed down by the court very soon, it is a disappointment. I’m also disappointed in the fact that we were not able to secure an MOU with territorial boards during this period.
We should have done more in terms of the competitions for our women cricketers. I’m not happy with the organization of women’s cricket as it stands right now. Having spoken previously about securing a new MOU and CBA, I would like to see a more harmonious relationship with WIPA.
We must work together with them. It is important that we put the past behind us and together proceed to ensure that we place West Indies cricket back at the top where it belongs.
Q: You touched on the relationship with WIPA. It’s no secret that the two parties have been at odds for a number of years. In recent times, WIPA has had a new president and CEO and the WICB has appointed a new CEO. Have you seen an improvement in the relationship since the new personnel have been in place?
A: There has been a lull in the acrimony and although there are a couple of matters still pending, much depends on the judgment that will be handed down by the court on March 26 regarding whether the board can negotiate a new MOU/CBA. It is fair to say the relationship has improved immensely. I hope that it will continue indefinitely.
Q: If re-elected, what do you see as your major priorities?
A: One of the major priorities is the strategic plan. The second anniversary of the strategic plan will be in July. After the first two-year period there is a planned review of the plan. Rather than the plan being reviewed only by the directors of the WICB, we should include the stakeholders so that we have a broad grouping to discuss how we go forward from 2014-16. I consider this extremely important. We must broaden the scope.
Our constitution allows for four non-elected directors. We have Clifford Reis, Jennifer Nero and Professor Sir Hilary Beckles. We had Clive Lloyd, who is no longer there.
We have written to CARICOM since last year asking them to nominate someone who will represent them on our board as one of the non-elected directors which will make for a more holistic approach to the business of West Indies cricket.
The finalization of the MOU between the board and territorial boards is another priority. We must have satellite HPCs in each of the territories. The effect that will have is that there will be a filter through which the players will come to the HPC in Barbados so one hopes there will be further improvement in the players that we produce.
Q: The board had set up a Governance committee to offer recommendations. In the past, committees of a similar nature were established. There has been a feeling before those recommendations had not been acted on – the latest one the committee chaired by former Jamaica Prime Minister PJ Patterson. The Governance committee, chaired by Charles Wilkin, has put forward a number of recommendations, one which includes a restructure of the board. Is the WICB acting on those recommendations?
A: The board did request the Honourable P.J. Patterson to do a review of the WICB and all that goes with it. I’d like to repeat that we have implemented more than 80 per cent of those recommendations. Those that we did not have time to implement are included in the strategic plan. The one that we did not approve dealt with the restructuring of the board – reducing the number of directors.
In Honourable Patterson’s plan, it was reduced to seven along with the introduction of a Council. We brought in Charles Wilkin. His committee made 17 recommendations. We approved ten. We deferred six for further discussion and we did not accept the recommendation to reduce the board to 15.
In many ways, the WICB is a microcosm of CARICOM. When you get to matters that relate to representation, it will take time to convince.The Governance committee is a standing committee of the board. The matters with the Wilkin report are still on the table.
Q: Your challenger Dave Cameron has been your vice-president since 2007. What’s your reaction to his decision to contest the post of president?
A: He’s done six years as vice-president and was a director before that. As a true democracy, if he feels that the time has come for him to ascend to the presidency – there may have been circumstances that precipitated his decision – it’s his right so to do. He has served in that position well. We wait to see what the shareholders decide when we meet on March 27.
It is his choice. I was on the board for 27 years before I went to the United Nations and came back and was elected president. I know what it is to be vice-president. In some ways, I can empathize with him and wish him well in the contest.
Q: You mentioned circumstances that may have precipitated his decision. He has said his decision was prompted after you informed directors you were not seeking re-election. He said shareholders had approached him with a view to contesting the position. What led to your change of heart in seeking re-election?
A: I never ever informed the board that I was not going to seek re-election. To the contrary, in January this year I said to the board that some of my actions and utterances may have led them to believe I was not seeking re-election. I did say to the board in January I was going to seek re-election.
