When Allen Stanford unveiled his US$20 million winner takes all Twenty20 match between his Caribbean Superstars and England, many in the cricket world were stunned and appalled.
But the allegations levelled by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Tuesday that Stanford and his companies were involved in “a fraud of shocking magnitude” worth more than US$9 billion threaten to have consequences far beyond the confines of the sport.
The SEC charged Stanford and his companies with “orchestrating a fraudulent” investment scheme centering on a US$8 billion savings deposit plan as well as a US$1.2 billion mutual fund program.
Stanford, a Texan-born businessman and resident of Antigua, came to cricket prominence when he announced he was putting US$28 million into funding a Caribbean-wide Twenty20 tournament in 2005.
It was the kind of cash injection the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) could only dream about.
The story goes that when Stanford stepped off a plane in Antigua and saw workers playing cricket in a nearby pasture during a break, he vowed to build them a cricket field and made good on that word.
However, he didn’t stop there. He offered South Africa and India a winner-takes-all match, before England took him up on the idea last year.
Yet from the moment Stanford landed in London in June with a box full of millions of dollars and proclaiming his Twenty20 “Super Series” could crack the US television market, there was a sense of unease about the whole project.
It was hard to imagine a character better designed to upset cricket traditionalists than Stanford.
This was an American who launched his Super Series by landing at London’s Lord’s Cricket Ground, the self-styled home of cricket, in a helicopter and who then unveiled a box which he said contained US$20 million.
However, the series in Antigua was an embarrassment for England. Stanford was slammed for bouncing the wife of one of the England players on his knee during the matches and England were humiliated in the final by Stanford’s Caribbean All Stars.
But for the West Indian players who received US$1 million each for their efforts, the match had appeared life changing in more ways than one as the team demonstrated a professionalism rarely associated with West Indies sides during their decline from their 1970s and 1980s pre-eminence.
While the England and Wales Cricket Board will be able to absorb the impact of any financial loss in its Stanford dealings, it is a different story for the WICB. According to their Web site, Stanford promised to invest US$100 million from 2008 through 2011 plus an additional monthly backing of US$15,000 to each of the 20 Caribbean nations in the Twenty20 set-up.