South Africa is preparing to host the Cricket World Cup next month. Several of the games will be played in Zimbabwe and Kenya, sparking calls from Britain and Australia for their teams to boycott the Zimbabwe matches. Both teams have decided to play, and organizers of the World Cup are hoping the controversy will not overshadow the Cricket tournament.
So far, most of the international attention being paid to next month's Cricket World Cup has been negative. The governments of Britain and Australia wanted their teams to boycott the scheduled matches in Zimbabwe, but at this point it looks like the games in Harare and Bulawayo will go ahead.
Cricket World Cup executive director Ali Bacher says he hopes the world's focus will shift back to cricket once the competition begins.
"We are hopeful and confident that with the spectacular opening ceremony in Cape Town, that it will set the tempo for a wonderful World Cup," he said. "hat has happened in Zimbabwe will not, in our opinion, undermine what we believe will be a wonderful event for South Africa, for Africa, and international cricket."
Mr. Bacher says there is a contingency plan to move the six Zimbabwe matches to South Africa if the security situation deteriorates and the players would be in danger. But he does not believe that will happen.
The Cricket World Cup executive director also says he thinks the other scandal dogging the tournament, a dispute over player contracts involving the Indian team, will be resolved in time for the opening ceremony. He says the Indian cricket control board submitted a report indicating the country will send its best players to the World Cup, not a second-string team as feared.
"It will be resolved, in my opinion. It might be late in the day, but it will be resolved and we can expect the best Indian team to come to South Africa," he said.
Mr. Bacher says the 2003 Cricket World Cup will be the biggest and grandest cricket tournament ever held. It will involve 14 teams, two more than the last World Cup in 1999. For the first time four of those teams will be from Africa. In addition to South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya and Namibia will also compete.
Mr. Bacher also says authorities have spent more than $6 million upgrading stadiums and facilities in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. He says security will be unprecedented at matches in all three countries.
Security provisions will protect players and spectators, as well as the integrity of the game. Two years after a match-fixing scandal shook world cricket and disgraced South Africa's then-captain Hansie Cronje, officials are making great effort to assure corruption does not taint the outcome of the World Cup.
As for the South African cricket team, current captain Shaun Pollock says his players are looking forward to the competition, and are training hard to be ready to win.
"It is definitely an honor and a privilege to represent your country in a World Cup," he said. "And it is even more spectacular and special to be the hosts of the event. There will be such an awesome vibe at the World Cup when everyone arrives, and the facilities with regard to pitches, they are some of the best in the whole world. The stadiums are spectacular, the grounds, the surfaces, everything is really good."
The Cricket World Cup will last 44 days, and consist of 54 individual cricket matches. The opening ceremony is in Cape Town on February 8.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has made a television commercial urging South Africans to watch the event, and the World Cup organizers like the ad so much they have decided to broadcast it in 14 other countries, including the United States where cricket is not widely watched, or even understood.
Cricket officials say as many as 1.25 billion people could watch the World Cup on television worldwide.