July 2007

What did the World Cup do for us?

Barbados has a heritage richer than money can buy but what became of the ICC's promised legacy? Paul Coupar delves into the disappointment

Barbados has a heritage richer than money can buy but what became of the ICC's promised legacy? Paul Coupar delves into the disappointment

Was expectation of the tournament too high? © Getty Images

The Empire Sports Club of Barbados sits on a bare corner of a former plantation just outside Bridgetown. Its outfield is parched, its only stand a tiny, rickety tin shed with plank benches. In the off season they play football across the square. There are stones in the bare grass. The sun beats down, glinting off the whitewashed shanties beyond the boundary. It is several thousand miles from the lush turf of Lord's and it seems light-years farther. But this club is just as much one of cricket's spiritual homes.

Step inside, into the cool of the small clubhouse, and magic is here. On the back wall is a proud homemade sign: "Empire's Millennium West Indies Team". It is more of a squad really. This tiny Barbados club has astonishingly produced 14 Test players in 93 years. A bare little corner of Bridgetown turns out to be perhaps the most fertile patch of the cricket world.

Empire has made something of a trademark of triumphing over adversity, a pattern set by its founder. Herman Griffith was one of the island's best players, yet was barred from its five intensely class- and colour-conscious clubs. So on Empire Day 1914 he set up his own club which flourished, then dominated to the extent that players from teams that had snubbed Herman Griffith would develop mystery illnesses on weekends when they were due to face Empire and another Griffith, the terrifying quick, Charlie. Before then, though, a lad called Frank Worrell had climbed out of one of those whitewashed shacks, over the wall and started to help out with net-bowling.

Later Worrell, having become West Indies' first black official captain by the unforced force of his own dignified example, was knighted. He was joined by Sir Conrad Hunte and Sir Everton Weekes, both Empire men. From a rented corner of a sugar plantation Empire has produced more cricketing knights than the whole of Australia. When Herman Clarence Griffith died in 1980 they paid tribute to their founder in a simple but touching plaque. Its inscription ended: "He was our cornerstone".

Most evenings players young and old still come here, says Robert 'Tweety Bird' Clarke, former player and current caretaker-cum-tour guide. "When you leave work, you have to come to Empire, come here under the shed and discuss politics and cricket and such. It's a must." Most English clubs struggle to get players out for an hour's net once a week.

It is World Cup time and down the road 650 smiling and unfailingly helpful volunteers, chosen from 2,000 applicants, have been putting up with a dawn start, a baking sun and many objectionable spectators, all in exchange for a bus to the ground, a wholesome meal and a chance to be involved. Tweety Bird sums it up: "Cricket is our love."

In its efficiency and helpfulness Barbados's approach to the World Cup was an example to the world. The airport staff were outstanding. The local organising committee (LOC) led by Stephen Alleyne (who appears as a youthful fast bowler in the picture of Empire's 1989 team, "first-division champions") entered "robust discussions" with the ICC and ended the nonsense of fans requiring written permission to take a conch shell into the ground. A local musician, Mac Fingall, and 'Gravy', poached from Antigua, created such a good atmosphere inside that VIPs were trying to swap their tickets and get into the popular stand.

The relaid pitch worked out fine. The media facilities were superb. From almost every lamp-post hung a banner saying 'Barbados loves cricket lovers'. For once in this World Cup the reality lived up to the hype. Both at the World Cup and for years before, Barbados has put more than almost anywhere else into cricket. But what did it get out when the jamboree hit town?

Certainly business was not up to expectations. On the night before the England v Bangladesh Super Eight game Dover Beach, right next to the main tourist area of St Lawrence Gap, was eerily quiet. "I thought it'd be so busy," says one stallholder with a wry smile and invitation to buy some jewellery. Café Jungle, which seats around 100 in a mock treehouse, was empty. A few Indians with American accents wandered about to the sound of reggae echoing from the bars and insects chirping. The touts are out: plenty are selling, no one buying. One local has drowned his sorrows and stumbles down an alleyway singing.

Popular guest: Antigua's Gravy © Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

"Santa Claus," he warbles, "don't you ever come to the ghetto?" He never did arrive, certainly not laden with the booty that many expected. Business picked up as the Super Eights went on and Petra Roach, energetic head of marketing for the Barbados Tourism Authority, says two- and three-star hotels were sold out but admits that the top end "suffered". The final figures on room occupancy are still to come but it was not hard to find a bed. One luxury hotel had only two rooms out of 30 occupied. It was not a disaster for the island but demand had been expected to be so high that cruise ships were chartered and tax-breaks given for home-owners to build extensions and offer B&B.

The story was similar on the high street. Among a selection of shops in Bridgetown all reported sales at the same level or below what was usual. "For a taxi man we got nothing from it," says Dennis 'The Menace', supervisor of the city's main taxi rank. "People thought the Caribbean was going to be over-run with mainly British cricket supporters," says Reds Perreira, a broadcaster who also runs a tourist business, "and that didn't happen."

