/ 31 October 2008

Overlord Stanford

A few years ago I helped cover the US Masters from Augusta. Quite an experience. Yet there seemed to me to be an undercurrent — one aside from the usual accusations of racism and misogyny.

It is so obviously a fiefdom, to such an extent that even the players (invitation only) stoop to a form of sycophancy for fear, presumably, of upsetting the hosts. The championship is the personal toy of the committee and members of that club and woe betide anyone who goes against the grain.

And so to the Stanford Cricket Ground. This is quite a venture, a beautifully designed facility, the best on the island, purpose-built by Antigua’s biggest private employer for his staff, who he had observed filling their spare time with scratch games on the waste-ground that existed before. Sir Allen Stanford did it because he can.

Then came his tournaments, culminating in this week’s extravaganza.

He does big very well and this is no exception. The ground is a delight, although he might be ripping up the pitch and relaying the outfield — just 39 fours and 18 sixes from the first six innings — and resiting his lights, which have contributed to catches being dropped like aitches at the Whitechapel Debating Society.

The organisation is first-rate and media and spectator facilities top-notch (no bag searches needed here and an encouragement to bring along instruments). Nothing has been left to chance, because that is how Stanford operates in business and life.

But the more we sit at the games, the uneasier it gets. There is a feudalism about this event, in which the paymaster is calling the tune to an unhealthy extent.

Consider the incident with the Wags on Sunday evening. The England players were upset by the sight of Stanford with one of their wives on his lap and another being cuddled, and let it be known. Stanford apologised. Personally I don’t believe there to be anything sleazy or malicious in this. Rather it is a gauche fellow being hale and hearty and hamming it up for the portable television camera that he insists follows him around.

He is a self-publicist who, for an outlay of $20-million (R212-million), this week has bought the sort of publicity that he couldn’t buy for triple that amount on Madison Avenue.

Most worrying, though, is the motive beyond the desire for publicity and a certain amount of altruism.

The 20-20 for $20-million underpins it, but consistently the single image is being projected of a fielder standing trembling beneath a steepling catch, that may or may not help transform his life and that of fellow teammates. So often are we getting this in fact that it is almost as if this, rather than the game itself, is the primary scenario that he would like to see.

Nevertheless, the man who holds the $20-million catch would be set for life on that one moment. On the other hand, he who drops it because he cannot see the ball as it plummets out of Stanford’s inadequate lights, might be destroyed. If golfers miss putts that cost millions, they appear to survive intact, but it is still not a pleasant thought. Even if it satisfies the demands of this exercise. —