The 2007 Cricket World Cup, scheduled to be held in the West Indies is under threat.
Telecommunications company Digicel is frustrating every move to resolve a dispute which could end up tearing apart Caribbean cricket apart.
The efforts of nearly a dozen Prime Ministers in the Caribbean have come to naught and the only option left seems to be a governmental disbanding of the West Indies Control Board, as happened last Friday in Sri Lanka.
The West Indies administration has been a shambles for years and their dissolution would solve more problems than it might create, but the possibility of a consensus around the islands is about as likely as a May General Election in this country throwing up the first coalition government since the war.
The Irish-based company Digicel seems prepared to bring Caribbean cricket crashing down unless, in the next three days before the start of the Georgetown Test match between West Indies and South Africa, somebody blinks without losing too much face.
Don?t bet on it, with the catastrophic result a home team denied the services of automatic selections Brian Lara, Chris Gayle, Ramnaresh Sarwan, Fidel Edwards and Dwayne Bravo. If that happens, the cricketing world is entitled to question the ability of the WICB to organise a World Cup.
The task is complex enough in one country; more so when split between two, as happened in India and Pakistan in 1987 and Australia and New Zealand five years later.
This column outlined last week the background to the most bitter commercial dispute in cricket history between two telecommunication giants, English-based Cable & Wireless and Digicel.
The commercial giants are, unwittingly or not, the villains of the piece. Your correspondent expressed the view that various Prime Ministers around the Caribbean would force the WICB to soften their stance against former sponsors Cable & Wireless and thus pick a full-strength team.
Various happenings since then indicate a worsening of a situation which now is all but certain to guarantee South Africa a 4-0 whitewash, rivalling for one-sidedness anything that has happened to Zimbabwe in the last few months, resulting in the suspension of their Test match status.
The following events have soured further a near-impossible situation. Responding to an invitation from the WICB to play on Thursday because his contract with Cable & Wireless was signed prior to the switch of main sponsors by his Board last July, unlike Gayle and the other five who signed with Digicel afterwards, Lara replied thus.
?I am anxious to play but not if I have to abandon part of the core of players who have represented the West Indies with me over recent years and all of whom are team-mates.?
Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell has proposed various compromises to resolve an issue entirely based upon the conflicting contractual demands of the two sponsors. The first of these allowed the tour of Australia two months ago to proceed with Lara and other C&W players under him wearing Digicel gear.
Now, the new sponsors and the West Indies Players? Association have dug in their heels. Mitchell pleaded last week for reason, only for the Barbados Prime Minister, Owen Arthur, to tell him to buzz off. The players? representative, Dinanath Ramnarine, then had talks with the Trinidad & Tobago Prime Minister, Patrick Manning.
The former Test cricketer called for an open inquiry into the administration of the game, commissioned by the heads of government. At the same time, a conglomerate called CI.Financial, based in Trinidad, offered to buy out both the Digicel and C & W contracts ? an offer which appealed to all players.
Digicel promptly backhanded that right out of court, describing the proposal as ?rubbish.?
Now there is talk of boycotts and demonstrations outside the grounds, especially for the Test in Trinidad where Lara is known as ?The Prince? and treated like a king.
The chosen 14-man squad have all turned up at the pre-series camp under the captaincy of Shivnarine Chanderpaul ? and have signed their contracts. That appears to make it virtually impossible for the selectors to change it only 72 hours before the coin goes up for the First Test.
The West Indies are at the bottom of the Test rankings ? at least they are propping up the major countries, but still ahead of Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Is there a comparable falling from grace in any other sport?
If the 2nd XI gets smashed in Georgetown, pressure on the disparate governments will increase to follow Sri Lanka and set up an interim committee to run things.
The problem is that the 12 individual governments rarely agree about anything, even if the fallout threatens the 2007 World Cup.