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Let the World Cup show begin

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The English speaking Caribbean is hosting its biggest event ever. The real thing starts officially on March 11 but already all eyes are focused on the Caribbean as the warm up games serve as a build up to the big ones. While the cricket fanatics and lovers of the game wait with glorious expectation, perhaps for a West Indies win but generally to see the best cricketers on offer around the world, there are those whose eyes are focused beyond the boundary. The talk in those circles is more about the expected 100, 000 visitors to the region than about the state of play. Many expect a killing while some are sceptical about the returns on the huge investments and the ability to recover money spent even in the long term.{{more}} I have read somewhere that some US$2.5 billion have been spent on rebuilding and refurbishing stadiums. I don’t know if this includes costs for those structures that were given as grants and also of the new stadium in Dominica, even though no games will be held there. This is indeed a huge sum for small Caribbean countries struggling to stay alive. We have gone out to try to capitalise on this once in a life time opportunity. So there is this huge investment on which we expect returns. But there is a lot more at stake, too, especially among those who doubted the ability of the region to host something of this magnitude. Our hosting of this World Cup will be a statement to the rest of the world and to ourselves. Hopefully it will give us the confidence, courage, incentive and even expertise to take on other major events and challenges

Our country has had its fair share of challenges. Warm up games are the most we could really have expected given the limitations where logistics are concerned. Even then, the weather did not make it easy for us as the rains not only delayed progress with the construction but the river running in the vicinity of the Playing Field threatened on more than one occasion to dismantle one of the structures created. Then when all appeared to be ready for the count down a small private aircraft barely evaded the Playing Field. We are fortunate to have the English and Australians here for these games but with the exception of the Australia-England match there is little that is likely to attract any but enthusiasts. But here lies one of the problems that Caribbean people are facing. Cricket is more than a game in the region. We go to the games for more than cricket but the whole set up in place now is more inhibiting than inviting. One understands the concerns about terrorism especially after 2001 but it is my view that they have gone totally overboard. We are all familiar with the many persons who attend cricket matches but could hardly tell you the score or give you a description of what they saw, for cricket is a cultural event that for many is played beyond the boundary. It is a fete. Caribbean cricket has its own flavour, a flavour that reflects Caribbean life. Some of this appears to have been taken away. I am not sure that concerns about terrorism can explain this.

Surely the say is not that of the organisers of West Indian cricket. This is an ICC event but to what extent have we tried to prevent the baby being thrown out with the bath water I am not sure. But this follows its own logic because the emphasis is really on the number of visitors that can be attracted to our shores. So cricket is the magnet not the real thing for some of those who have been selected to head the organisation of the games. Had the West Indian team being playing here many more would have withstood the inconveniences and the limitations placed on them. Many will perhaps go to the England -Australian game to capture some of the flavour and be part of history, even though this is not the real thing.

Really there are two games being played here, one on the field and one outside as we try to sell ourselves to the world. I don’t know how many visitors we are able to attract, that is outside the Security personnel and officials. The World Cup is a protracted event lasting over 57 days if you count the warm up games. I am not sure how many camp followers are going to be able to allocate the time and money to also take in the warm up games especially in a situation where they will have to move on to the country where their team will eventually play, first the early games and hopefully the Super Eights and ultimately on to the finals. This might not be a major concern for us anyhow given our limitations of hotel rooms and our modest expectations. Our challenge is to provide attraction to those who visit and even to entice them to come back under more normal circumstances.

A lot of the contracts for services have been given to persons and companies from outside the region and to some extent this is understandable. Our expectations appear to be focused in the area of tourism, in attracting visitors to the games and beyond the games. In most cases the physical infrastructure that we have erected will be there beyond the games. Will these become white elephants or have we begun to focus on what possibilities exist for their continued usage? With almost all Caribbean countries having upgraded their facilities (and this includes Dominica which now has a brand new stadium courtesy the Chinese) we can not all expect to get one day games or test matches every year. The competition is indeed quite strong. Will these sparkling facilities impact on the development not only of cricket but of other kinds of sports? Can we attract international teams during the winter period to use our facilities? Are there other uses we can make of them?

Countries such as Barbados, St.Lucia and Jamaica have well-developed tourism structures that will allow them in the long run to recover some of the costs involved in preparing themselves and acting as World Cup hosts. St.Vincent and the Grenadines is yet not in that class where well developed tourism infrastructure and services are in place. We are not as well known globally as some of our neighbours so we can hope that at least the coverage given to 2007 World Cup will be to our benefit. There are some positives for the region as a whole. What stands out clearly is the spirit of cooperation as manifested with the whole issue of ‘domestic space’ and ‘Caricom Visas’ although there has been a lot of criticism surrounding the introduction of the visas. The travel arrangements that have been put in place point to certain possibilities if we care to look at them. Unfortunately, we are likely to go back to square one when the World Cup makes itself history. Really we seem to respond more readily to outside stimuli than to regional dynamics. However, let the Show begin and let us demonstrate to the World what we are capable of doing even though in making this demonstration we would have concealed much of what is West Indian and some of our natural appeal.

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