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By Venu Palaparthi
With Darren Beazley in the driver's seat, USACA appeared to be making strides in two important areas in recent weeks. Its communications had improved and it appeared keen on changing its public image and restoring trust.
But old habits die hard. Recent incidents have proved that it will be some time yet before the organization attains maturity in its dealings with cricketers.
Last week, when ACF announced its sponsorship of a USACA sanctioned event conducted by Georgia Women Cricket Association, for the first time in years, cricket struck a progressive note. Politics was pushed to the back and old prejudices were set aside in the interest of sport. For once, even if only for a day, it seemed like cricket was on the right track.
That women's cricket had acted as a catalyst for such bonhomie was heartening. Under Petal Samuels' leadership, GWCA had taken on the responsibility of organizing a tournament for women. And the tournament had grown in stature over the last three years, something that few women's cricket organizers can claim in the USA.
Such tournaments deserve the support of every cricket loving individual in USA. As a cricket organizer myself, I have first-hand appreciation for the mountain of effort involved with conducting a tournament. Huge amounts of time and resources are involved. Insurance, ground permits, umpiring and scorekeeping services, food and hospitality, uniforms, everything need to be organized by volunteers. Spectators or sponsors are hard to find in large enough numbers to make these tournaments financially viable. Player satisfaction is the only reward in this enterprise. And if you run a good tournament, players will usually enlist for men's tournaments. But not so for women. Firstly, the organizer has to cast a wider net since players are scattered. Costs are prohibitive too, women have to take time off from their work, families and children and travel to another city since there isn't a critical mass of women's cricketers in any one city. Which is why I feel that the commitment of women cricketers and organizers deserves to be commended.
In this respect, Petal Samuels is a trail blazer. She worked hard to create a women's tournament and kept at it for three years. So when she received a sponsorship pledge from ACF on April 29th, it must have been a huge relief for her. She could shift her focus to the remaining logistics.
But just a day after ACF announced the sponsorship, Ken Sukhwa, Director of USACA South East Region, fired off a suspension letter to Petal Samuels. "The South East Region Administration has authorized me to inform you that effective immediately, you are hereby suspended as the SER women coordinator indefinitely," Sukhwa wrote in his sternly worded letter.
"Your most recent partnership with a body outside of the USACA structure has confirmed that it is time for the SER to ask for a 100% commitment from you as our women coordinator," he noted. This is a strange choice of wording, one that legal experts will find interesting.
Mr. Sukhwa's wording suggests that in USACA's books, striking a partnership with an organization that is not part 'of the USACA structure' is problematic. Call me naive, but this is a question that begs asking: which cricket or non-cricket organization should Petal have 'partnered' with? And what sort of 'partnership' did GWCA strike with ACF? Does financial sponsorship count as partnership? If so, which sponsors are taboo? Will somebody do us all a favor and list the organizations that are non grata, so tournament organizers don't cross the line?
I read USACA's new sanctioning policy and it makes no mention of this 'USACA structure' requirement for a sanctioned tournament. ACF's stated mission is to promote cricket. Its members love cricket. In fact, ACF's membership appears to include some of the same leagues that USACA claims as its own members on its own website.
I do not know Mr. Sukhwa personally nor do I know whether any of the SER board members actually authorized him to write the letter that he wrote. Neither do I know Petal Samuels other than what I have read about her in the context of the tournament.
What I do know is that USACA has no plans for women's cricket tournaments in the near-term and that Petal Samuels was working hard to create a playing opportunity. An event that USACA itself saw merit in sanctioning and ACF saw merit in supporting financially.
What I also know is that for as long as USACA continues to use threats and suspensions as the main tool to sell its vision of what is good for USA Cricket, it will not win public trust.
In the United States, we already have to deal with spectator apathy, lack of sponsorship interest, absence of infrastructure and uncertain weather. More recently, we have had to add to that list the fear of incurring USACA's wrath. Sometimes I wonder why we bother to do anything at all.
As for SER's suspension of Petal Samuels - my view is that it is simply not cricket.
[Disclaimer: The author is a co-founder of DreamCricket Academy; the organizer of the RadiantInfo T20 event in 2008, 2009 and 2010; a former representative of CLNJ on USACA's Atlantic Region board; and an administrator of CLNJ-Youth, the largest youth cricket program in the state of New Jersey. The opinions expressed are his own and should not be viewed as CLNJ's or DreamCricket's views.]