It is Mr Cameron’s right if he wants to compete. It is also in order for me, if I may have had second thoughts of running to change my mind. Several persons, when they got wind of the fact that I may not run again, approached me because the feeling was there were some things that were still required to be done and that it would be better for me to handle them rather than pass them on.
I agreed with the colleagues who approached me. The Caribbean Premier League is one of them, the review of the strategic plan and there are several other things I would like to see through which I feel can do within the next two years. I hope I get to the support of the shareholders in order to do this.”
Q: Earlier, you touched on the media rights deal and the income that is likely to be generated from the CPL. Over the years, however, the WICB has lost a number of sponsors – for the four-day competition, the 50-over competition, there was none for the Caribbean Twenty20, negotiations are still ongoing with Digicel for the sponsorship of the home series. Is the board concerned that it is losing some of its sponsors?
A: It’s always a matter of concern if you are not getting sponsors. However given the importance of these competitions you have to finance them on your own. If you can get sponsors, the money you use to finance these tournaments can be used to finance your development programme.
It is not for want of trying. We have a very small market here in the Caribbean compared with most if not all of the other full ICC Members. In one case, we’ve been trying to get three or four companies together to sponsor one event.
Some of the sponsorship offers that we have had for example – a tournament may cost US$2 million and we are offered US$150 000. The question of not being able to get sponsors has been a concern. We’ve had to finance these tournaments ourselves and hopefully continue to review our income streams.
One of the areas I’d like to tackle going down the road – and I know we’d looked at this before – is to see whether the regional Governments can assist with a lottery of some sort that will bring money into the board.
Our main sources of revenue come from media rights and ICC events. Between those two, we get about 80 per cent of our revenue. As a matter of urgency we do need additional income streams.
Q: West Indies are No. 7 in the Test rankings, No. 7 in ODIs, No. 2 in Twenty20s. There has been talk about the ICC moving into the direction of a two-tier system. It doesn’t seem to be on the cards in the immediate future but based on the progress the team has made in the last year, how soon do you think they can realistically move into the top 4 in all forms of the game?
A: As part of the Strategic Plan the target is to get to No. 4 or No. 5 by 2017 when the World Test Championship starts. I know that Tony Cozier has written about this two-tier thing and from time to time it does appear that although there is not a declared two-tier system, if we are not very careful, within the current set-up of the FTP, it could appear so.
In 2014, England play three ODIs and three T20s here in the Caribbean. In 2015 England come to the Caribbean for three Tests. We go to India in 2015 and India come to us in 2017.
We have played Bangladesh and Zimbabwe in close succession but we will be playing the top teams later before we get to 2017. It is something we cannot ignore. We have to keep our eyes on it.
In the final analysis, a lot depends on us but the FTP is cyclical and you will have these cluster of matches against some teams from time to time.
I’m very proud of the fact we’ve made a lot of strides with the men’s and women’s team. It is the performance on the field now that is going to tell. If we’re going to improve on our rankings and get to No. 4, which is the plan, we will be in the championships.
The T20 championship has helped. Once you start to improve, you get renewed interest in West Indies cricket. Institutionally, we’re doing all that we can to improve our governance, our finances, the competitions. In the final analysis, it is the performance of the team on the field that will give us the impetus that we need.
Q: Finally, why should WICB shareholders elect you as president for a fourth successive term?
A: They should feel that the directors and myself have done a reasonably good job between 2007 and now, that I have made it clear that I’d like to use the next two years to wrap up and ensure among other things that we have discussed, that there is a proper succession plan which carries us through the next couple of years.
This is why we have to continue to review the governance report particularly as it relates to what we do at election time, whether we have a nominations committee, what exactly do we do. There are constitutions that require for a vice-president to succeed a president.
We do not have that.That is something we need to look at. It should have been done before. I have every confidence that our shareholders will give me the opportunity to lead the board for another couple of years to complete the programme.