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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

World Cup shortcomings keep spectators under house arrest and threaten livelihoods of firework dealers

When Tony Cozier, the doyen of West Indian cricket commentators (and one of the best in the world) is moved to write a Cricinfo piece lamenting the administrative shortcomings of the World Cup organisation, you know that something is seriously wrong.

Public ire has been especially aroused by the stipulation that offers no pass-out vouchers. It means that once the punter has left the ground, there is no way of getting back in unless through the understanding of some sympathetic official-and that's an oxymoron.

Once they hold a ticket, West Indians are accustomed of being able to come and go as they please, to attend a meeting, to take in the lunch hour from the office, to pick up the kids. At this World Cup, they are under virtual house arrest once they are in the ground. Those who turned up early yesterday morning at the Viv Richards ground had to wait five hours before play got going. Had they left, there was no way back.

It must be especially galling for Cosier, who has reported West Indies cricket since its glory days of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, to see both his team and its constituent nations palpably failing to make a reasonable fist of the tournament both on and off the field.

"The 2007 World Cup nightmare seems to get worse every day for organisers, sponsors and hosts," says Peter Lalor in The Australian, echoing Cosier's sentiments.

Last Tuesday only 9500 turned up to watch the home side play defending champion Australia in Antigua. Authorities had spent more than $25 million increasing capacity at the ground from 10,000 to 19,000. West Indies captain Brian Lara was angry and embarrassed at the Antigua snub but he has bigger problems with three straight losses leaving West Indies on the verge of elimination. Plans are already in place to bus in schoolchildren and members of local cricket clubs to matches in Antigua and Guyana.

But it is the exit of India that has really hurt the competition. "It is like Brazil going out in the first round of a soccer World Cup," Chris Dehring, managing director and chief executive of the tournament, said. "There is virtually no substitute when a team like India goes out in terms of a travelling contingent."

The economic impact has been felt across the subcontinent. The Gujarati State Fireworks Dealers Association and their colleagues in other states are complaining that they had expected to make a killing from the sale of fireworks to cricket fans but are sitting on a stockpile of the incendiaries. The biggest damp squib is the loss to broadcasters and sponsors who bank on India's enormous population to keep the world game afloat.

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