Islands Rush To Welcome The World

The Daily Telegraph
February 28, 2007

The race to put the finishing touches to the most complex cricket tournament ever staged is in full flow across the Caribbean.With just under two weeks before the tournament commences, there is an optimism in Government, and a fervour from the people of the islands, that this will be the greatest cricket World Cup ever staged. Certainly, it has taken a sporting event of this magnitude, and the common thread of West Indies cricket, to overcome traditional inter-island rivalries in commerce, tourism and development.

Politically within Caricom – the Caribbean community grouping in commerce, law and society – there is the belief that the legacy will be long-lasting and profitable. The reality may be that the wealth of legacies will differ from island to island.

Without doubt, this is the most logistically challenging – and expensive – cricket World Cup. Sixty-seven matches will be played over 54 days, at 12 venues, in nine countries: Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Antigua, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and St Kitts & Nevis.More than 150,000 spectators are expected to island-hop from March 13 to the final on April 28.

Mia Motley, the deputy Prime Minister of Barbados, told The Daily Telegraph that the work involved in the organisation and planning of the World Cup had transformed the Caribbean’s political demography. “Nine countries, nine governments, nine security systems, transport, tourism, legacy. We have undertaken to work tirelessly, inter-government, to make this a success, and a safe haven for visitors. Many of the countries taking part are involved in the global war on terror. The Caribbean has been a zone of peace, and when we won the bid, there was no Iraq, no Afghanistan.”
Ten days ago, the newly-rebuilt Kensington Oval was opened with a Twenty20 match involving a West Indies legends XI led by Sir Vivian Richards. The ground, with a new 27,000 capacity, which is almost double its predecessor, and costing £35 million to redevelop, looked resplendent, yet it was not complete. It is the venue for the World Cup final. Two weeks ago, two stands still required roofing and sides. The Barbados Tourism Authority estimates that more than 40,000 visitors will come to the island for each of the eight main matches to be staged at the Oval.

However, the most pressing problem has been “island time”, an expression often used to explain the propensity to leave things until the last minute. While organisers of the World Cup have continued to play down fears over the completion of stadiums, and rumours of astronomically inflated hotel prices, the reality is that Trinidad’s famous Queen’s Park Oval is still not finished, practice pitches in Jamaica have yet to be completed, while a hotel in Guyana that is due to host many VIPs is also still being built.

In Jamaica, Kingston’s mayor, Desmond McKenzie, has labelled his city “a national disgrace” and is irked that only one third of anticipated face-lift projects were likely to be completed on time. Work is still going on at Sabina Park stadium, and while Kingston itself was earmarked as the main beneficiary of government spending last year for an island-wide beautification programme, the city’s main park remains a haunt for the homeless and drug-addicted.

Robert Bryan, executive director of Jamaica Cricket 2007 Ltd, the national organising body, insists that the essentials, such as a restructured Sabina Park, will be ready and fully functional, but believes that the requirements of the World Cup have “brought out our deficiencies as a city and a country”.

Nonetheless, the people – and the cricketers – remain optimistic. Jimmy Adams, who led the West Indies team in 15 of his 54 Test matches, is fiercely proud of his Jamaican heritage. He is convinced that the facilities for cricket – and the people – are what will set the tournament apart. “People often forget the diversity of the islands in the Caribbean,” he said. “We are as different as the Welsh, Scots, Irish and English are.

“Not that many people will appreciate what we have had to deal with to host the World Cup, with different sovereign governments, and the things which have had to be put into law and changed specifically for this tournament, and I will say this – watching cricket in the Caribbean is like nothing else in the world. Even with the restrictions the ICC have put on spectators, everybody who comes to the World Cup, especially those who have never been here before, will see it is the people who make it a special place.”

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