Fans making their absence felt at the World Cup
By John Mehaffey
Guyana Chronicle
April 10, 2007

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ST JOHN'S, Antigua (Reuters) - Local fans, angered by high ticket prices and myriad restrictions, opted to stay away from the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium during the World Cup Super Eight in Antigua which concluded on Sunday.

Visiting supporters from England, Australia and New Zealand made the journey to the brand new stadium but expressed their disappointment at the absence of the special Caribbean atmosphere they had been promised.

Both groups have blamed the International Cricket Council (ICC) for setting inflated ticket prices and imposing unnecessary restrictions in the stadiums.

"The ICC should be sued," local resident Alexis Jacobs told Reuters. "They charge first-world prices in a third-world country. They stopped the carnival atmosphere. Cricket in the Caribbean should be fun in the sun."

Richards, himself, told reporters: "It's like holding us by the throat and asking us not to shout anymore."

Australia vice-captain Adam Gilchrist gave a player's perspective.

"You come to the Caribbean to experience that unique atmosphere that is Caribbean cricket," he told reporters. "There really is an element of the sterile feel about it."

Spectators at the stadium, never more than half-full until Sunday's match between Australia and England, could entertain themselves in quieter moments by reading the official programme.

"The Caribbean atmosphere is uniquely special, fuelled by a cacophony of noises from various musical instruments including drums, bugles, cymbals and triangles," said one article.

"Added to the sounds of calypso and reggae, it makes for an electrifying setting."

Electrifying was not the word which sprang first to mind in Antigua.

Mystified was a more appropriate term when ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed explained a policy which required anybody wishing to take a musical instrument into the ground to seek permission first from the local organising committee.

"There is a protocol," Speed told reporters in Georgetown, Guyana. "We want the Caribbean atmosphere to be here. You would find similar requirements at other tournaments such as the upcoming Masters golf championship."

Equating a cricket ground in the Caribbean with the decorum demanded at Augusta made little sense to West Indies' fans.

"The ICC didn't understand how we really do cricket here," Antigua Minister of Health John Maginley, chairman of the local organising committee, told the Antigua Sun.

"So for the first match played here between Australia and West Indies, it was the government who paid for Red Hott Flames, for Claudette, Sleepy and for Tizzy to perform."

Fans complained about the steep prices of tickets, a minimum of US$25, over-zealous security guards and the difficulty in getting food in the ground.

"With the 'million' restrictions placed in and around the tournament every Antiguan who would have wanted to make his or her presence felt at such a significant occasion would have stayed away in some sort of protest at the surgical precision with which the ICC had emasculated the Antiguan cricket fan," said an editorial in the Antigua Sun.

Speed told reporters at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Sunday that the ICC had shown its flexibility by encouraging fans to bring musical instruments into the remaining matches without prior written permission.

And he said the ticket prices had been determined by the tournament organisers and local organising committees.

Speed also said the World Cup was a global and not a domestic event.

"There needs to be a world sporting event flavour," he said. "We moved up a step from domestic bilateral cricket here, into the area of a major world sporting event."

The danger remains that the 2007 World Cup has become an event designed primarily for visitors and television audiences, who are fed pictures of coconut palms, blue skies and seas and selective crowd shots which hide the reality of half-empty stadiums.