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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 11:53 GMT
Is the Caribbean ready for the World Cup?
Boria Majumdar
By Boria Majumdar, Barbados

The cricket ground in Barbados
The cricket ground in Barbados has been upgraded

Is the Caribbean ready to host the cricket World Cup?

This poser is worrying a lot of people barely two weeks away from the opening of the showpiece event.

For the small, independent nations, of varying economic strengths, that comprise the West Indies, the tournament presents big challenges.

Most of the host islands have populations between 100,000 and 300,000. They could face up to 50,000 international visitors during the event.

The islands may include some of the world's premier tourist destinations. But the challenges of staging a sporting event of this magnitude are very different.

Take Barbados. It will be hosting six of the eight final-round play off games, including the high profile India-Pakistan and India-West Indies clashes.

Nightmare

The problems begin at the airport. There are only four customs counters. The time taken to clear television equipment through ranges from an hour to two hours. Foreign media crew expect long waits.

The flight schedules are awkward and there are only a couple of connecting flights for passengers from the Indian subcontinent.

Travel within Barbados is hard. A distance of five kilometres, the distance between my hotel and the Kensington Oval cricket ground, takes an hour or more and taxi fares are never less than $15.

West Indies cricketers Chris Gayle and Dayne Bravo
The World Cup is a showpiece event for the West Indies

Restaurants are struggling to keep up. The time taken to serve pizza at the pizzeria in a mall opposite my hotel was an hour and twenty minutes. Many of the waitressing staff seem new to the job.

These may be teething problems. But internet facilities are unreliable. More than two thirds of the hotels have no internet. Internet cafes are few and far between. Places with broadband are limited and the speed is often not good enough to send television stories.

Enthusiasm

If you think you can overcome this by calling office/home, you are in for a shock. A $5 phone card allows you to talk for only for a minute to the UK and India. To compound problems, some hotels charge $3 every time one uses a calling card from the room phone.

One redeeming feature, however, is the local enthusiasm for the event.

Residents are more than ready to house international visitors in their homes and the local tourism authorities are also helpful.

A road in Barbados
Traffic moves slowly in Barbados
Yet another redeeming feature is the entertainment on offer.

In India it is impossible to imagine stars like Sourav Ganguly or Sachin Tendulkar playing cricket with local children on the city streets.

In the Caribbean, however, things are different. As a build up to the event, authorities have revived the culture of beach cricket. Caribbean cricket players are regularly playing with young children to spread the message of the World Cup.

While beach cricket helps break down class barriers and helps bring the entire community together, it is also good fodder for journalists looking for stories outside match reports.

Add to these novelties the sun-kissed Caribbean beaches, the beautiful women and rousing calypso and you have a World Cup which every potential to be outstanding.

But will the islanders be able to cope with pressures of hosting such an international event?

A band playing at a Barbados stadium
Enthusiasm over the event is running high
Reverend Wes Hall, legendary former West Indies fast blower, summed it up best: "The World Cup has already transformed us. We in the Caribbean are used to getting up [in the morning] and checking if there are clouds in the sky. Only then do we make up our minds on whether or not to go to the [cricket] ground."

"For the World Cup, however, things are different. If we wait for the day of the games, none of us will get tickets. This event demands a fundamental transformation in our attitude and we have realised that. By the time the event ends, the world too will wake up to the fact that the Caribbean has reinvented itself."

The author is a sports historian and author of Twenty-Two Yards to Freedom: A Social History of Indian Cricket. He is a research fellow at Latrobe University, Melbourne


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