Chief executive officer of the Caribbean Premier League (CPL) Pete Russell says he doesn’t understand why the Jamaican Government hasn’t done more to bring the popular T20 tournament back to Sabina Park and invest in the competition on a whole.
The CPL, which completed its 11th season last month, has not been on home soil in four years with the last time being in 2019 when the Jamaica Tallawahs lost to the St Kitts and Nevis Patriots which featured the likes of Jamaican stars Chris Gayle, Andre Russell and Fabian Allen.
However, despite interest from the Tallawahs ownership and the CPL to host games in Jamaica again, they have failed to make a breakthrough with the Government which has left Russell perplexed.
“The discussions with [Sports] Minister [Olivia] Grange have been perfectly amicable, we’ve had very good discussions, but that’s really about it. There’s never really been a negotiation, there’s never been a reason as to ‘this is why we won’t invest in CPL’,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“Maybe from a tourism perspective that they sort of feel they got all they need and they don’t need sports tourism or what CPL can bring from a social benefit perspective either,” Russell added.
“I find it baffling as well as challenging, but I’ve always respected their decision because it’s their money, they can do what they want with it. It’s just that I want to try to get a fair hearing and say, ‘look, I think you’re missing a tick here’ because in the future, [there will be] repercussions on how the game will evolve in Jamaica.”
Russell says he has outlined ways to the Government that would lead to positive profit margins but received a push back.
“It’s always disappointed me that we’ve never been able to break through in terms of with our discussions with the Government to say, ‘look, we will bring all the bells and whistles here’. CPL is a very different tournament from the one last hosted in 2019. It’s a bigger event, there’s a lot more we can do when we’re in the host country,” he said.
“The proposal I put to the Government was very much that we would look at a public-private partnership of which the CPL would underwrite a significant amount of that, so we’re certainly not putting a significant burden on the Government.
” If CPL moves around these countries, it’s a big machine. It’s 350 people that come in for a week as well as the fans [and] franchise owners, but it costs a lot of money [and] it can’t just be we provide all the benefit then take all the costs. There has to be that relationship,” Russell reasoned.
There were strong suggestions that the Tallawahs franchise would move to the USA, after interest from the owners in making Florida their new home. However, that hasn’t materialised despite the Tallawahs playing games at the Central Broward Regional Park in Lauderhill in 2017 and 2018.
The CPL boss has also ruled out the possibility, but has warned that other Caribbean countries could welcome the Tallawahs.
“I think Kris Persaud [owner] and the Tallawahs have been extremely loyal to CPL and incredibly patient. Obviously, it’s not ideal for him in any shape or form because he bought into the idea of playing games in Jamaica and he obviously has looked at Miami and we didn’t feel it was right at all [because] it’s a Caribbean tournament and needs to be played in the Caribbean,” he said.
“But of course, there’s a lot of governments around the Caribbean who are interested in hosting a franchise. We take a call a month about ‘why don’t you move the franchise, whether it’s Grenada, Antigua or wherever it happens to be’ because they can see the value of what the tournament brings. We’re not at that stage yet and hopefully there will be dialogue with the minister again and let’s see where we get to. But I’m not optimistic.”
In addition to not hosting CPL games, Jamaica will not host any matches for next summer’s T20 World Cup, after Minister Grange said the cost would outweigh the benefits.
Russell is worried that cricket on the island will suffer greatly.
“The reality is you have to keep young kids engaged in cricket. There’s so many options to play other sports. Cricket is quite a complexed sport to get into schools at a young age and we have been speaking to [main sponsors] Republic Bank and Cricket West Indies to say, ‘how do we work together to get that primary school interaction?'” he said.
“These young kids have to have their superstars, they have to look up to the guys whether it’s the Chris Gayles, the Usain Bolts, whoever the stars of the sports are locally. They need to see them in person and make sure they can go and enjoy those cricketing experiences that we’ve all enjoyed in the past.
” If you take that away, you do run the risk of a generation missing out and that will have dark consequences in the future,” Russell ended.
Since 2018, Sabina Park has only hosted six CPL matches and 10 West Indies matches across all formats. In the most recent past the venue has notably been used for football and entertainment events.