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Stanford tournament officially recognized

An official, annual West Indies 20/20 tournament is likely to be run exclusively by Sir Allen Stanford's organization in future, following talks between the Antigua-based American financier and the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB).

The proposed arrangement, along the lines of a commercial franchise, was discussed at a meeting between Stanford, who conceptualized and financed his inaugural, highly successful 20-overs-an-innings tournament last July and August, and WICB president Ken Gordon after the opening ceremony of the 2007 World Cup in Trelawney on Sunday.

Further negotiations on several contractural details took place in Kingston, yesterday.

Stanford has reportedly agreed to pay the WICB between US$1.5 million and US$2 million for the rights to have his tournament officially recognized.

Stanford also met with International Cricket Council (ICC) president Percy Sonn and chief executive Malcolm Speed in Trelawney last weekend. But the subject of their discussions is not known.

Once the accord with WICB is sanctioned, the first series under the deal is tentatively scheduled for next January and February. But the dates would have to dovetail with the Carib Beer Cup, the KFC Cup and international home commitments and be mutually agreed between the two. The West Indies are entered for the first International Cricket Council (ICC) World 20/20 Champio-nship in South Africa next September and October and, while that team is to be chosen by the WICB selectors from all available players, they are likely to be guided by performances in the initial Stanford 20/20.

Stanford, whose 20/20 board of directors comprises 13 distinguished former West Indies players, indicated after last year's tournament that he was keen to expand it to include non-cricketing islands such as Cuba, Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic.

Cuba's national director of recreation, Jose Cedeno, recently confirmed that the communist island-nation had received an invitation from Stanford to participate. But, since Stanford's headquarters are in Houston, Texas, that is likely be conditional on the US government's long-standing legislation against links with Cuba.

Stanford, part of whose Financial Group of companies has been based in Antigua for 25 years, spent an estimated US$32 million on last year's tournament.

Nineteen individual teams participated, the most in any regional tournament. They each received a development grant of US$100,000.

The champions, Guyana, won the US$1 million first prize, with a last-over victory in the final against Trinidad and Tobago which received US$500,000.

There were awards of US$25,000 for the Man of the Match, rising to US$100,000 for the final, and US$10,000 for the Play of the Match.

The new agreement would be a significant breakthrough in relationships between Stanford and the WICB.

While the WICB nominally supported the first Stanford 20/20, a split was almost inevitable. It came over Stanford's plan for a one-off, US$5 million, winner-take-all challenge between his All Stars and South Africa in November. It required the minor shifting of dates for the West Indies' tour of Pakistan but the WICB turned down that request.

When it also declined to name the team early after Stanford said he was prepared to pick his squad from the remaining players, Stanford scrapped his match.

"To say I am disappointed is an understatement," Stanford said at the time. "We are frustrated at the turn of events, especially in light of the fact that the date for the Stanford Super Star Match was approved by both the WICB and the ICC from January 2006."

In deciding the cancel the match, he reiterated an earlier statement that "we would not do anything which conflicts with, or compromises West Indies' cricket."

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