March 20, 2007
By Lloyd Noel
Now that the ICC CWC2007 has in fact been opened and is ongoing as planned; and the Opening Ceremony on Sunday 11th March in Jamaica, could really be classified as the best ever, from the point of view of show-casing the history and culture of the Caribbean as a whole; and at the same time bringing together parts of the history and traditions of the other competing countries from around the world, it is, perhaps, the appropriate time to pose the above question.
And I say so, because with five weeks still to go before the final in Barbados on April 28, there is still ample time for the Local Organising Committees (LOCs), to more forcefully put forward another case to the ICC and WICB, to make some amends to the entry fees and prices of food and drinks at matches.
And just as significantly is the fact that it is not simply wild speculation on anyone’s part to say that the estimates and calculations about the World Cup bonanza were hopelessly over-exaggerated.
To begin with, it is already very clear that the estimated one hundred thousand visitors, expected in the region for the World Cup will not be realised.
And that realisation comes from the facts that, for the first round matches in which all sixteen teams are participating, the turn outs of the crowds at St Kitts – Nevis and St Lucia especially, have been very disappointing. In fact, had it not been for the governments in both those venue states who bought one thousand and three thousand tickets respectively, for distribution to school children and other young folks to attend the games, the stadium would have been near empty. And that state of affairs cannot be said to have been unexpected, by the powers-that-be who have set the prices and conditions for the games in the various states.
The nationals of the eight teams that are classified as underdogs, because of their cricketing standards and records thus far were obviously not very keen on buying tickets for their matches in the first round. Of course, should one or two of those teams get through to the Super Eight matches the picture may change overnight.
But as things stand to-date, that looks very unlikely and must have been likewise from the outset.
And, therefore, the very ambitious statements and expectations revealed by the organisers were clearly misleading, especially in the context of the prices for tickets and food and drinks inside the stadium.
As one or two persons in St Kitts – Nevis were saying to reporters, when questioned about the very low turn out in the match between Australia and Scotland last week Wednesday, in a small state where the average wage is about three hundred ECC per week, a family man may only be able to buy one ticket, or at most two, for the six matches in that state. So clearly the prices of tickets, and the restrictions on what can or cannot be taken into the stadium, have taken serious toll on crowd participation.
And while there is some genuine sympathy for the sentiments expressed by leaders of the underdog teams, that just being present and competing against the Australians and South Africans and such teams on the world stage that in itself is incentive and encouragement to foster and promote development of those teams.
In the context of the tremendous expenditures, undertaken by the smaller states to be CWC ready for their matches the sentiments expressed by cricketing great, Michael Holding, that the number of teams should be reduced considerably for the World Cup per se, by having the under-dogs compete among themselves, for example, and only allowing the top two teams to go forward to the big stage as it were, that would have made far more economic sense.
And while the propaganda tag of “Best World Cup ever” sounds good and exciting, that in itself carries no other or further advertisement, for the future marketing of the individual venue states, since each states must provide its own facilities and go all out to promote its attraction.
Except for our own minister for finance here in Grenada, every other venue state which had to spend millions of US dollars to upgrade existing stadiums or build new ones, they have been very clear on the issue, that the only gains for their people from the World Cup can only come from the long-term benefits through tourism.
Our finance minister has actually given figures, when questioned in Parliament I think it was.
He said that the expenditure by government for the world was twelve million US dollars, and it is expected that the gate receipts which will come back to government, will amount to US$18 million, so we can expect a profit of US$6 million dollars, or words to that effect.
That statement was, of course, utter nonsense and bears no relationship to reality.
Our economic situation is no better than St Kitts or St Lucia, and in fact many times worse because the average wage among those who are employed, is way below the $300 per week the gentleman disclosed in the interview mentioned above.
And the meagre wages of thousands of those employed, added to the many thousands unemployed, and the relative few who get occasional employment must mean that the great majority of households cannot afford even one game, of the six that are scheduled for Grenada.
And those who can afford more than one are few and far between, and for all six games the numbers will be insignificant. And as for the hassle that goes with getting to the stadium, in addition to the restrictions on what one is allowed to take inside as refreshment, that has dampened the zeal of a great many enthusiasts who will be resorting to the comfort of their TV screens, in groups where the viewing and exchanges, and unlimited refreshments at reasonable prices will be readily available.
Added to the above is the reality that support facilities, like roads and bridges and the airport for example, are still a long way from completion and in a state of readiness to accommodate visitors.
The weather permitting, and with substantial overtime working, those area could be ready in time, but at the additional costs for labour, and taking the preparations right down to the wire.
True enough, some businesses will make some additional dollars that they would not have made without CWC 2007.
But as things now stand, the prospect does not look as rosy as the promoters were sounding off and in very many cases, a lot worse than can reasonably be expected, for the expenditure and sacrifices invested.
It is against the foregoing background that I am of the opinion that some changes should be made, in the areas discussed above, to make the occasions more affordable and attractive enough to entice some more fans to the games, so that the crowds could be present to add to the atmosphere.
There are lots of daily negatives cropping up all over the place, that are sending the wrong messages worldwide, and TV viewers seeing half empty stadiums in their homes around the world, could easily get the impressions that the situations are worse than they are in the region.
And therefore easing up on the prices for tickets and that for refreshments inside the stadium, and or reducing the restrictions on what can be taken inside, may very well allow more people to attend matches, and thereby help to create the kind of West Indian cricketing setting, that we have become famous for in these Islands.
Some persons were over-ambitious, in the build-up and acceptance of the prestigious opportunity to host CWC 2007, and there is still time to try and make some amends to help save the day.
When I started writing this column last week Friday, the statement made above, that if one or two of the so-called under-dogs got through to the Super Eight matches, the picture could change overnight; but that was very unlikely.
That statement was laid to rest by last Saturday night when Bangladesh beat India, and Ireland put paid to Pakistan’s chances of advancing any further.
The unexpected and sudden death of Pakistan’s coach, Bob Woolmer of England, was an even greater and sad shocker, may his soul rest in peace among the cricketing greats.
Whether that unlikely happening will bring out many more Irishmen/women to the Super Eight matches only time will tell. But I very much doubt, that will make the significant difference needed, to change the crowd scenes and atmosphere at the various grounds.
Whatever decisions are made, or not made, based on what the organisers have seen at the grounds and during the matches thus far, it seems very clear to me, that some action is needed to help offset the economic imbalance that is bound to result, if things are left as they have been for those first round matches.
Because in that case, the financial bonanza many have been predicting or expecting will remain a dream.