World Cup fiasco
-- Crucial questions for governments and WICB
By Rickey Singh
April 8, 2007
AS THE West Indies cricket team struggle, against all odds, to secure a place in the semi-finals for Cricket World Cup 07, the most hurtful question remains: Who are responsible for causing us more depression, more pain, more shame for this biggest, historic event we have ever hosted -- our team, the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) or the host governments for the tournament?
The pathetic scenarios we have been left to view extend to the repeated humiliating crumbling of the West Indies -- amid blame-shifting between WI selectors and team and the scorching rebukes of retired regional stars of the game.
Additionally, there are the examples of representatives of governments, the WICB and its subsidiary, CWC West Indies Inc., scrambling for cover over much of what have already gone so badly wrong.
From Jamaica in the northern subregion, to Guyana on the South American mainland, in Barbados (venue for the final on April 28) as well as other Eastern Caribbean host countries, the similarities in complaints cannot be escaped.
The CWC CEO Chris Dehring, therefore, felt compelled to disclose last week that the University of the West Indies would be commissioned to assess the region's economic performance in hosting the World Cup.
In the absence of any specific mandate, personnel and timeframe, this looks more like an attempt at damage control than anything else.
For their part, CARICOM cabinet ministers and even a few Heads of Government have been openly pouring blame on the ICC and WICB, when the reality suggests that, ultimately, the region's governments cannot honestly escape their own failures to show sufficient interest and competence in the long period of negotiations that had followed our successful bid in 1998 to host World Cup '07.
For example, when the governments were alerted to the circumstances that forced the Barbadian business executive and former cricketer, Rawle Brancker, to resign in September, 2005 as chairman of the Board of CWC West Indies Inc, and his subsequent suggestion for an independent "due diligence and forensic audit" to determine transparency in management negotiations in the best interest of the host countries, they were to react with a surprising hands-off attitude.
Two Prime Ministers were to engage in a semantic exercise about governments' interference in the internal management of a private entity like the WICB.
Did they and their counterparts considered that there is also a moral argument -- if blocked by the wall of legalism -- to intervene in the best interest of West Indies cricket and, in this particular instance, World Cup 07?
Now that cries of dissatisfaction are erupting all around from the primary stakeholder of West Indies cricket -- the people, in whose name at least US$500 million has been invested for CWC 07 -- government ministers who were themselves deeply involved in planning arrangements, would like us to think that they were “misled”, as they come to face the harsh realities of mistakes made.
Who "misled" them? When was this "discovery" of expediency made, having for so long sat with the WICB's representatives and their principal negotiator, Chris Dehring in compliance with demands of the ICC that had the effect of seemingly treating the ICC as a sort of supra-government as they surrendered the region's sovereignty in preserving cherished cultural traditions?
The consequences include the exorbitant, unrealistic fees for tickets, ranging from US$25 for a single game, and climbing to US$100 and more; as well as the suffocating security arrangements that have choked the joys out of crowd attendance and participation; as well as the losses being counted by hotel and tour operators.
Not only were restrictions placed on musical instruments and banners but on freedom to eat and drink to make a mockery of a traditional cricket carnival culture.
What cannot be rationalised in any context of "the glorious uncertainties" of cricket, is the extent to which the WICB/CWC West Indies Inc managed to have things going their way --much to the happiness of the ICC that has been staging the World Cup since 1975 and has refined the art of manipulation/control for this, its highly profitable "trophy".
The WICB, currently headed by Trinidad and Tobago's Ken Gordon, had, strangely, appointed its very influential CEO, Dehring, two years before the CWC West Indies Inc Board became functional in 2003, and has a lot to explain for much of what have gone wrong in this World Cup. At that time, the WICB President was Barbados' Teddy Griffith.
Dehring was to emerge as the most popular face at meetings of CARICOM ministers responsible for sectors like tourism, legal affairs and security for CWC 07 as well as briefings provided directly to Heads of Government at regional conferences on preparations for this year's historic event.
The so-called "Sunset" legislation that ALL host governments had to enact as a conditionality to be a venue for allotted fixtures, that had its origin with the ICC, was drafted with full collaboration between CARICOM Attorneys General and the CWC's Board.
The legislation dealt with, among a range of issues, including stadia-readiness, security, marketing brands, sale and distribution of tickets, visas and accommodation arrangements.
So why these simulated anger by government officials about being "misled"? It may be tempting, in the present circumstances, for parliamentary opposition parties to now seek to exploit the fiasco being experienced for the World Cup.
They, however, also need to first remind themselves of their own failures to do their homework before unanimously endorsing, with some expedient reservations, the "Sunset" legislation that include provisions that have resulted in harsh negative impact across the hosting countries.
Passage of the “sunset legislation” was itself preceded by a surprising level of uncritical acceptance by government ministers and advisers of the reporting from the CWC West Indies Inc, dating back to a briefing of tourism ministers in New York in June 2003, by its CEO, Dehring.
The presentation had included projections on expected overseas visitors -- at least 100,000 -- television viewers of approximately 1.7 billion and sale of one million tickets for nine venues with the overseas package involving accommodation, airline travel and entrance at venues for the matches. We now know something of assurances and expectations that could not, for varying reasons, be realised.
The thousands of no-show visitors for the tournament; shocking absence of CARICOM nationals that have resulted in even more thousands of empty seats at the various new and refurbished stadia (matches in Guyana being an outstanding exception); and the chorus of vendors' lamentation of "people not buying", could lead to a long paper chase to unearth the truth.
There is also the required explanation for what went wrong with the promised 1.7 billion television viewers for Jamaica's showcasing of the grand "West Indian High Energy" cultural event at Trelawany on March 11 to formally launch the World Cup. Jamaica, as things turned out, had to bear, unexpectedly, at least half of the estimated US$2 million.
It would be good to learn what efforts were made to embrace successes or avoid problems experienced by South Africa in its hosting of World Cup 2003 -- in contrast to our own current bitter experience in, for example, accessing tickets.
South Africa had early determined that admission to the games for CWC 2003 would be based on its own "social and economic realities". It was a position with which the ICC had to concur.
Consequently, it was possible for South Africans, who had been guaranteed approximately 40 per cent of ticket sales, to make purchases for multiple matches at various venues. For instance, US$13 for two games; US$90-US$100 for five games and US$65-US$135 for six games.
Chris Dehring told the media in Guyana last week that they (ICC/CWC) had nothing to do with pricing tickets for the tournament. This was to be quickly rejected by LOCs in Guyana and Barbados. They have argued that from the beginning, fixing prices and marketing of tickets have been a collaborative effort.
Now questions are also being raised about the revenue-sharing aspect for CWC 07, with Jamaica's Finance Minister, Omar Davies, more than hinting that a legal course may have to be pursued should unsatisfactory conditions be discovered, contrary to prior arrangements.
The reality, as Davies should soon learn to his own disappointment, is that the ICC's interest would have been well protected in the agreements entered into for Cricket World Cup 07 to be hosted in our neck of the woods.
Such, then, are some of the troubling scenarios as we move, with our disappointments and hopes, to the climax of World Cup 2007 at Kensington Oval on April 28.