World Cup Half Full For Caribbean Firms, Local Fans

After less than a month of play, with the final in Barbados still to come, business people and fans in the Caribbean fear the Cricket World Cup is proving to be a loser for the region. Instead of windfalls from worldwide publicity and an influx of free-spending visitors, Caribbean hoteliers now see losses. Many Caribbean business operators blame India's surprise early exit from the competition last month in an unexpected loss. "India has had the largest following of the World Cup," Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association president Alvin Jemmott told the Nation newspaper. "They had the largest request for tickets and accommodation." Hotels across Barbados have had "substantial" cancellations and plunging occupancy rates for April, he said. In another unexpected turn last month, underdogs Ireland knocked out Pakistan, another cricket powerhouse that had been expected to draw fans to Caribbean hotels and restaurants. Worldwide attention also has been pulled away from the cricket matches by the police investigation of the death in Jamaica of Bob Woolmer, Pakistan's English coach. HIGH COST Some Caribbean bar and restaurant owners have complained about the high cost for rights to broadcast World Cup matches. "If we don't get the licenses, we will lose customers because our businesses revolve around televising sports," said Benny Kirk, co-owner of Fat Boys at the Players Sports Bar on Barbados' south coast, in another Nation article. Pricey entrance fees and International Cricket Council (ICC) rules on what fans can take into the stadiums have also been blamed for low fan turnout. Trinidad fan Donald Marcano said the ICC's organisers had misunderstood West Indian cricket culture and economics, and that they were paying at the gates for that misunderstanding. "We spend Trinidad and Tobago dollars, so we cannot afford to buy food in U.S. currency. We blow horns, beat drums and knock bottle and spoon," he said in a letter to the Trinidad Express newspaper. "But you have to come to the West Indies with your rules and U.S. food prices ..." In Guyana, however, officials have been more focused on long-term World Cup benefits. While the number of visitors is proving lower than projections for the six Super Eight matches Guyana is hosting, Frank Anthony, sports minister and chairman of the tournament's local organising committee, reported that more than 6,000 people have come compared to the same period last year. He said the ICC had projected a worldwide TV audience of 2.2 billion for the games. With India out, the number of viewers there would drop, but cricket fans would still be watching. "We want people to know more about Guyana and the (Cricket World Cup) puts Guyana prominently on the map," said Anthony. Many Caribbean people are asking, 'But how?' and even the ICC seems to be taking note of increasing criticism about the damaging "un-Caribbean" atmosphere of the games. In a news conference at Kensington Oval in Barbados on Wednesday, local organising head Stephen Alleyne said talks were being held with the ICC about easing restrictions on what could be taken into the cricket ground there which will hold the final on April 28. "We need to ensure that the environment is such that everybody in there, whether Barbadian, West Indian or from further afield, can get the chance to experience what it is like to be at a Caribbean Test match." © Reuters 2007