The West Indies Players' Association (WIPA) has filed a US$20 million lawsuit against the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and a High Court judge has reportedly given the board six weeks to respond. The WICB had earlier confirmed it had received documents relating to the lawsuit filed by WIPA that "related to the issuance of no objection certificates (issued to players by WICB) which require players to fulfil international duties for the West Indies team if selected".
According to a report by CMC sport wire and IANS, Justice David Harris of the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, who presided over the filing of the claim last week, has also told the region's cricket administrators that they will have 16 days to appear before the court.
The claim comes on the back of a bitter and protracted dispute between WIPA and WICB over player rights and pay. The two bodies are currently in the middle of negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement and memorandum of understanding in an attempt to resolve their differences but the suit is bound to complicate that process.
There has been no public statement from WIPA but in the 46-page motion filed before the court, the association stated that the WICB "has engaged in a malicious, wanton and wilful campaign to breach the express and implied terms of the collective bargaining agreements as well as impose unlawful and unreasonable restraints of trade on West Indian cricketers".
At the heart of the case are allegations by WIPA that the board has refused 'to grant an unconditional NOC to players who have no contractual obligations to the WICB or any teams under its jurisdiction'. According to WIPA, such actions constitute "an unreasonable restraint of trade" since they prevent the "players from freely plying their trade as free agents."
Under the current system, players require a no objection certificate (NOC) from their member boards to participate in domestic tournaments in other countries such as the IPL in India and the Friends Life t20 in England.
In the case of West Indies, some of their most prominent players - Chris Gayle, Kieron Pollard and Dwayne Bravo - have all managed to forge remunerative careers in domestic Twenty20 leagues over the last few years. Last September, the trio turned down the West Indies board's central contracts, which require the players to make themselves available for the West Indies team at all times. The WICB had then talked about tightening the rules for providing NOCs, but so far have never refused to grant a player one, giving all three players permission to play in the 2011 IPL.
However, WIPA argued in its suit that the WICB's decision not to issue unconditional NOCs to those players who are not contracted to the board has resulted in the players not being "compensated for the damages they have suffered and continue to suffer" and that "WICB's actions are designed solely to exploit and profit from players and various members of WIPA to their detriment" (WIPA claims that it represents at least 300 cricketers with no more than 25 players signing retainer contracts with the WICB at any one time).
WIPA asserts that the WICB's conduct is so egregious "that while the WICB purports to act on the player's behalf without their authority, and despite the existence of gross conflicts of interests, the WICB profits from the players' plight by being paid a sum equivalent to 10 per cent of the player's salaries earned by the players participating in overseas matches - all while causing millions of dollars in damages to WIPA and its members."
The players' association claimed that WICB has refused to resolve these issues and has therefore forced WIPA to take legal action. "Simply put, the WICB cannot justify its intentional and malicious conduct and must be stopped to prevent further damage to WIPA, West Indian cricketers and West Indies cricket on the whole."
WIPA wants the High Court to redress the situation by declaring the WICB's position on unconditional NOCs to be "oppressive, illegal, contrary to public policy and constituting an unlawful restraint of trade" and to compel the WICB to issue "unconditional NOCs to players not retained or contracted by the WICB when requested'.
Further, the players' body is seeking "not less than" $10 million in actual damages to "compensate WIPA and its members for the WICB's breaches of the Agreements and Member Contracts as well as for lost earnings to individual players and a further $10 million in actual and exemplary damages to compensate WIPA and its members for the WICB's wilful and malicious actions".
The WICB said its legal team was studying the documents and a further statement will be made at the appropriate time.