The Sports Company of Trinidad and Tobago (SPORTT) will soon be in the market for a new chairman after former Trinidad and Tobago international cyclist Michael Phillips quit the post yesterday afternoon.
In a public statement today—sent out via email—Phillips, who runs his own bike store, conceptualises and manages various sport events and is a professional artist, said his duties as SPORTT chairman had affected his business outside of government service and severely taxed his time.
“Regrettably, I have found the requirements and time needed to effectively remain as Chairman is more than I am able to extend at this time,” stated Phillips. “[…] Presently, there are items that I need to dedicate my attention to which do not permit the additional responsibility of SPORTT.
“I have given an undertaking to the Minister of Sport and to the sporting fraternity that I will make myself available where possible in the interests of creating a vibrant sporting industry for Trinidad and Tobago…”
The timing of Phillips’ departure means he will not be present when the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba is unveiled on 13 May 2017.
According to sources, this might not be by accident.
Just over a week ago, Phillips confirmed to the Trinidad Guardian that a stand at the Tarouba venue would be named after iconic former India batsman Sachin Tendulkar, who is also a friend of former West Indies cricket great and Trinidad and Tobago legend Brian Lara.
“Our decision to name the stand after Mr Tendulkar was done on the advice of Mr Brian Lara,” said Phillips. “We have included Mr Lara in our decision making process in terms of how we roll out the launch and management of both the stadium and the academy.”
The story and subsequent public backlash allegedly provoked a furious reaction from Sport Minister Darryl Smith, who is said to have blamed the SPORTT chairman for the furore.
In correspondence copied to the Phillips’ colleagues and subordinates, Smith allegedly told him that only he, as Sport Minister, would be allowed to comment on the Tarouba stadium from then on.
Sources say that the strained relationship between the two men was already strained for several reasons and the Tendulkar stand incident was the last straw.
First, the Brian Lara Stadium fell under SPORTT and Phillips felt that, as chairman, he was well placed to discuss the project publicly. However, the different way in which each of the two men responded to the furore further widened an ideological gap between the pair.
According to sources, Lara’s proposal for a Tendulkar stand was felt to be a sound sport tourism initiative. Lara hoped to involve Tendulkar directly in the staging of events—like a cricket masters’ competition—at the venue and the naming of the stand was felt to be a gesture that could further solidify the co-operation.
India is a cricket-mad nation with over 1.3 billion people and getting Tendulkar on board was seen to be a good business strategy, as SPORTT considered ways to make the Tarouba venue self-sufficient.
However, Trinidad and Tobago Cricket Board (TTCB) president Azim Bassarath described the idea as an insult to the former cricket stars of the two- island republic and the nation responded in accordance with that stance.
Phillips allegedly felt SPORTT should explain the thinking behind the Tendulkar stand to the public. But Smith, as he is prone to do, insisted on total silence or diversions from the main talking point instead with the aim of merely riding out the storm.
“We had a reaction [to the Tendulkar stand proposal] that was territorial due to patriotism,” said a source. “You can understand the base response but we needed to explain it from a business perspective. Sachin has 28 million followers on Twitter. The actor Tom Cruise has 10 million. So anything that involves Tendulkar immediately gets more eyeballs than the number of people who have ever lived in Trinidad and Tobago…
“Lara is our most recognisable brand export to India while we send cricketers to the IPL every year to become millionaires. So we should be looking at things to strengthen ties between the two nations.
“[…] So while there may not be a stand in India named after Lara, why not be the first [between the two nations] to make the gesture?”
Wired868 asked Smith to respond to rumours of tension between him and his former chairman, who was allegedly considered for the Sport Minister portfolio before the last Cabinet reshuffle. However, up to the time of publication, Smith had not replied.
Phillips’ exit continues a striking spell of instability at SPORTT, which has had 11 different CEOs in the past decade and three chairmen in the last two and a half years.
Wired868 understands, although the post of SPORTT chairman is not full-time and only comes with a stipend, Phillips’ duties increasingly encroached upon his business hours to the extent that sport stakeholders began to turn up at his business with the hope of discussing government business.
The strained working relationship with his line minister allegedly did not help matters.
Now, it will be someone else’s mountain to climb.
(Michael Phillips’ statement on his SPORTT exit)
“I would like to take the opportunity to notify the public that I have tendered my resignation as Chairman of SPORTT. I am proud to have been able to make a contribution to the development of sport in Trinidad and Tobago in this capacity.
“I thank the Prime Minister, Corporation Sole and the Minister of Sport for having the confidence in me, to lead this organisation.
“Regrettably, I have found the requirements and time needed to effectively remain as Chairman is more than I am able to extend at this time. However, I will continue to engage in the community programmes and activities that I have established in my personal capacity.
“Presently, there are items that I need to dedicate my attention to which do not permit the additional responsibility of SPORTT. I have given an undertaking to the Minister of Sport and to the sporting fraternity that I will make myself available where possible in the interests of creating a vibrant sporting industry for Trinidad and Tobago.
“A great deal of positive in sport has occurred over the last year and a half and I am confident that the trend will continue. There are many people working in the best interest of sport and SPORTT and it was a pleasure to have the chance to lend some of my personal experience to its growth.
“I wish the Ministry of Sport, SPORTT and the Board of Directors continued success as they move forward.”