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Raffique Shah


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Grab the 'brown package' and run with it

July 18, 2004
By Raffique Shah

IT was the late lyrical and musical genius of a calypsonian, Maestro, who sang of Trinidadians, "Allyuh 'entknow what allyuh want." The bard, who was tragically killed in an accident when he was in full bloom, sang about people condemning the then PNM government but not wanting the DLP, of attacking capitalism but shunning communism, and so on. The song was political in content, but its message of a people steeped in contradictions and confusion in almost every aspect of our lives, remains relevant today as it was almost 30 years ago. The latest manifestations of this ambivalence are the general responses to the "brown paper bag" we got for the ICC World Cup Cricket in 2007.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning was clear in his government's position from the outset: T&T was not about to bid for any of the major events for a number of reasons. Firstly, he felt that since we are oil-rich nation and our Caricom neighbours are not, they should not have to compete with us for the expensive "ICC packages". Had we gone after the best deal, say the final, we could have easily outbid all our neighbours. Secondly, the cost to us would have been very high, and we had to ask seriously if we were prepared to spend that kind of money for a virtual one-day-stand whose financial or other benefits are questionable. And thirdly, he wanted to get the support of other Caricom governments in this country's bid for the FTAA Headquarters.

Manning's last point is, in my view, the least important. Do we really believe we have the political clout to win the FTAA HQ, what with Miami competing? And Caricom countries, moreso Trinidad and Tobago, have been in the Pentagon's "blackbook" for our position on the Iraq war, the US initial refusal to subject its citizens to the International Criminal Court, and more recently, our stance on the events in Haiti? More than that, unless the FTAA member-states will fund the building and its staffing, I don't see why we should be in this race. We already have the ACS head offices here, and a number of regional and international agencies have chosen to service the Caribbean out of Port-of-Spain. Have they brought us tangible benefits?

The more pertinent point is whether we are prepared to spend the amount of money international sporting bodies like the ICC (add the FIFA and the IOC to that list) demand of countries wanting to stage any of their major tournaments. This ought to be central to our decision on whether or not we" go for the whole hog", which we didn't, or we just take what we got, which was government's position. In this regard I support the latter, while I also buy the argument that we should allow our poorer Caricom neighbours to reap whatever benefits there might be-although I have grave doubts about that.

Sure, in the West Indies cricket is seen as a major unifying force, which, really, is an indictment against those who have historically opposed closer economic and even political ties among the countries in the Caribbean. Had we been mature enough to have rekindled some kind of federal body in the wake of Jamaica (really, Bustamante's JLP) scuttling the first one, unity would have meant much more than cricket or the UWI. But these black specks in the region prefer to go it alone in the most important aspects of fostering brotherhood, and harp on cricket, cricket, cricket. To make up for our folly in international real politik, we fall back on 11men (well, maybe some reserves) to carry the tattered flag of a disunited, and I dare add, backward, region.

Frankly, I am relieved that we got the "brown paper bag" to hold on to, and the others got gold and silver packages. Because I do not believe that we should spend the kind of resources demanded of on something that is hardly likely to bring us any returns, given our penchant for mismanagement and generally mucking things up. Had we received the "yellow package" the government bid for, we would have had to spend a hefty sum of money to "make the cut". Besides the expensive upgrade of the Queen's Park Oval (which will continue, but at a slower pace), where would we have accommodated 5,000 to10,000 visiting players, officials, journalists and fans? In some cockroach-ridden, rundown places that pass for hotels or guest houses? Or would we have gone ahead and spent huge sums of petro-dollars to build shiny new hotels that would remain ghost-buildings after the transients will have moved on?

Those who complain that they are being denied the chance to" see our boys play at home" fail to consider several factors. Firstly, tickets for these types of events are priced beyond the reach of the average fan. And even if he or she can afford it, what guarantee is there with the ICC allocating huge numbers of tickets to visitors and sundry freeloaders? Have they considered that they will have been subjected to a fate worse than the many thousands who paid to get into the stadium for that USA-T&T football qualifier in 1989, and had to settle for "big screen TV"? Or that, had we been given the semi-finals or final matches, real cricket fans would neither have been able to get close to the Oval nor see the match on television?

Have we forgotten the Miss Universe pageant held here, at a cost of close to $100 million, which yielded nothing but big, fat bills? Whatever happened to all the investments Donald Trump was supposed to have made here? And by the way, does anyone remember who won whatever petty football world cup that was held here for which four stadiums were built and a fifth upgraded? I said then, and I stand by that, that we needed the stadiums. But had the government of the day insisted on at least three such venues having the facilities to stage multiple events, we would have been in a better position today. In fact, we might even have been in a position to bid for the entire World Cup 2007. Instead we have stadiums with six-lane tracks, no field events' facilities, nothing for cricket or cycling any sport other than football. They are grossly under-utilised, almost white elephants.

And from my list of why we ought not to have bid for the big "packages" I still have not touched on the cost in transport (buying new buses), security, entertainment and a host of other frills that go with them. If we need to do some introspection on this issue, just study the dilemma of Athens as it prepares to host this year's Olympic Games.