BCCI, improve spectator facilities

Is shade from the heat, clean toilets, good refreshment facilities and better hygiene too much to ask for?

The Board of Control for Cricket in India’s (BCCI) new team of administrators appointed by the Lodha panel includes eminent names like Vinod Rai and Ramachandra Guha.

Hopefully, they will completely overhaul cricket administration in India, rid BCCI of political and vested commercial interests, corruption, nepotism and transform it into a professional, modern sports body.

While the team faces a Herculean task, they would earn the eternal gratitude of cricket fans, if they also spare a thought for spectators, who after all, are the reason for the immense popularity and prosperity of cricket in India. Here’s a personal insight into stadium facilities.

Pune hosted its first ever Test match, between India and Australia from February 23 (which we lost on the third day) at the newly built Gahunje Stadium, about 15 km from the city. The venue has hosted a couple of one-day international and T-20 games earlier.

Prodded by my son, an aspiring cricketer himself, I purchased season tickets (all five days) for the game, priced at Rs 2,000 each for the South East stand. Most stands were priced in this range, while two stands were priced at Rs 1,000 and Rs 5,000, respectively. Alternatively, daily tickets ranged from Rs 400 to Rs 2,000, in case one wanted to attend only some days, but that made no economic sense for anyone who wanted to watch for more than two days.

When a spectator spends that kind of money, isn’t he entitled to some level of comfort, especially when he is taking all the trouble to throng the venue, cheer the cricketers and add to the liveliness, buzz and excitement of the event, instead of watching it free on TV in the comfort of his home with the added benefit of close-up coverage?

Here are the actual conditions one got to experience. The foldable seats were of good quality fibre/plastic and provided adequate seating comfort. The amphitheatre-like cascading layout itself was nice and viewing-friendly. But that’s where the comfort ended. There was absolutely no overhead awning or covering, except for the Rs 5,000 seats in the South Pavilion stand, which also harboured the corporate/VVIP lounges.

The rest of the spectators were left to the mercy of the late February sun, which roasted spectators at 35 degrees Celsius. Even at lower temperatures in winter, this could have become unbearable, but on the cusp of summer, it was simply a conducive condition for heat stroke.

To top it all, since nothing is allowed inside except caps, people couldn’t even take small tubes of sun-screen for protection, leaving them to sizzle in the heat.

Moreover, for security reasons, no one is permitted to take eatables inside. Spectators, therefore, have to depend on food, refreshments, cold drinks or water from the designated vendors only to survive for the duration of seven hours.

What was available was pizzas, wraps, samosas, vada-pav, popcorn, 300 ml cups of cold beverages and 100 ml cups of sealed mineral water. Except water, other items were exorbitantly priced, like at multiplexes and since the spectators had no option, eventually each individual was bound to end up spending minimum Rs 200 to Rs 300 during the day, if not more.

Thus, it was a perfect extortion zone for famished and thirsty spectators. Hygiene too was questionable, given the kind of dusty, grimy trays, hot-boxes, that hawkers carried, the ice-slab storage used as well as serving and catering practices followed.

There was also no provision for dustbins in the spectator area. Since most of the spectators ate or drank refreshments at their seats, they ended up junking the cartons, paper cups, aluminium foils, tissue napkins, below their seats or in the aisles, because hawkers refused responsibility for collecting the refuse and there was nobody else going around to pick the trash.

Cheek-by-jowl

Fortunately, being a Test match, the stands were mostly half-full or even less, and so spectators at least had some level of flexibility and space to shift seats if their row got too crowded or too much trash accumulated nearby. One shudders to think if this were a one-day or T-20 when the stadium would be fully packed with capacity crowd and people had to sit cheek-by-jowl.

The less said about the state of the toilets the better. The parking facilities were uncovered too, in a dusty open ground a kilometre away. So when one trudged back at the end of the day, the car was a virtual oven, caked with dust.

Does any of this indicate that the BCCI and its state affiliates care for spectators, who enable it to generate such enthusiasm for the game as well as much needed revenues from ticket sales? I am sure the story is repeated at stadiums across the country and is not restricted to Pune or Maharashtra Cricket Association alone.

Doesn’t BCCI owe someth­ing to its spectators — at least value for money if not much else? Is shade from the heat, clean toilets, good refreshment facilities at reasonable prices, better hygiene, too much to ask for as basic spectator-friendly arrangements? One hopes the new administrators will make this a priority too.

(Desai is a Pune based author and film-maker)

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