Which sport in Cayman is the biggest – cricket or football?
Football is definitely the most popular amongst youngsters and the Cayman national team is progressing well. But culturally, cricket remains the Caribbean’s foremost sport.
West Indies seem to be reviving and the ripple effect from the Sir Allen Stanford largesse is already boosting Cayman’s cricket program.
The Jimmy Powell Oval in West Bay is almost complete and is a fine little ground. But cricket-wise all George Town has is the humble Smith Road Oval.
If the Honourable Minister of Sport Alden McLaughlin has his way, within a few years, Cayman will have a dedicated cricket stadium in George Town. Smith Road’s close proximity to the airport does not make it a viable long-term location. It has already been threatened with closure because of it and got a one year’s reprieve last summer. McLaughlin has grand plans for a cricket facility and he hopes to get re-elected next year to see that plan through.
‘(Moving away) is a requirement by the Civil Aviation Authority and I’m hopeful that the cricket association is going to be allowed to continue there until we develop the John Grey campus with a regulation size cricket facility,’ McLaughlin says in an interview in his office last Thursday. ‘Perhaps that will be just a stop gap measure. It’s a real issue in George Town to find a place big enough for cricket, aside from the issue of cost.
‘But the cricket facility at John Grey, if all goes according to plan, should be available by the end of 2009 or early 2010 and that will provide for cricket in the interim. Assuming I am still in this role after the Government elections in 2009, I will press on to create a national stadium for cricket in George Town.
‘The one in West Bay is part of what we’re doing with the development of the new campus there. It involves the creation of stands, concession areas and rest rooms for the cricket facilities.
‘The pavilion is completed. We’re going to do the pitch as well, put in proper irrigation. I was talking to coach Theo Cuffy just yesterday. One of the first things to be constructed in West Bay are the new stands which should be able to seat 2,000 people who can watch the game in comfort. I just wish that I had no end of money and time to do all this. I think we have and are making great strides.’
Cayman’s cricketing talent belies an island of its size. Seasoned campaigners like Pearson Best and Kenute Tulloch continue to dazzle although they are well into their forties and teenagers like Ramon Sealy, Kervin Ebanks and Darren Cato can make an impression on the regional scene in the future. Best scored a century in the first weekend of 50-over cricket on Sunday. Not bad for a 45-year-old. So McLaughlin’s ambitions for a cricket venue befitting the talent here is not misplaced.
He has enhanced the sports facilities scene considerably since Hurricane Ivan devastated Grand Cayman nearly four years ago. Next week the refurbished Truman Bodden stages the World Cup qualifier against Bermuda. McLaughlin feels it is money well spent.
‘The football, we’re spending significant millions and in total well in excess of $100 million on these new campuses, all of which will have football fields and cricket facilities.
‘For the first time we will have proper cricket facilities in the eastern districts. I’ve had a lot of battles with the educators at their facilities who are quite proprietary but we’ve designed the programs to keep the facilities open till 10 or 11pm because we can’t justify spending millions on places and close them at 3.30pm when schools close. These are community facilities.
‘By early 2010 we’ll have two new cricket facilities, one at Clifton Hunter, one at John Grey and an enhanced facility at West Bay which is better than we’ve ever had before. But as a George Town representative and because it is the capital, I really do feel that it needs its own cricket facility. But I can’t do it this term and I’m not going to pretend. We just don’t have the funding, time and resources to do it.’
Once all the sports facilities are in place, McLaughlin also wants to develop Cayman’s sports tourism.
‘Quality facilities are a key to that because people are not going to come because you’re not going to get quality athletes to come,’ he says. ‘Everyone talks about the importance of sports tourism but unless we’ve got the actual sports facilities we cannot even get started on that front. What we are doing now is the foundation to advertise Cayman as the destination for sports tourism.’
One stumbling block, McLaughlin admits, is the fact that hotels and general costs in Cayman are high. ‘It is very prohibitive in some circumstances. The football association is talking about putting up dormitories to host visiting teams.
‘The football association really has a great plan to develop a football academy beside Prospect Primary School. Again, it involves millions of dollars. I’m happy to support them the best I can, but it’s always a question of proprietisation and I think over the course of this four year period the Government has invested the better part of $25 million in football facilities.’
Charles ‘The Killa’ Whittaker dedicated his last fight – a one round knockout – to McLaughlin for all the help and support his ministry has given the West Bay fighter. There is a mutual respect and genuine friendship, but not so long ago their relationship was strained, admits McLaughlin.
‘I think both Charles and I always say we don’t want to talk about our relationship. He will tell you the same thing. In large part, it all had to do with misunderstanding on his part.
‘I do things by the book and there’s a certain structure and accountability that I insist upon in anything I do. I don’t think anyone would say I am not bold and take risks. That’s fine. But I need to be able to account for what I do.
‘I guess my predecessor had a different approach to these things. And initially with Charles it was about building the sort of relationship that is necessary and having him and his committee believe that the ministry was part of the team.
‘I was simply not prepared to write a cheque for $30,000 and say: ‘Here Charles or committee, go ahead and do it.’ Some unfortunate things were said but I always understood that I was the minister and regardless of what was said about me, not necessarily by Charles – by other people who supported him – that I couldn’t respond in kind.
‘If I have one strength, it’s about consensus building, getting people to come on board and work it out. Charles and I had a frank discussion about what was what after one of the fights when less than complimentary things were said about me and the ministry. We worked through all those things.
‘I have always been hugely supportive and admired Charles. He came up tough and he’s had to literally fight his way to where he is, through great obstacles in his life which would have stopped a lesser person. I have huge respect for that. We now have a great relationship. Hopefully, it will all pay off with a world title in the near future.
‘He now calls me about anything and everything. If he wants to get into politics it will be great if he does. As the minister you have to have broad shoulders and be able to keep your tongue, even when instinct tells you, you should respond because I have huge respect and regard for the office I hold. Every day I get up I’m still in a state of disbelief that people in the country have given me this huge responsibility.