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No International airport!

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by Nelson A. King
in New York

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Minister of Sports Mike Browne has confirmed that the country has failed in its bid to stage matches in the 2007 Cricket World Cup because of the absence of an international airport. {{more}}
Browne told Searchlight in an exclusive telephone interview that the country submitted “a very good bid”, but was turned down because it would not be able to provide hassle-free air accommodation.
“One of the most critical elements has to do with the absence of an international airport,” said Browne, who is also Minister of Education. “Some people say that the issue of hotel accommodation was a big one, but that’s not the main reason. The absence of an international airport is a major handicap for us.”
The Sports Minister said the St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ 2007 World Cup Committee worked “very hard” in ensuring that “a top of the line” bid was presented; and that, despite the airport issue, there was understandable disappointment that the country was not selected.
He said that the government’s objective now is to continue to upgrade the picturesque Arnos Vale playing field, considered the most beautiful in the Caribbean, if not the world, and to implement the necessary infrastructure to boost the nation’s economy.
He said that Cabinet had approved $18 million for development of the complex, which included construction of new stadia and resurfacing of the outfield, in preparation of the World Cup, and that the figure will now be scaled back to $12 million.
“We have a philosophy of sports taking a central position in our country,” Browne said. “We’re committed to the upgrading of the Arnos Vale Playing Field. We cannot now be left behind, left out in the cold.”
He also said that government has already begun upgrading the existing E.T. Joshua Airport, adjacent to the playing field, to the tune of EC$34 million, and that work will begin early next year on construction of a jetport on the Grenadine island of Canouan.
In addition, he said that the incumbent Unity Labour Party (ULP) administration of Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, only three years in office, will honour a campaign pledge in constructing an international airport.
Browne confirmed that the international airport will be located at Argyle, rather than at Kitchen, along the eastern coast, to the tune of US$150 million. An international airport at Kitchen would have cost twice that amount, he said.
“We’ve taken a decision that Kitchen is no longer feasible in terms of cost,” he said. “By and large, we’re still pressing ahead with the international airport. We’re hoping to have it before the end of the next term (in office).”
[Elections are constitutionally due in St. Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2006.]
Though Browne pointed out that hotel accommodation was not a major consideration in the rejection of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ World Cup bid, the matter has also been very troubling to nationals, taking centre-stage in national debates.
Michael Findlay, chairman of the 2007 World Cup Committee, and Lennox John, president of the Windward Islands and St. Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Boards, said in separate interviews that in addition to an international airport, hotel accommodation played a significant role in the rejection of the country’s bid.
“We knew before we submitted [our bid] that we’ll be struggling,” said Findlay a former West Indies wicketkeeper and chairman of the selectors. “We had put in place proposals to compensate [for lack of hotel space].”
“Under the normal process, it had a lot to do with airport and hotel,” John said, adding: “It’s very disappointing, but I understand it. The process was quite transparent.”
Findlay said that government’s plans for construction of a new five-star hotel at Mt. Wynne and other hotels at Buccament, along the leeward coast, were included in the “bid stream”.
The use of cruise lines as “floating hotels” was also considered, he added, noting that contractual arrangements were being made with an unidentified company in Miami.
He said that these would have complemented Sunset Shores Hotel and Roy’s Inn, formerly Camelot Inn, in accommodating fans, players and members of the management teams in Super Eight matches.
He said that St. Vincent and the Grenadines had hoped to be awarded these matches, which meant that only two teams would be in the country at any one time.
Rather, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which has staged since the late ’70s over a dozen one-day international matches and a lone Test match at Arnos Vale, was flatly rejected, along with Broward County in Florida, Trelawny in Jamaica, and Bermuda. Bermuda has, however, been promised warm-up matches.
Still, Findlay and John said there is reason to keep hope alive since the country may be awarded warm-up matches.
That decision will be made in October when two or three associate members of the International Cricket Council (ICC) qualify for the World Cup.
“We’re just waiting,” Findlay said, still expressing disappointment that his native land was not selected among eight Caribbean countries. “Everybody was disappointed, but we knew that we submitted a good bid.
“We saw St. Kitts as our closet rival,” he added. “What St. Kitts had over us was hotel capacity and an international airport.”
For a small island, Findlay said, St. Kitts – only 69 square miles, and its sister island, Nevis, 36 square miles – perhaps, has the most hotel rooms in the Caribbean.
Actually, the twin-island federation, which has never staged an international cricket match, shares an estimated 3,000 hotel rooms, with the world renowned Marriott located on St. Kitts and Four Seasons on Nevis.
“This is a big breakthrough for us in cricket terms,” said Charles Wilkin, chairman of World Cup St. Kitts Limited. “And it’s a great coup for a tourist sector, which is growing by leaps and bounds.”
Besides St. Kitts (Warner Park, capacity to be increased from 4,000 to 13,000), other countries awarded World Cup matches are: Antigua (new stadium, to seat a capacity 20,000); Barbados (Kensington Oval, to be increased to accommodate 30,000); Grenada (Queen’s Park, capacity to be increased from 13,000 to 20,000); Guyana (new stadium, to seat 20,000); Jamaica (Sabina Park, to seat 30,000); St. Lucia (Beausejour, to seat 20,000 from the current 12,000 capacity); and Trinidad and Tobago (Queen’s Park Oval, current capacity 25,000).
Jamaica and St. Lucia have been awarded semifinal matches. The opening ceremony and match will also take place in Jamaica, with the grand finale in Barbados.
“I charge the whole country to mobilize itself over the next three years to get Barbados ready to make 2007 a date with destiny and a date that will live on as a glorious chapter in the history of this island,” said an obviously very elated Prime Minster Owen Arthur in a nationwide television address immediately after the Caribbean and the world received the live satellite announcement from Montego Bay, Jamaica.
“I believe Barbadians are soaring on new wings of pride,” he added, “but they are also humbled by the awesome responsibility that now falls to us to showcase the Caribbean in a new and unique way as a world-class civilization.”
John acknowledged that the lost of the World Cup bid was “a great setback for cricket” in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, but he was delighted that two Windward Islands (St. Lucia and Grenada) were considered.
“St. Lucia, to me, came off the best,” he said, noting that Trinidad and Tobago, which currently has the biggest cricket stadium in the Caribbean, was denied hosting a semifinal match. “St. Lucia will be hosting England. The (hotel) rooms are booked up. St. Lucia has a great opportunity to capitalize on that (World Cup).”

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