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World Cup lesson

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With the demise of Caribbean hopes for lifting the Cricket World Cup in triumph for the first time since the year of the last volcanic eruption of Mt. Soufriere (1979), little is left for Caribbean people in the tournament but to see what economic benefits we can salvage and to frankly enjoy the rest of the cricket, hoping that Sri Lanka or even Bangladesh can bring glory to people of colour.

The Caribbean’s showpiece has turned out to be a hotbed of controversy. The region has spent collectively an estimated sum of about US $750 million on hosting the tournament. Even little SVG with its warm-up, twelve-a-side games churned out a $30-$40 million to prepare for the anticipated “thousands” of visitors.{{more}} But robotic ICC control and idiotic regulations have ruined the hopes of so many in the region. We all know the score by now, are all familiar with the complaints whether it is the failure to turn up (at hotels and our magnificent, costly stadia) or the deculturisation of our cricket. ICC rules and the infamous “Sunset Legislation” threatened to turn out lively cricket atmosphere into a sobre “Royal Ballet-like environment.

It is as if they never wanted it to be “Our Cup”. It was always “the visitors,” the ICC, the CWC, the LOCs. In the process OUR taxpayers had to foot the bill but it was not the small entrepreneurs for whom they were catering, but the big interests. Even the ticket prices never had US in mind. To make matters worse, the LIAT/Caribbean Star monopoly has made it financially difficult for fans to travel from one island to another, by almost doubling fares. With hotel prices already high in the region, we were courting disaster.

So the Caribbean people reacted. They simply refused to go to cricket, made easier by the non-performance of the West Indies team. Soon, the whole scenario took on crisis proportions. Small islands like St. Kitts, Antigua and St. Lucia took a financial beating with little returns for massive investments. There were often more spectators from Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand than local ones. The Caribbean party was in danger of becoming a wake.

Barbados, host of the Final and some Super 8 matches smelt the rat. A concerted campaign by fans, former players, media and government officials forced the ICC/CWC to make concessions. Prices were slashed, massive ads, in the media and even by way of loudspeakers mounted on vehicles travelling all over the islands, promoted the reclamation of Caribbean cricket- “Bring yo’ food, yo’ music, mek some noise … “It may well work for Barbados and save its own massive investments. But what of those countries which abided with the original restrictions? Who will compensate them now for losses?

There are lessons to be learnt from the sad experience. The major one concerns our ability to NEGOTIATE on our own behalf. Just recall. Antiguan P.M. Baldwin Spencer now expresses remorse over the “Sunset Legislations” passed by nine Parliaments. Another of his ministers admits that the capacity of the new Sir Vivian Richards stadium was influenced by ICC promises that it would be filled by thousands of visitors. Government ministries in other countries including Barbados are casting blame here, there and everywhere. CWC and LOC officials too are pointing fingers.

But how did we get this? Were our negotiations blind, deaf, dumb and not aware? Or were we so all caught up in the promises of big bucks and glory that we couldn’t see the gaping potholes in the road? All that glitters is not gold, fuh true.

The bitter lesson is that we simply cannot abdicate our responsibility and sign away our birthright, trusting negotiators to deliver for us. The World Cup has taught us this lesson; we must now apply it in other critical areas including trade negotiations. If we are not vigilant, the EU and WTO will do to us what the ICC and CWC were doing to the 2007 Cricket World Cup. We will bear the burden but not reap the benefits. That is why those to whom we have entrusted power – our Parliament above all but also our Prime Minister, our Minister of Trade cannot just leave our vital interests like bananas up to a handful of negotiators. There must be a constant process of communication, information and consultation to ensure that we all can be kept abreast and participate. If it can happen to cricket, it can happen to bananas, to trade. It is up to us to ensure that it does not occur.

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