Caribbean fears for World Cup

One year away and the organisers admit there will not be enough places for supporters to stay
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The Independent Online

This time next year, sides from the leading countries will start gathering to play the ninth Cricket World Cup in nine separate island countries of the Caribbean. It is a logistical and political nightmare which makes the football and rugby union equivalents look like walks in the park, and involves the construction or refurbishment of 12 new venues, the transporting of thousands of supporters, teams and officials many hundreds of miles between islands, and the provision of places for them to stay.

There are already abundant stories of venues being behind schedule, of overbooked hotels, of the potential for travel chaos. Chris Dehring, the chief executive of the organising committee, sounded accustomed to such observations. "I think there is a fair level of scepticism and with a fair degree of justification over the years of how we go about things in the Caribbean," he said in Jamaica. "I can understand the scepticism if you look at it in totality - how can they do 12 stadiums at once?

"As far as accommodation goes we've always felt that demand will outstrip supply. Therefore what we've had to do is make sure we can accommodate a reasonable amount of people to satisfy international supporters and locals. We've booked a core of rooms but I'm not going to say it can ever satisfy demand, because it can't."

If Dehring's candour was slightly disarming it was also an objective view that should serve the organisers well in the fraught year ahead. He was in on the World Cup from the start, leading the bid team that persuaded the International Cricket Council that the West Indies could stage the event. "I get the impression that the outside world thinks the Caribbean may be too relaxed," Dehring said. "But I enjoy that reaction because the reality is that that's what people enjoy about life in the Caribbean.

"It's going to be a fantastic World Cup; you may stand in line a little longer but you're going to have the best time in that line that you've had in your life, so the fact you have to wait a little longer won't matter much. That is what the experience is, it's what we sell and you buy."

Recent ructions between the West Indies board and mutinous players has done nothing to engender confidence, though. The continued decline of the team has sapped it further. The feeling of disorganisation is never far away. "This leads to some of the lack of credibility when people talk of construction deadlines or whatever because of the general feeling about how cricket is administered here," said Dehring. "But hopefully, one of the legacies will be that if we run this thing properly, the West Indies board will get the kudos they deserve."

With the impressive Dehring steering the ship there is reason to believe it will come into harbour. From the outside, the main difficulty is the fact that the event is being held in nine different countries. Dehring said that helped. "You virtually have an entire cabinet in each country focusing on the event. And the entire structure of the event mitigates the risk, you don't have one operation trying to build 12 stadiums, you have one country trying to build one. I hear stories about how many are behind schedule. Guyana was in the papers the other day. That's ahead of schedule according to the architects' plans, but nobody bothered to check with me."

The toughest nut to crack, as he put it, will be accom-modation. But even that should not be beyond them. "We're used to tourists and in absolute numbers it won't be something we're not used to. Jamaica entertains 100,000 visitors a month, and while Trinidad has only 2,000 hotel rooms, it hosts over 40,000 visitors for carnival. That is a statistical fact. Guyana is the biggest challenge, but the prime minister has given an undertaking on hotels."

The ICC, with their credibility at stake, have experts checking on grounds. All playing surfaces have to be finished by July. "Every-thing that can be done is being done," said Brendan McClements, the ICC's general manager of corporate affairs. "We're in constant contact, and while they've got some work to do there's nothing we see that stops us believing they'll be able to deliver."

The tournament website clock revealed yesterday that there were 400 days to go to the opening ceremony. It seemed to be ticking very quickly.