Canadian cricket league experiences some contract issues as final looms

BRAMPTON, Ont. — While the Global T20 Canada Cricket League has experienced growth in attendance and television viewership in its second season, it hasn't been entirely smooth sailing.

Just days before Sunday's final, there was a dispute with the league's players over contractual payments — with the six-team circuit eventually putting out a press release to explain its side of the story.

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The dispute delayed the start of a game by two hours on Wednesday, leaving both fans at the ground and television viewers perplexed.

"There's no denying there was an issue," said Karan Singh, the league's chief operating officer.

"It's an agreement between the players and the franchise owners on what particular dates they were supposed to execute certain things. We, as the league, had to intervene and held a meeting with all the senior management of the teams and the players, and we resolved the issue on the spot."

When the league debuted in King City, Ont., last year, all of the teams were owned by the league itself.

This year, all but the host Brampton Wolves have private ownership. The other five teams are responsible for paying their players according to their contracts.

Singh says that both the league and the International Cricket Council (ICC) vetted potential team owners for an event that has attracted players from around the world.

The league has not revealed the names of its team owners.

"All the owners' profiles were sent to the ICC and the ICC says, yes, OK, fit — or if they have any objections, we say either you (team owners) provide clarification on the objections, or sorry we can't do business with you," Singh said.

Singh sees the player payment issue as part of the growing pains for the league and its team owners.

"We have to realize that for new or foreign owners, the procedural process of due financial compliance is long as well. And that's where we give them that slight leeway, but there's no way, shape or form that we would want our players or staff to ever go through this again and we will ensure that it never happens again," he said.

Rayad Emrit, the captain of the Winnipeg Hawks, said the money issue has been resolved.

"We've come to an understanding with the league," he said. "It's something that you don't really want to have as players in the league, but there's always going to be mishaps. It's the second time this league is running and they're still trying to get their act in order, but they've been communicating with us and I think everything is on par now."

In light of Wednesday's events, Singh says the league has taken immediate steps.

"We are now closely overseeing all the payment processes ourselves, so we will ensure that all payments that are due and promised are delivered as promised," Singh said.

"We had a few workshops with the team owners privately prior to the tournament. We didn't foresee this problem to be honest, but now that it's happened we will inculcate this into our SOP (standard operating procedures) as well. We have told the team owners this is unacceptable. It causes damage to the league, damage to the sport and to the business that we run, and going forward there (will be) severe clauses in their contracts against this."

The inaugural edition of the GT20 Canada is said to have cost league owners, Bombay Sports Company (formerly Mercuri-Canada), about $10.5 million. Singh estimates that costs have increased by 17 to 20 per cent this year, but looks at it as an investment in the sport, rather than an expense.

He is particularly proud of the outfield and pitch, which are estimated to have cost upwards of $500,000.

"This sport has a lot of potential and this country has a lot of potential," he said. "Where we are sitting could serve as the epicentre for the cricket explosion that North America deserves. It's an amazing journey. The reward is seeing all of this and believing that you're delivering something not only on TV, but to the spectators in the stands worth their time and money."

On Saturday, the Hawks and Wolves will face off in a playoff match at the CAA Centre. The winner will play the defending champion Vancouver Knights in the final on Sunday.

Attendance in the first week surpassed the figures for the entirety of the inaugural season.

The league says 65,000 people have attended matches thus far. With Saturday's playoff match and Sunday's final sold out, the final attendance tally will stand at approximately 75,000.

According to the league, global television viewership has passed 150 million, approximately a three-fold increase over last year's numbers.

Yuvraj Singh, the player of the tournament when India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup, South Africa captain Faf du Plessis and New Zealand's Jimmy Neesham are three of the big names in this year's event.

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