Perhaps expectation was just too high. Chris Dehring, chief executive of World Cup 2007 Inc, the company which helped run the Cup, certainly puts a much more optimistic spin on things. "The 2007 World Cup will generate three times as much ticket revenue as the 2003 edition" - more than $30m, against $10.5m last time. And in Barbados, at the redeveloped Kensington Oval, only two games from seven were not sold out.

But this leads on to a mystery. Why, if every ticket was sold, was the 28,000-capacity stadium less than half full for England v Bangladesh and only just over that for England v South Africa, effectively a quarter-final, or indeed for the hosts taking on Bangladesh. Whose were the bums not on seats?

Partly the no-shows were down to bad luck - India and Pakistan supporters who decided not to bother. Roach estimated that only 800 of the 5,500 Indians expected from the subcontinent and the North American diaspora turned up. The minnows that slipped into the Super Eights, Bangladesh and Ireland, were far less of an attraction and some travelling fans tore up tickets and headed to the beach. But that still leaves a lot of tickets unaccounted for. For England v Bangladesh around 26,000 tickets were sold: the attendance was 10,423. One plausible theory is that the phantom fans were not on the island at all.

Cricket Logistics were the company responsible for all tourist packages. They are a joint venture between Gullivers travel agents and a hospitality broker, and every package sold for the World Cup which included a match ticket was sold through them, via an agent. John Davison, of Cricket Logistics, puts the absence down to greedy hotel owners: "The hotels overpriced it." Was there a feeling people would pay whatever it took? "Yes. There's no doubt about that. And by the time they realised it, it was too late." A room at the Hilton Hotel in Barbados was £400 a night.

Equally, with Cricket Logistics having an effective monopoly, there was little incentive to drive prices down. One theory is that the missing tickets were sitting in travel agents' offices around the world, with tour operators unable to shift them. Davison says this is unlikely, apart from in India. If so, it seems odd that the Barbados LOC set up a four-man "intelligence team" to try to contact tour operators and sponsors who might not be using their ticket allocation. And, when asked how the travel business went, Cricket Logistics say they hope to break even.

Passion is not enough in itself to get into the grounds any more © Cricinfo Ltd

Circumstantial evidence suggests that tour operators thought they could charge what they liked and were proved wrong. All of which, combined with late cancellations from Indians intending to travel for the Super Eights, seems to have led to streets and shops quieter than expected. The Barbados public were prepared for a commercial bonanza and a party with the tourists. They got neither. But what about the longer term? "The investment required across the Caribbean to achieve the standard of delivery is significant," says Alleyne. "That investment cannot be returned within the few weeks of the tournament - it just cannot. So how, then, can the assets you develop - the volunteer force, the built infrastructure, the airport, ports, roads - be used to bring benefit?"

In April the West Indies board's legacy committee delivered its proposals. But they amounted to little more than a long list of what countries might do at the new or redeveloped grounds: concerts, cultural events and training camps for American and British sports teams at the stadiums, restaurants, weddings, conferences, flea markets. What was missing was a "very, very clear plan" of the sort Alleyne, a man used to making the numbers add up as an actuary, sees as essential.

The truth is that no one yet knows what the legacy will be. Roach says the opportunities brought by the World Cup are "fantastic", pointing to new contacts in untapped markets in India and Pakistan and to possible new air routes into Barbados.

But the International Monetary Fund is less optimistic. A special report on the likely World Cup effect on the region says studies of past cricket and football World Cups "generally find a small net positive effect" on local economies. But it goes on to say that this could be different in West Indies, where matches took place during the peak winter tourist season, when rooms are often full already. It also suggests any economic benefit will be "diluted" because the matches are spread across many countries. As for public infrastructure, it says that "in general, Caribbean public investment has shown a relatively weak link with growth". While admitting that tourism could benefit in the medium term, the report concludes with its "concern that the net effect of the CWC could well be negative", pointing to the money sunk by poor countries into redeveloping stadiums. All the West Indian nations, except Barbados, are in the world's top 30 indebted emerging nations.

The IMF's worry is that a commercial tournament foisted on West Indies might not even have the benefit of commercial success. Clearly it was not a financial disaster. But the people who missed out were Barbados's little men - the man who extended his home for nonexistent hordes of visitors, the small stallholder, the taxi driver, the volunteers who worked so hard and well on a tournament generally seen as a disaster - and, possibly, the Barbados tax-payer.

They suffered because the ICC presented a tournament that was out of synch with the Caribbean mentality, because those involved with the tourist industry got greedy and because of sheer bad luck, with India going home early. "In some ways," says Alleyne wistfully of his band of volunteers and his experiences with the Empire Club, "it makes one reflect that some of the strongest motivations in life are in fact not monetary at all. There are things that drive all of us as human beings that have absolutely nothing to do with remuneration." Let us hope someone is listening.

Paul Coupar is assistant editor of The Wisden Cricketer