Sir Vivian Richards is one of cricket’s most recognisable stars, whose long and successful playing career took him all over the world. Now, in retirement, he continues to work hard on behalf of local charities, and as an Ambassador for Antigua, using his high profile to promote the island and the wider Caribbean.
The name Viv Richards is inextricably tied up with the glory years of West Indies (Windies) cricket. For over 20 years from the mid-1970s, a collection of small islands in the Caribbean dominated world cricket. They entertained a global audience with a brand of breath-takingly, powerful, and skilful cricket that has never been seen before or since.
If there was a beating heart to that team, it was Isaac Vivian ‘Viv’ Richards. Breaking into international cricket at the age of 22, he played in two World Cup winning sides, and scored over 36,000 first class runs with a thrilling and aggressive batting style. He evolved from star batsman to wise captain, leading the West Indies to twenty-seven Test match victories, and his phenomenal achievements were recognised by Wisden Cricketer’s Almanac, which named him as one of the five best cricketers of the 20th century.
A home-grown cricketer and Ambassador
Sir Vivian, who was knighted by Antigua and Barbuda in 1999, has his life story firmly rooted in his Antiguan upbringing. As a young boy, he followed in his cricket-playing father’s footsteps. Brought up in a cricket-mad culture, he was absorbed in the game early on:
“In the West Indies, it was pretty common for kids to be involved in sports at the time, because of the folks who had inspired us who would have played for the West Indies before.”
A softly spoken, humble personality, Sir Vivian speaks warmly of the environment in which he grew up. He attended one of Antigua’s best schools, the Antigua Grammar School, but it was cricket that was to give him an opportunity to travel the world, and to fulfil his ambitions, and since retirement, he has given his time and energy to promote the island. He has been an Ambassador for Antigua for a few years now, and even before he took up that position officially, he had been doing his bit to promote the island unofficially:
“Well before I was placed in that position in an official capacity, I’ve always done my best because of the privilege that I had, being in the position I am in, to try to portray my country as best as I can.”
Cricket: binding the islands of the Caribbean
His commitment to his country, and to the Caribbean family, is a consistent thread that runs through everything that Sir Vivian does. It is noticeable that when asked about the things of which he is most proud in his long and illustrious career, he focuses not on his many personal achievements, but on the fact that cricket brought the various nations of the Caribbean together and gave joy to the people of the region:
“We all have our differences within the Caribbean itself, but we were able to bring those forces together and accomplish the things that the Caribbean people would appreciate at the time. We adore cricket, worship cricket. So, to be in a position of winning the World Cup for our nation, not one time, but two times, that to me was an achievement in itself…”
Sir Vivian is in no doubt that the all-conquering West Indies side with which he was involved has played a major part in encouraging global interest in the Caribbean and in boosting tourism to the region over many decades. Along with his former team-mates, like fellow Antiguan legend, Curtley Ambrose, he continues to use his high profile to work for the prosperity and wellbeing of the region:
“…it is just wonderful to be in such a position where people can gravitate to you and you try to use… the profile that you have and that people see in you, to sell what we have in terms of the region. All 365 beaches, the magnificent people that you encounter in that part of the world, our wonderful cuisine, and people who are as friendly as you can get anywhere in the world, so that to me is a plus.”
Although West Indies cricket has failed to reach the heights that it attained during Sir Vivian’s career, he remains optimistic about the future of the sport in the region, he remarks that, as in many other spheres of life, great things can be achieved if people work together:
“Well I guess that in all walks of life, teams and businesses have their highs and lows. That happens in sports too and we are just in our low [at the moment]. I have never been a guy to say no. All things are possible and if we decide to put our heads and our resources together we can have what was achieved in the past.”
Antigua is where his heart lies
All of that, though, is for the future. In the present, Sir Vivian is working tirelessly, not just to promote Antigua to the world, but also at a local level. He helps with scholarships for children, and uses his profile to raise awareness and funds for many local charities; hosting functions to raise money for a breast cancer awareness organisation and fundraising for the repair and refurbishment of St John’s cathedral.
A simple and effective philosophy
That commitment, to contribute to the community that supported him, is underpinned by a philosophy of life that has served Sir Vivian well throughout his career:
“My wish is just to witness the world and travel the world and to have more respect for one another, regardless of what ever colour, creed or race you might be. Some of us sometimes look down, thinking, if you’re not that tall then you’re not one of us. I think that the thing that may help us, make us more sensible, about what can be achieved… is that we all believe that we are equal.”