April 29, 2007

Cricket Disappointments & Integration

Publication:Jamaica Observer;
Date:Apr 29, 2007;
Page Number:13A

Cricket disappointments will test Caribbean integration

WITH all the recriminations and finger-pointing among Caribbean governments, cricket administrators and the people of the region over the disappointments associated with Cricket World Cup 2007, the regional integration movement will be severely tested in the months ahead.
The West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) and its subsidiary commercial companies are under fire for genuflecting to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and negotiating a bad agreement; Governments are under pressure for spending too much money without proper risk analysis; and every uncharitable adjective has been used to characterise the team’s failure to compete at the global level.
Each country will now have to maximise the use of the stadiums they have built at enormous sacrifice. With so much over-capacity for hosting international cricket, there will inevitably be serious competition among them for use of these venues as they cannot be supported by traditional cricket arrangements alone. Will this competition spill over into other areas of regional trade and investment? Furthermore, if the leaders cannot quickly find economic use for the facilities they will inevitably face further domestic political criticism. In such a scenario I can easily imagine upcoming meetings of Caribbean leaders with comments around the room as to who was responsible for not negotiating hard enough and for not taking a common position in dealing with the ICC.
The mood today is very different from the ‘feel good’ sentiments after the opening ceremony on March 11 at the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium and the first round victories of the West Indies team that promised so much and delivered so little. The early gospel of 100,000 expected visitors and US$500 million in revenue, which was the justification for the US$400-million investment in 12 stadiums and related infrastructure in nine countries, has not been fulfilled and the global TV audiences that would boost tourism and attract investment to the region did not materialise.
Indiatimes.com reported Friday that this ninth staging of cricket’s mega-event was the least-watched Cricket World Cup in history. TV viewership dropped nearly 40 per cent compared to the 2003 edition, according to industry estimates, the report said.
On the plus side, the head of the Barbados Local Organising Committee was telling the BBC on Thursday that their original expectation of $25-million in ticket sales from their second round Super 8 matches and yesterday’s finals at Kensington Oval between Australia and Sri Lanka would be exceeded by a substantial margin.
Also, Ken Gordon, president of the WICB, believes that the Board will make enough out of the event to eliminate its US$15 million or, at least reduce it substantially. He also pointed to the fact the region met the challenge of staging the event with some success, despite the odds. “This is the third largest event in the world. And we have done it when people didn’t think we could. And I think at the end of the day, we should all take some little pride in achieving it,” Gordon told the Trinidad Express.
These pluses notwithstanding, there are serious minuses that cannot be wished away, and that’s why I support the call from Rickey Singh (Sunday Observer, April 22) for an objective and dispassionate enquiry into the hosting of the tournament. Such an inquiry would help the region to build on the positive outcomes, maximise the massive investments in cricket infrastructure while ensuring that the mistakes are not repeated in future endeavours.
We now know that the early elimination of India and Pakistan seriously undermined the financial projections and attendance at matches; this is especially true of India, which is the financial powerhouse of global cricket.
With a population of more than 1.2 billion, a large and affluent diaspora, and a booming economy, India has the fan base at home and abroad to fill stadiums anywhere in the world and they have a huge domestic market of hundreds of millions of consumers anxious to buy the electronics and beverages that sponsors want to push through television advertising.
We also know that ticket prices were set by the LOCs at levels that would bring as much revenue as possible to governments as this was their only guaranteed revenue source to match the huge investments in infrastructure. So the primary focus was not on the affordability for our own people. But despite these obvious explanations, there are important reasons to understand the lessons from the experience if the negatives are not to jeopardise the regional integration process and cricket as the exemplar of that historic process.
Cricket and globalisation
Professor Norman Girvan, writing in the Trinidad Express (April 12) outlined some of the more important lessons from the experience by relating CWC 2007 to the region’s capacity to function in the context of economic globalisation. “CWC 2007 is symptomatic of the way in which we deal with globalisation. We can genuflect before foreign offers; or we can be critical, and bargain purposively and as a single unit to get what is in our own interest. Will the lessons be learnt?”
Girvan’s question should be pondered seriously, not only by cricket administrators but by policy makers at every level throughout the region. His first concern is that our cricket administrators did not negotiate a good Host Venue Agreement (HVA) and so there is no point blaming the ICC. “What we did was to capitulate rather than negotiate. If there was a bad agreement with the ICC, it is we in the Caribbean who must take responsibility for having negotiated it. Cricket is a global business.”
The point is very important in the context of an unequal world in which countries and corporations come to the global negotiating table with unequal skills and resources. We see it at the World Trade Organisation where small nations are pressured to open up their markets to the goods and services from rich and powerful nations, but there is no reciprocity.
We see it in some foreign direct investment deals where governments, desperate to attract an investment from an influential corporation, are sometimes less than prudent in granting concessions or in ensuring that their own environmental and labour standards are not violated.
The region has experienced negotiators going back to the 1960s. We can recall people like Jamaica’s Robert Lightbourne successfully negotiating the sugar agreement to our collective benefit, through to the 1970s when Michael Manley, with technical and strategic advice from people like Girvan, Mayer Matalon and Patrick Rousseau (the point man for WICB in getting CWC 2007), renegotiated the bauxite agreement with US corporations.
So why did we blow it this time? As Girvan posed the question we need to find out whether someone gave the ICC and open-ended agreement from the very beginning so that we had locked ourselves into a corner. Somebody needs to explain. Another lesson from CWC 2007, according to Girvan, is the need to maintain a united regional front. “The argument that too many national jurisdictions were involved in the negotiations won’t wash. The umbrella agreement was negotiated by regional entities and the Heads of Government were party to the arrangements.
Problems that subsequently arose should have been dealt with at the regional level, with the West Indies speaking with one voice. In dealing with powerful international organisations, regional unity is vital, and disunity is fatal.” Rickey Singh underscores the point of regional unanimity. “The leaders may well have gone wrong when they initially failed to adopt a policy of unanimity, as proposed by one prime minister and with at least two others leading the objection that was to result in the individual country biddings, instead of a unanimously agreed initiative to take care of all events, starting from the ceremonial launch of the World Cup, to the final and encompassing the preliminaries, Super Eights and semi-finals.” And this begs the question; if our leaders could not speak with one voice when facing the ICC, what can we expect on other important issues of regional and global politics such as Haiti, Venezuela, China, global warming and terrorism — to name a few? And, can these same leaders ensure that the promised benefits from the Caricom Single Market and Economy actually materialise when, in the end, this means actual diminution of sovereignty, rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.
Finally, there is the question of cricket and Caribbean identity. The West Indies are the only team in world cricket that do not represent a nation. In the early days of the development of the game in the region, we were all colonies bound by a common future of independence and self-determination. That was motivation enough to beat England at the game they grudgingly taught us.
As separate, independent nations we have to find something that binds not just the team, but all of us as a region and a people with a common history and, hopefully, a common future. Had our cricket administrators and political leaders displayed unanimity and testicular fortitude in negotiating a better deal, the pride that Ken Gordon spoke of would be more evident today, even with modest on-field performance by the team.

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