Next week this country would play host to a cricket test match between the West Indies and Bangladesh at the Arnos Vale Playing Field. Our understanding is that under the new dispensation of the International Cricket Council (ICC), where we appear to have sold ourselves out as a regional cricketing entity to the bigger countries in the sport, this test match is to be a test of our capabilities to host such events and would determine what we get in the future when the region is involved in home series.
Should we be worried? Some would suggest that there is no reason for us to do so. The reality may be a bit more problematic than first appears.
St Vincent and the Grenadines has been involved in hosting international cricket matches since the 1970s. Indeed it was the very keen interesting in getting on to the regional circuit when visiting teams are in the region for international engagements that prompted the cricketing authorities here to press the then Milton Cato administration to develop the Arnos Vale cricket grounds in the first place. That is the reason that to this day it is the veritable home of cricket in the country, first and foremost, and every other sport played there is really secondary to the original intent.
We have developed our capacity to the point where we were able to remove the wooden stands that served the sport at Arnos Vale with the Michael Findlay and PH Veira concrete pavilions before adding the Frank Thomas pavilion.
It was on the occasion of hosting what we have consistently referred to as the Goat Cook warm up matches for the Cricket World Cup 2007 that led to the construction of what had been promised as the Tall Boy and Shorty double decker pavilion, the Media Centre, the Players pavilion and the refurbishing of the former Players pavilion into the President’s Suite.
As an aside the double decker pavilion is really yet to be named, for whatever reason.
We also spent millions of dollars on what was supposed to be the significant upgrading of the playing fields for the same Goat Cook warm up matches. This included Arnos Vale #1 and #2, Sion Hill and Stubbs.
We have hosted, at one time or another, virtually every test playing nation in the ICC programme and we can boast of good attendance at the test and other international cricket matches played here over the years.
This country’s premier cricket ground, Arnos Vale #1 has been highly rated in the past for its aesthetics. It has received commendation for the way in which it has served the international cricketing fraternity.
The National Sports Council, that has responsibility for the cricket facilities at Arnos Vale has been commended for its work in the past and so too the St Vincent and the Grenadines Cricket Association, which has been awarded the matches played here since the 1970s.
The experience of hosting international cricket should give us relatively easy passage through the testing phase to remain as one of the premier cricketing venues in the Caribbean well into the future.
One would therefore conclude that as far as facilities go we should not have a problem in respect of passing any test in respect of our capacity to host international cricket in the future. But closer examination may give us cause for concern.
For all of the monies spent on our cricketing facilities we have not been able to boast of all of them in a manner that should leave us with our heads held high.
Our haste to complete the facilities at Arnos Vale #1 for the Goat Cook warm up matches in 2007 led us to perhaps not pay due attention to some of the work carried out there. The outfield has been a major challenge for the authorities given the change of the base to one that is heavily laden with sand.
There has been a consistent problem with regard to the maintenance of the equipment available to the staff to do the quality work that is needed to stay at the requisite high standard to compete with other regional cricket grounds. This problem extends to the procurement of parts for existing equipment and the purchase of new ones to keep ahead of the game in this regard.
In other words there has not been the cash available to the authorities to keep our premier cricket facility at a consistently high standard of preparation. This aspect of our preparation to compete with other regional cricket facilities extends to the maintenance of the buildings that serve the ground at Arnos Vale. Without money the facilities readily deteriorate if only because of the fact that they are located close to the sea and are therefore constantly exposed to the salt that comes with the wind. At present this aspect of maintenance is often only appropriately addressed when we are due to host a major international contest and not all year. This leaves us rather exposed going forward.
The attention paid to Arnos Vale #1 is not matched anywhere else in the country. It must be remembered that for us to retain a place amongst the regional countries hosting international cricket we must be able to have not just the one playing facility but at least another one or two of a relatively similar standard. We do not have this.
Arnos Vale #2 has not been developed as an ideal second ground to the premier facility to which it is adjacent despite the location of all of the maintenance equipment in the same complex. This anomaly has been in existence for decades and still not appropriately addressed.
Sion Hill, often used for practice sessions for visiting teams while accepted over the years does not come close to Arnos Vale #1 in terms of development and maintenance.
