Putting the Caribbean back in CWC 2007
By Patrick van Beek
April 1, 2007
'It felt like an airport today at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.' So begins Paresh Soni's on his BBC blog "No Caribbean in CWC". Thanks to RSS news feeds I have been kept up to date on Cricket World Cup (CWC) developments courtesy of the BBC's website. However, I had overlooked the 'Test Match Special - the blog from the boundary' until recently due to the name, thinking it was not relevant - after all, the format of the CWC is one day cricket. I had missed out on a treat - not being a subscriber to Kaieteur News I was completely unaware of the furore Martin Gough's blog in the same series 'Welcome to Guyana' had caused. After seeing the follow up, which drew my attention to the original item, I have to say though it contained some inaccuracies, I cannot see how it can possibly be called insulting to journalism. In the first place the format is a blog, which Princeton's University WordNet defines as "a shared on-line journal where people can post diary entries about their personal experiences and hobbies". Second, just because a writer does not have anything good to report does not necessarily mean that they are descending to 'gutter journalism.'
One thing that is immediately apparent from the Kaieteur News' reaction is that there are many Guyanese who are extremely sensitive about Guyana's hosting of the World Cup. This is probably a reflection on the massive amount of investment and resources which have been poured into the stadium by the Government of Guyana - as infrastructure projects here go this is one of the largest. As much of the financing was borrowed the Guyanese taxpayer will be repaying for many years to come. There is thus a tremendous amount riding on not only the successful hosting of the World Cup Super 8 matches, but the raising of Guyana's profile as a tourist destination and place to do business, though as I indicated last week I will deal with the economic impact after the event is over.
My focus this week will be in relation to a theme which is consistently being played out in the media: empty seats at stadiums. I am really questioning whether an exercise in maximising short-term profit is good for the game of cricket. I do not think the empty seats are good for the game of cricket. What amazed me about Paresh Soni's blog were the 132 comments posted in response. There were only a handful of positive comments in the entire list.
The recurring themes were the high ticket prices, the restrictions on what can be brought into the ground. Expensive flights and accommodation were also cited. The performance of the West Indies featured fairly predominantly, though having attended several near sell-out ODI's and tests since I moved to the Caribbean around four and a half years ago (admittedly at smaller stadiums) I feel if CWC was made more accessible to the locals there would be no shortage of spectators. One post went as far to say "Watching the aussies play windes in front of a empty stadium was very depressing and no better than watching 2 english counties playing infront of 2 men and a dog" (sic).
The great shame in this is that even if the Local Organisation Committee comes up with innovative ideas to boost attendance it is largely out of their hands as they must defer to the policies implemented by the International Cricket Council (ICC). Admittedly they have lined up school children for later games, though I gather only 1000 will attend each game - still a small proportion of the empty seats at the first two games.
First impressions of a CWC 2007 game
I have to admit I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Providence stadium for my first trip to a CWC game. Parking was well organised and we were ushered into the stadium with a minimum of fuss. However a couple of incidents seem reflective of the whole attitude of the ICC towards the game. I was taking a picture of my wife holding the railing at the top of our stand overlooking the sugar cane fields. A police officer informed us that we could not touch the railing.I was wondering whether perhaps the paint was not yet dry or whether the bolts used to fix the railings may sheer and send us plummeting to the concrete below. The organisers need not worry, neither of these scenarios was the case - before we left I had a chance to grasp the railing and can I confirm that the paint is dry and it is solidly fixed to the surroundings.
A little later in the day during the lunch interval we were liming with a colleague who we had not seen for some time, again in the area behind the seating (being careful not to touch the railing). Another official informed us that we could not stand there as there were too many people! I counted about 20, on an area at least 10 feet wide stretching the entire length of the stand. If the match was in progress I could perhaps understand officials not wanting to people to be standing, but during the interval?
Restricted items - protecting
Several items which are on the ICC list of restricted and prohibited items could be found behind the stands of concessionaires - glass bottles, PET bottles and alcohol amongst offer things. A reported G$500,000 (US$2500) had to be paid by concessionaires for their stalls and the grossly inflated prices reflect the need to provide a return on this investment. Banks Beer is selling at twice its price outside the stadium, though I was glad a local beer was on sale! Fortunately food is not on the restricted list so I was able to bring in my own supplies and I did not need to visit the food stands.
I would gladly have investigated them, but for the reports that prices were inflated. I think that ICC missed out on the main point of having concession stands which is convenience. People will still buy beer even if they bring their own rum!
A similar argument can be made for not allowing spectators to return after leaving the stadium, it stops people going outside and purchasing food and drinks from non-ICC vendors. I gather that water can now be brought into the stadium - but if it is in a plastic bottle the lid has to be removed.
Why does even a simple concession to what people are asking for have to be made difficult?
I really missed my little horn which I bought at my first live match - it has been attending cricket matches with me since, I really enjoy making a noise when runs are scored - and I really wanted to bring it to the game today. However, I must have written permission from the LOC to bring it in. The LOC number was busy the first five times I called it - on the sixth it rang out and nobody answered. Looks like I will be going without again.
As you read this I will either be on my way or at the West Indies/Sri Lanka match at Providence which promises to me a near sell-out. It is not too late for the ICC to relax some of the restrictions to make the game more accessible to locals - relax ticket prices at the gate if there are empty seats; allow more items in and provide a fast track for musical instruments at the gate.
At the end of the day it is the sight of people enjoying cricket which will encourage more people to become involved in the game.