Umpire standoff underscores controversy at APL

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Umpires staged a “work stoppage” at the American Premiere League tournament in Houston on Saturday.

The second season of American Premiere League, brainchild of entrepreneur Jay Mir of New Jersey, featured a labor standoff between Mir and tournament umpires on Saturday in Houston, Texas.

The two-week long league, one of many such trophy tournaments sanctioned by USA Cricket, had already caused a stir, thanks to leaked footage of Mir shouting threats at hotel staff and suspicious scorecards featuring an unusual number of extras. But the dysfunction built to a crescendo as umpires refused to take the field ahead of Saturday’s semifinal, alleging incomplete and continuously late payment from league organizers.

“We were promised a certain amount per game, it’s the same that we were getting from the USPL, it’s the standard fee for this year. We were promised that our flights and our taxis and our food would be taken care of, which is pretty standard,” umpire Bryan Caine told Emerging Cricket’s Big Innings podcast. “The way we heard it was that we were going to get paid half of our money on Friday of the first week, which was the Friday before Christmas weekend, and then we’d get our second installment just before the final, which again is kind of standard.”

The first deadline came and went with the umpires still unpaid. “I can’t say we were surprised at that point, just the disorganization that had come up to that point,” Caine continued. The umpire alleged that Mir then promised to pay them their first installment on Monday, the 26th. It wasn’t until Thursday the 29th that umpires received a fraction of what they were promised. Instead of a 50% share, the umpires were paid only $5,000 of the $30,000 total fee.

When Jay Mir arrived at the ground on Saturday to find the umpires united for a standoff, Mir accused them of blackmail and called the police. The police arrived, and after some discussion, asked the umpires to leave the stadium, explaining that Jay Mir was the renting tenant. The police did not charge the umpires with blackmail, and informed the parties that the issue was civil in nature, not criminal. Before leaving, the umpires were permitted by police to enter the stadium to retrieve their equipment.

The teams began and finished the game with members of the playing teams umpiring their own game, a semifinal of a league sanctioned by USA Cricket, and by extension sanctioned by the ICC. The games from this point onward were not broadcast, due to payment obligations to broadcasters and commentators going unfulfilled. Betting on the games on sites such as Betfair continued, however.

This professional uncertainty was something that USACUA was hoping to avoid when they sat out of the US Open earlier in the month. In an effort to standardize the umpire fee structure for sanctioned events, the umpires set a $150 match fee per umpire, and requested complete provision for air and ground transportation, and hotel accommodations. In the case of the US Open, the tournament’s organizers, MAQ T20, refused to engage with these demands.

A letter to fellow umpires explaining the effective protest of the US Open cited insufficient, untimely pay and “very bitter experience” in prior US Open seasons. The letter requested that all member umpires abstain from entertaining requests from organizers for any remuneration less than the fees standardized by the organization, else they risk their membership status and future assignments. 

Unfortunately the APL proved to provide yet another bitter experience for umpires.

“Just like a lot of other tournaments over the years, we booked our own flights, and we booked our own taxis from the airport to the hotel, and we bought a couple of meals, and this time at least we were promised that those things were going to get reimbursed. And it became clear very quickly that this tournament is not ready for this level of cricket. They’re not ready for this level of professionalism and these kinds of players.”

The collective stance made by the Umpires Association is nearly unprecedented in American cricket. Prior to the launch of Major League Cricket in July of 2023 and Minor League Cricket in 2020, any “professional” cricket occurring in the United States consisted of short trophy tournaments similar to the APL. The advent of Major League Cricket, considered one of a handful of top franchise cricket leagues in the world, along with the standard of umpiring required for broadcasted and sanctioned ICC events, came with the need for more robustly trained umpires. This has created a situation where umpires can demand a more reasonable fee for their work than in the past.

Yet, to the umpires, these growing pains seem to indicate that American cricket is still in a transition period. “We show up to be the best,” Caine declared, “and when our integrity is thrown into question it makes us question a lot. What it is we’re doing out there, and where it is we’re heading with this sport?”

The first edition of the APL was staged in 2021 at Yogi Berra Stadium in Little Falls, NJ. Due to the fact that it overlapped with the Minor League Cricket season, the league was not permitted by USA Cricket to approach players on Minor League rosters. In 2022, the league was suspended by organizers and replanned for 2023.

Along with the umpire controversy and unpaid broadcasters, the league has also sparked some controversy in Pakistan, as newly appointed Chief Selector Sohail Tanvir participated in the tournament with Premium Paks. Tanvir has been a staple of trophy tournaments in the USA for several years.

Caine also accused Jay Mir of shouting homophobic slurs at him at one point.

Emerging Cricket reached out to USA Cricket, asking if they were aware of the umpire situation and rumors that players had been approached by match fixers. USA Cricket chairman Venu Pisike replied with the following: “We are aware of the situation, both USA Cricket and ICC are currently looking into this. We will act upon reviewing all the reports. Of course, we will strengthen our sanctioning policy as we learn. Thank you for reaching out.”

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