We are not convinced that as yet we have found an appropriate expert to investigate, analyse and consistently apprise us of the best way to deal with the numerous challenges faced with the types of grasses that suddenly find their way in the mix that is Arnos Vale #1.
The Arnos Vale #2, Sion Hill and Stubbs playing fields have essentially reverted to their original grasses, suggesting perhaps that due attention was not paid to the pre-existing conditions of the arenas and the quality of maintenance after the infusion of changes in the preparation for the Goat Cook warm up matches of 2007.
Our reality therefore suggests that as far as facilities go we have much work to do to retain the high standards we had set ourselves in the past and what the ICC now expects of us.
St Vincent and the Grenadines boasts of being good hosts to international cricket events. There is little doubt that foreign teams are made to feel welcome to St Vincent and the Grenadines but for the most part one does not get the impression that as a nation we see these as sport tourism events.
There is much talk about sport tourism without any clearly elucidated policy anywhere beyond what is stated in the national sport policy document. Talk is cheap and useless unless it is accompanied by decisive action.
We are about to host Bangladesh and the only evidence of that are the advertisements in the media and the work being undertaken at Arnos Vale.
Who constitutes the Local Organising Committee (LOC) for example?
Do we feel it necessary to have an LOC or are we content that the National Sports Council will do its part and prepare the facilities while the Cricket Association would do everything else?
Are we satisfied that it should be left only to the two aforementioned organisations to manage everything?
What kind of monitoring and evaluation of the totality of hosting is engaged in at every stage of the planning process?
Where is our resident expertise?
Have the Tourism Authority and the Ministry of Tourism been intricately involved in the planning for the hosting of Bangladesh here at this time of the year for the past 12 months or are they only latterly been informed? What is the level of their involvement?
How have we involved the commercial sector?
The point being made here relates to the way we go about doing things.
It was an initiative on the part of Blondie Bird some years ago that saw carnival bands being integrated in the cultural side of some international cricket events. We have not been creative enough in respect of how we seize the opportunity to showcase different aspects of Vincentian life to the rest of the world on these occasions.
We are consistently being told that cricket is still a leading sport in this country, at least in terms of attendance at international matches played here. How we prepare ourselves to reap the available economic benefits from being good hosts is however not appropriately addressed.
Perhaps it is a perception that we have about Bangladesh that has us unable to see the flurry of planning activities that should otherwise have been in train over the past 12 months.
Hosting an international cricket team that is on the ICC circuit gives us immense exposure around the world given that the governing body for the sport now makes the bulk of its income from sale of television rights. The issue is whether or not as hosts St Vincent and the Grenadines cultivates a deliberate approach as to what we can and should do with such exposure. We do not appear to investigate the extent of the exposure nor analyse ways in which it can be systematically exploited to our future benefit.
No one seems concerned about how the nation readies itself to host the big events. I tis taken for granted that we have done this before and can therefore always do it going forward.
During the actual international matches played here the authorities move around the audience often seeking pats on their backs for a job well done while ignoring the fact that the actual playing of the competition is but a very small part of what is required to reap maximum benefits from hosting the event.
Indeed our Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Authority should ideally be allocated a Sport Tourism Department that is operational year-round to work with sporting organisations that are hosting regional and international events. There should be a calendar of sport tourism activities that is presented to the Vincentian public as well as to our tourism markets regarding what is happening here and why it is necessary to be a part of the experiences available at the time.
It is also appropriate that in the planning for such mega sport events we sit with the stakeholders and determine precisely what we want to get out of this exercise of hosting. We need to be clear as to the economic, social and cultural benefits that can be derived from being good hosts instead of allowing these to emerge by happenstance.
Will we pass the test?
Everyone involved in cricket seems to think that we can pass the test because we have proven ourselves before.
The match between the West Indies and Bangladesh is upon us. At this stage there is little else that we can do to prepare ourselves to pass the test. The issue is have we adequately prepared ourselves for the test and will we be more reliant on past performances.
We know what we are capable of as a sporting nation but we so often shoot ourselves in the foot by failing to do all that is required, for one reason or another that we remain on tenterhooks.