With the conclusion of the smoothly-run 2003 World Cup in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, cricket administrators in this region can now sharpen their focus on the challenge of staging the 2007 instalment in the West Indies. It will be a monumental task and undoubtedly the severest test of the ability of the cricket administrators, governments and people of the region to host an event of such global magnitude.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and the Managing Director of Windies World Cup 2007 Inc, Chris Dehring, are the key players as far as the region is concerned and much more will be heard from them as plans evolve.
For Guyana’s part, it is inconceivable that the World Cup could be brought to the West Indies without matches being staged in the land of Kanhai, Lloyd, Kallicharran, Gibbs, Fredericks, Croft, Hooper, Chanderpaul, Sarwan et al. Guyanese here and abroad would simply not be able to comprehend this possibility. But there should be no mistake about it. There is a risk that matches might not be staged here unless we – all of us, not only the government and the Guyana Cricket Board - spring out of the inertia that cocoons us until it is usually too late to act.
There are at least three reasons why Guyana could be left out of the package. First, there is a mistaken assumption in the region that the 2007 World Cup is the property of the West Indies and for the WICB to do with as it pleases. It is not. The 2007 World Cup is essentially run by the International Cricket Council (ICC) in conjunction this time with Global Cricket Corporation, an affiliate of Newscorp. The WICB is merely hosting the event. Therefore, Guyana is unlikely to benefit from any sentimental considerations of its cricketing legend, the immaculate beauty of the Bourda sward or the near fanatical attachment of its citizens to cricket. Purely hard-nosed determinations will be made by the venue analysers who will scour the region in the upcoming months. Guyana therefore has to ensure that its facilities are better or at least on par with the top contenders.
Second, the World Cup Master Plan has been completed and the WICB has outlined as a pillar of its planning – as Dehring put it during an address last year in Barbados – “to maintain the distinctive element of competition between the potential venues in the Caribbean. And in that regard, all grounds are equal”. In other words, though they are automatically Test playing venues and are the hallowed grounds for cricket in the region, Bourda, Sabina Park, Kensington Oval and Queen’s Park will start the race for world cup matches on an equal footing with Grenada, Antigua, St Vincent and others who in recent years have invested in impressive stadia and other cricketing facilities.
Third, the ICC and Global Cricket Corp, are clearly of the mind to expand the reach of cricket in the region if only to make the tournament more lucrative. This means that affluent centres with large concentrations of cricket fans like Florida are likely to figure into the calculations on where matches should be staged. Bermuda and the Cayman Islands are two other Caribbean venues with good prospects. This means even tougher competition for Guyana.
There is nothing wrong with giving all the constituents of West Indies cricket an even chance of staging matches neither is it undesirable to strike out in the direction of Florida and the Bahamas. The future of cricket lies in popularising the sport in all parts of the world and the one-day version could be a great introduction to America considering that audiences there are unlikely to be captivated by the longer version of the game.
So this is the dilemma for Guyana: questionable facilities and lots of competition.
We need to hear loudly and clearly from the Government, the Ministry of Sport and the Guyana Cricket Board on what their intentions are for securing 2007 matches and how the rest of the country and its émigré community can contribute.
The logical starting point for local authorities is to clarify the requirements for hosting a world cup match in 2007. This we have not heard clearly from the WICB and Windies World Cup 2007. It is in this imprecision and fuzziness that insularity can creep in and deals made in favour of, or against certain countries and we should be on the lookout for this. Now that the master plan is complete we should seek a very clear statement from the West Indies cricket authorities or the ICC on what is required to successfully host matches based on the guidelines used for the 1999 and the recent 2003 world cups. Is it a ground with seating capacity of 20,000? A ground of a certain size? An excellently drained arena? Night cricket facilities? An exclusion zone around the ground? Hotel accommodation for 15,000? Adequate ground and air transportation? A volunteer force of 10,000? A safe environment?
There must be some combination of absolute requirements that can be presented to each country in the West Indian fold so that decisions could be made. Of course, unilateral moves to boost facilities could be taken and some countries have a built-in advantage and have already leapt out of the starting blocks. Barbados’ Kensington Oval is set for massive restructuring for 2007 and the government in Bridgetown has announced plans for the acquisition of property around the ground for the expansion of facilities, the tearing down of stands and building of new ones, improved parking and practice pitches etc.
We are not as well-financed as Barbados or as experienced as a tourist zone so we have a lot of catching up to do. It makes no sense, however, to go full speed ahead on this project without getting a clear sense of what is required and the WICB should be prevailed upon to make it crystal clear what the venue analysers will be looking for.
Once that is done, all of Guyana will be tuned in to what the government and the cricket board plan to do. The best bet remains Bourda but for this to happen there will have to be an expansion of its reach to the east and the utilisation of space all around it. Of course, a lot of preparatory work could have been done by the government and cricketing authorities over the last few years but there is little evidence of this to date. If Bourda is not deemed feasible then obviously a new facility would have to be constructed. If so, we are well behind the other competitors and given the sloth with which things move in officialdom we don’t have much time. We need a Guyana World Cup Cricket 2007 Inc. comprising talent from across the board to get this project going and to ensure that Guyana takes its place of pride among the hosts for this event.