A public relations disaster
There's this woman who keeps sending me emails. She pops up in my inbox more often than my wife, more than my mum or my sister. She writes two or three times a day, sometimes four. In all, she must have sent me 300 emails, and we've never even met. She is only doing her job: she is the World Cup media relations officer.
Her name is P. Gayle Alleyne, and she commands plenty of respect. She is tirelessly polite and professional. She must be working all hours; it seems eminently possible that she is a composite character, made up of four different people.
For about 18 months now, she has been churning out a stream of news, all of it good. The stream gets a bit clogged with acronyms, like plastic bags, but still, as streams do, it has charm. Here is a flavour:
" 'We are World Cup ready!' declared a busy George Goodwin, CEO of the Antigua & Barbuda Local Organising Committee (LOC), pausing to give an update amid a hectic day.
"There are the usual last-minute things, like getting all the overlay elements in place, but the stadium is ready, the pitch and outfield are fine and the teams have practised - so we are ready to go."
"The usual last-minute things": there's a phrase that could cover a multitude of sins. With cricket press releases, you learn to read between the lines. If they mention "thousands of fans", you know the game wasn't sold out, and you suspect it was attended by 1,001 people; attendance figures are just about the only thing P. Gayle never dispenses.
Every email ends the same way, with instructions on how the World Cup is to be referred to:
"The official name of the tournament is the 'ICC Cricket World Cup West Indies 2007'. The following versions of the Event name are also acceptable: ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 (preferred use) ICC Cricket World Cup ICC CWC 2007 (in prose or paragraph context only) CWC 2007 (in prose or paragraph context only)."
So we can call the World Cup lots of things, but we can't call it the World Cup. This shows what an impossible job Ms Alleyne has. She is expected to relay to the cricket media - a bunch of sceptics, subversives and in some cases downright anarchists - the bossy demands, corporate fictions and sheer propaganda of the cricket authorities.
Those authorities are having a shocker of a World Cup. They are being pusillanimous, interfering, and authoritarian. They have alienated the very people they most need to get onside, the cricket-loving Caribbean public. "Life is a carnival," say the trailers on Sky television. Not when you can't take in your own food it's not. Or when you can't get a pass out of the ground. Or when you find the security guards confiscating a bottle of any drink not made by Pepsi. Or asking you to cover up your T-shirt because it has the wrong slogan. Or when the ground is miles out of town, and still doesn't have any parking. (There is Park and Ride, but it ought to be called Pay and Pay Again, because you get charged both to park and to ride.) Or when the peanut seller who has been going to the cricket for years has to find £152 for the right to do business - and is left, as Scyld Berry said in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph, with what he started with - peanuts.
Cricket in the Caribbean has a flavour of its own. It's about passion and vivacity, spontaneity and laughter, food and dancing. The International Cricket Council is not about any of these things. It's about making money, having rules, and siding with narrow commercial interests even at the expense of basic human decency, let alone local colour. The game's bosses have wrecked their own party with their greed.
Before there was "media relations", there was something else: public relations. That's what PR means. The difference is small but significant. The ICC, and the admirable Ms Alleyne, should not be thinking in terms of relating to the media. They should be thinking in terms of relating to the public. The players, too, might get a whole lot better at press conferences if they could see beyond the hacks to the fans.
This World Cup has been a tough one from many points of view, not all of them the ICC's fault; they can hardly be blamed for the horrific death of Bob Woolmer. But their public relations, in the widest sense of the word, have been hopeless.
Tim de Lisle edited Wisden 2003 and discussed the running of the last World Cup in his Notes by the Editor. His website is www.timdelisle.com