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Fear Not: Caribbean has World Cup Under Control

Oct 13, 2006:

Fears that the World Cup taking place in the West Indies next autumn will be a debacle have been laid to rest. Far from falling behind in their preparations, the organisers are months ahead of schedule and expect to have everything in place before the end of the year. Unprecedented co-operation between the responsible governments lies behind this striking performance. Doubtless a desire to defy Caribbean caricatures has also played its part.

Last week Steve Bernard, Australia’s long-standing team manager, and representatives of every other participating nation, except the endlessly dilatory Indians, paid a visit to Barbados to be briefed about the state of play six months before the first ball is to be bowled. All and sundry were impressed by the professionalism of the presetation, and all and sundry left convinced that the hosts could fulfil their ambition to stage an outstanding tournament.

Speaking as the Australians loosend muscles on the hallowed turf of the CCI Club in Mumbai, Bernard said that he had been struck by the efficiency of the organising body. “As soon as we arrived we were given a booklet outlining every hotel booking, every flight, every coach trip, every net session, every practise match, every press conference, every commitment for the entire tournament,” he remarked, “everything was provided the last detail, including contact numbers, medical services and so forth. It was extremely thorough.”

Concerns about long hours spent at airports, waiting for planes, looking for bags and presenting passports were stilled. The Caribbean Governments have introduced a regional visa to cover the period of the competition and the players will simply be waived through. The planes have been chartered and will be met by coaches and baggage vans accompanied by police escorts. Admittedly the roads remain skinny but some things cannot be changed.

Although the meeting took place in Barbados, where the final will be played in April, the situation in every hosting country was outlined. Most of the grounds are ready for action. In some places new grounds have been constructed, elsewhere dilapidated stadiums have been comprehensively rebuilt. The famous but decrepit stands in Bridgtown itself have been knocked down and replaced. Capacity and comfort have improved beyond recognition. Spacious dressing-rooms have been built, and the area behind the pavilion, once a ferment of small traders, has been cleared.

Slide shows were provided to describe progress in the other main centres. “We were shown pictures of the new stadiums in Jamaica and Guyana at various stages of their construction. Five hundred Chinese labourers are toiling around the clock to complete the ground in Kingston. Five hundred Indians are working in shifts to get the job done in Georgetown. They want them to finished by December and I’m sure they’ll make it.”

After the two-day meeting, Bernard visited St Kitts, where Australia will start its campaign in March. Again he was reassured and impressed. “The ground has been ready for months and is in excellent condition. The dressing-rooms are spacious, and the practise facilities are superb.” Bernard was also very happy with the hotel and believes the Australians will enjoy themselves on the island. As far as he was concerned every base had been covered.

Credit for the advanced state of the preparations goes firstly to the governments involved. Putting insularity and other pettinesses aside, and digging deep into their own pockets, a group of proud, independent, impoverished and sometimes querulous nations has risen to the occasion. Apart from providing sufficient funds, the governments had the sense to appoint professionals to run the show. Chris Derring took charge of the overall operation and Don Lockerbie was asked to oversee the grounds, a role he had previously played at the Athens Olmpics and several soccer World Cups. Lockerbie, an American, told the assembled officials that “Athens was supposed to be chaotic. It was great and it’ll be the same in the West Indies. Don’t worry about the Jeremiah stuff in the papers. We are a long way ahead of schedule. We’ll be ready by Christmas.”

Almost everything has gone to plan. Even the well documented setback with the new Brian Lara stadium in Trinidad was a minor matter.It was intended as only the second of the arenas to be used in Port-of-Spain. Moreover a contingency plan had long since been prepared, and was promptly put into action. Two training grounds and a net area have been provided by every hosting country. Likewise security issues have been confronted.

Some things are beyond the control of the organisers. Hotel space is at a premium. Inevitably, the hotel chains have seized the chance to hold punters to ransom. In some places rooms are going for a minimum of US$700 dollars a night. Worse, the hotels are insisting that guests stay for a minimum of ten days. Such is the law of supply and demand. Unable to provide sufficient accommodation, travel agents and tourism officials have resorted to hiring ocean liners for the duration. Most supporters will spend the nights off-shore – 1,050 on one ship and ferries will be used to take them back and forth.

Still, it is ready and its going to be a lot of fun. As Bernard points out, too, “it will leave an unbelievable legacy for Caribbean cricket.” After all its been a long time since the West Indian cricket last surpassed itself.