Understanding the WIPA $20M lawsuit

Sat, Aug 27, '11

 

West Indies Players Association

WIPA in its legal action, filed on August 16th in the Trinidad and Tobago High Court is claiming U$20,000,000 in damages for WIPA itself and players, principally Chris Gayle. The case is based on the Restraint of Trade principle with WIPA claiming that players, Chris Gayle in particular, were restrained from playing cricket by the WICB because the WICB did not issue those players with unconditional No Objection Certificates (NOC).

 

There are several implications of this action. It is the first time any action of this nature is being filed in the cricket world and its outcome will have global implications and set international precedent in cricket which is likely to be exploited by players or national boards throughout the world.

The first legal test for international cricket

In a sense the future and viability of international cricket hinges on the outcome of this legal action by WIPA. It is the first time the contentious issue domestic Twenty20 leagues v international cricket is going to be tested in a court of law.
 
The WICB has always granted NOCs to players who have applied for them to play in domestic Twenty20 leagues around the world such as the Indian Premier League and the Big Bash.
 
WIPA, by this action, is taking it to an entirely new level as it believes that its members, such as Chris Gayle and others should be granted not just NOCs but unconditional NOCs. In his last application to the WICB Gayle applied for an unconditional NOC but was granted an NOC.
 
NOC v unconditional NOC

The WICB currently grants NOCs in the same manner as all other international boards. There is a virtual standard format for this which is basically a copy and paste job that is used by all other international boards.
 
The NOC includes a clause which states that the national board has no objection to the player playing in the league he has applied to play in “subject to international duties” (so that if while he is away playing he is called up for international duties he must return to his national team – this has been enforced by Cricket Australia and Sri Lanka Cricket in particular who recently called up Lasith Malinga from his engagement with the Mumbai Indians of the IPL; Malinga responded by retiring from Test cricket).
 
The rules of international cricket dictate that the integrity of international cricket must be protected and hence the aforementioned  clause so that players who are selected to play for their international teams (West Indies, Australia, England etc) must treat their international duties as priority over playing in domestic Twenty20 leagues (such as IPL, Big Bash etc).
 
WIPA is challenging this. WIPA believes that the WICB should issue the players with unconditional NOCs which in effect will give them carte blanche rights to playing in any and all domestic leagues while forgoing their international duties effectively limiting their international careers to a handful of matches each year.
 
How other players dealt with the conflict

There have been players in the past who have dealt with this conflict in a different manner. Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Shane Warne etc retired from international cricket and made the IPL their priority. WIPA, Chris Gayle and Dwayne Bravo etc have not gone a similar route. WIPA believes that the players should be allowed to play in the domestic Twenty20 leagues (while being allowed to miss West Indies cricket) and when they are done playing in those leagues they should be selected to play for the West Indies team once they (the players) indicate to the WICB that they are available for selection.
 
In effect WIPA is also challenging the WICB selection rules which state that for a player to be eligible to represent West Indies at the international level he has to represent his territorial team in the corresponding format of the game at the regional competition.
 
The implications

If successful the WIPA legal action will allow players such as Gayle, Bravo, Kieron Pollard and others to effectively ply their trade as cricketers-for-hire/cricketing mercenaries without any restrictions and without them having any obligation whatsoever to play for the West Indies.
 
It is very likely that if successful other players from around the world will use this precedent to file similar actions against their national boards and if they too are successful then the international teams will be reduced to second and third string sides for the majority of their matches and the viability of international cricket will be severely compromised.
 
Caribbean fans will suffer

Importantly as the IPL is likely to clash with every home series in the West Indies it virtually means that they would never play international cricket in front of their Caribbean fans again.
 
Therefore the WIPA action also blows completely out of the water Gayle’s own argument to the public over the past months that he is dedicated to playing for the West Indies and that it is the WICB which is forcing him to seek opportunities overseas by not selecting him.
 
Gayle’s priority

This legal action demonstrates that Gayle – on whom this legal action is virtually based as he is the only player who has an entire section under his name in the claim – and other players have as their priority, not West Indies cricket, but playing in the IPL and other Twenty20 leagues.
 
They will only play for the West Indies in a handful of matches each year since there are so many Twenty20 league opportunities around the world – IPL, Big Bash, Friends Life T20 in England and the Sri Lanka Premier League.
 
Why the players want to have their cake and eat it

The question then is: Why are the players bothering to play for West Indies? Why not just retire from international cricket like Gilchrist, Hayden, Warne and others and play league Twenty20s exclusively?
 
The answer is simple; Gayle, Bravo, Pollard etc also want to be able to play for the West Indies in the ICC World Cup and ICC World Twenty20 Championship which are also big money tournaments. Their earnings amount to hundreds of thousands of US dollars and they are not willing to forgo that and hence the legal action by WIPA on their behalf.
 
Other implications

Interestingly, this action was filed even as the WICB and WIPA are engaged in negotiations for a new MOU/CBA and as Gayle and the WICB are meeting to iron out the much publicized fracas between the two. One wonders now with this inflammatory legal action whether there can be any hope for meaningful resolution on either of these issues.