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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Long walk for spectators in Antigua

During the Channel 9 coverage of the Australia - South Africa match, Mark Nicholas bemoaned the low spectator turnout, which he attributed partly to lack of parking near the ground and to delays with security searches. As he spoke the cameras illustrated his point about the parking by showing a group of people (passers-by? potential spectators?) walking across a distant stretch of wasteland towards the ground.

Cricinfo 's report echoes his on-air comments and provides some other perspectives :

The commentator Mark Nicholas was disappointed the match was not a sell-out and said the locals were frustrated by the long queues. "A lot of them gave up and said 'no, I'm not prepared to wait two hours'," he said. "It's been one of the problems confronting spectators. The huge amount of security, that's one thing, the other is the long lines for tickets and long lines for food."

Nicholas said the remoteness of the site - "you can only park a mile away despite huge areas all around" - was a problem when comparing it to the previous venue. "The old ground was in the middle of St John's and it was very popular," he said. "There was a great party feel to the place, but it's going to be very difficult to rekindle that here."

The controversy dampened an occasion that ought to have been a proud moment for West Indies and for Antigua. "It's a very good stadium, it's beautiful and it's a tribute to the man, Sir Vivian Richards," Lara said. "It's been an awesome effort by the Antiguan people getting this ready, and it's going to be wonderful for West Indian cricket moving on. The infrastructure is good, so now it's time for the manpower."

Not everyone was impressed with the positioning of the new ground. Built on a greenfields site 20 minutes outside of St John's, many fans had to walk for several kilometres to reach the entrance, or pay for a shuttle service. An impassioned West Indian supporter told a local TV station that it was the spectator's right to expect to be able to park outside a new and purpose-built ground, while others complained that the spontaneity that had existed at the old Antigua Recreation Ground was missing from the new venue.

But Lara said there would have to be a change of attitudes all around as West Indian cricket gets used to its new era. "When you're talking about the improvement of facilities the spectators also have to adapt," he said. "It's not enough to be able to stay in the same areas or stadiums just because the atmosphere was great. We've had some wonderful times at the ARG, but now we move on to the Sir Viv stadium and it is something to be proud of over the years.

"Some of these stadiums were dilapidated. Georgetown and other grounds have been around for donkey's years. I'm sure people will adjust. I may have been disappointed with the crowd today but I thought the party stand wasn't bad here or in Jamaica. People are going to enjoy it, and I think the cricketers are very happy that we have facilities that are second-to-none. If you go to the MCG or Lord's the facilities are great. It's nice to know we are getting there."

Getting where, may I ask? Is cricket, by making it harder for local people (not just in Antigua, which has a population of about 70,000) to attend, cutting off its populist nose to spite its elitist face of corporate boxes, limited pay TV coverage etc? Mark Nicholas is astute enough to grasp that all the money that's been poured into infrastructure development for the World Cup will come to nothing if the once strong West Indian cricketing cultures which have produced players of the calibre of Brian Lara and Vivian Richards continue to languish in the face of official indifference and competition from other sports.

The Australian and The Age have more about the topic.

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