Tuesday 24 October 2017

Umpire strikes back in age tribunal

Umpires Peter Lilley (left) and George Sharp outside the employment tribunal in London
Umpires Peter Lilley (left) and George Sharp outside the employment tribunal in London
Peter Willey wants to resume umpiring

An umpire fighting a decision to retire him from the game because of his age has no intention of carrying on for "donkey's years" but is still able to officiate at the highest level, he has told a tribunal.

Former England Test batsman Peter Willey, 65, one of two umpires fighting an England and Wales Cricket Board decision to drop them from their top list, told the employment hearing he would want to quit the £51,270 job if he was not good enough.

But Mr Willey, a former chairman of umpires who officiated in 25 Test matches during a cricketing career spanning 49 years, said that time has not yet come.

He told the hearing in London: "I personally wouldn't want to see umpires carry on until their standards drop just for the sake of it.

"I don't want to carry on and leave the game with people thinking I wasn't a very good umpire.

"When I finished my (playing) career at Leicestershire after 25 years I was asked to take the money and leave the club. For the last year and a half I was not a very good cricketer and I don't want that to happen as an umpire."

He added: "If I was performing at the highest level and helping other umpires as I was, I thought I would be a benefit to the game of cricket."

Mr Willey and former colleague George Sharp, 64, who have 45 years of umpiring experience between them, are claiming unfair dismissal and age discrimination against the ECB.

It last year removed them from its first class umpire list for the 2015 season because they would both be aged 65 when the season starts.

Both men told the tribunal today that they did not want to carry on indefinitely, but only wanted a two-year extension to their contracts, which could be reviewed after a year.

Mr Willey, who played 26 Tests for England between 1976 and 1986, added: "When you walk onto the field as a 25-year-old or a 65-year-old you can make a mistake. No one is perfect, unless you are a genius you are going to make mistakes.

"If you are an honest person and your sole interest is the game of cricket you will have a fair idea of when your standards are dropping. The ECB should be strong enough to say ... we don't think you have kept your standards up."

Mr Sharp, who is currently unemployed but taking a cricket scorer's course, told the tribunal he would not want to still be umpiring when he was 70.

But he added: "At the moment my standards have not dropped, and at the end of the 2015 season I would know if my standards had dropped and I would go back to the board and discuss it.

"If they said 'George, your standards have dropped, you have got to go' I would say 'thank you very much'."

He added: "During my playing career, at the age of 35 I was offered a two-year contract by Northamptonshire.

"I turned it down because I knew that my standards were dropping and I went to work in the big wide world."

The umpires are being backed at the tribunal by the Prospect trade union.

The judging panel heard that the ECB decision to contractually retire umpires at 65 was to allow "inter-generational fairness" by giving younger officials a chance to join the top ranks, to allow "succession planning" and ensure ageing umpires retained their "dignity" by bowing out at the top of their game, before they potentially started to make mistakes.

Thomas Kibling, for the ECB, said: "We say there was a potential that you get into the situation of the boxer that fights one too many."

He added: "There is no doubt that they have done a good job as umpires. There is just that potential down the line."

Declan O'Dempsey, for Mr Willey and Mr Sharp, told the tribunal that the idea that umpires aged over 65 could not do the job was based on "stereotypes".

He added: "If you are with us on the unfair dismissal (claim) we would seek reinstatement. There is nothing that stands in the way of this."

The tribunal reserved its judgment to a later date.

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