AS a Trinidadian, it might seem blasphemous to say that the party leg of the Republic Bank Caribbean Premier League (CPL) is officially under way in Guyana, but the oil-rich country has certainly transformed what it means to host the CPL finals.
The blossoming energy powerhouse hosted them for the first time in 2022, and is locked in to host the regional T20 showpiece until 2024.
With large recently-discovered deposits of oil and natural gas, Guyana has the fastest-growing economy in the world. Under President Dr Irfaan Ali, the country achieved real growth of 62 per cent in 2022 and is projected to expand by approximately 25 per cent next year. Millions of dollars are being spent on infrastructure projects as Guyana looks to capitalise on its newfound wealth.
With its global status growing alongside its coffers, Guyana not only flexed its financial muscle by agreeing to host the CPL for three consecutive years, but is doing it bigger and better.
When one thinks about carnivals in the West Indies, TT, Barbados and Grenada come to mind.
The Barbados Royals sought to set the stage for CPL matches at home (August 30-September 3) with a motorcade through Bridgetown and Oistins featuring giveaways, models in costume and a live DJ on a music truck, but still decibels below the Kadooment-level partying (October 7-14) the island is known for.
TT boasts what is still often called the greatest show on earth, its globally renowned annual Carnival, but its hosting of the CPL (from 2017-2020) did not incorporate the many facets of the annual festival.
There were live half-time and post-game performances during the CPL semi-finals and finals in 2017 and 2018, featuring mega-acts such as Machel Montano and Ravi B at the Brian Lara Cricket Academy, Tarouba. The buzzing nightlife on Ariapita Avenue also provided entertainment for fans after CPL matches at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port of Spain.
This year, Trinidad’s leg of the CPL (September 5-10) featured a welcome party hosted by Carib at the Piarco International Airport, as well as moko jumbies, fire-breathing devils, pan and tassa music as well as giveaways outside venues on match days.
But Guyana is carving out its own niche. It’s making a splash, with 17 days of fun activities coinciding with its hosting of the final leg of the CPL and the final, called Cricket Carnival.
Chutney concerts, soca concerts, official bar-hopping to meet players, and an international closing concert featuring Machel Montano and Jamaican dancehall stars Spice and Skillibeng were all part of 2022’s celebrations.
For 2023, Guyana has organised three food festivals, a One Guyana concert, a comedy festival, a steelpan event, a carnival parade and a super-concert on September 23 featuring Montano, Kees and Jamaican artistes Sean Paul and Shenseea. The CPL finals bowls off at Providence Stadium on September 24 and the parade of the bands will bring the curtain down on September 25.
Imagine if other Caribbean countries took CPL’s catchphrase – the Biggest Party in Sport – as literally as Guyana has.
Chris Watson, head of marketing for CPL, gave Guyana a thumbs up for the initiative.
Watson said, "We have been so impressed with what the Guyanese government has done around hosting the CPL finals. The amount of interest these events has generated has been amazing. Right now there is overwhelming demand for flights into Guyana because of both the CPL and the Cricket Carnival."
Watson believes there’s room for other countries to mirror what Guyana has implemented.
“We think it would be amazing if there were more events around CPL. It makes perfect sense to make the week that the CPL is in host countries a focus of cultural events.
“We have been doing this on a smaller scale ourselves, with support for charitable events in host countries while we have been there this year. But we would love to see this expand, and would be very keen to work with authorities in host countries to make this happen.”
A hindrance to the all-Caribbean party is the high cost of inter-regional travel, which has been debated ad nauseam. Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell, at the TT Manufacturers Association’s (TTMA) 2022 awards ceremony, lamented the cost and difficulty of travelling within the Caribbean.
“We collectively need to stop making excuses and start taking action and putting the resources where it’s required,” he said.
But on September 12, TT state-owned carrier Caribbean Airlines (CAL) announced a partnership with the Guyana Cricket Carnival.
Garvin Medera, CEO of CAL, said, “Carnival and cricket are ingrained in our regional culture...As such, CAL is delighted to support Guyana’s Cricket Carnival, which provides a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in Guyana’s vibrant culture, delectable cuisine and dynamic music scene.”
Asked about regional travel for CPL and the challenges it presents, Watson said, “CPL has always been responsible for increased arrivals into host countries: for example, the 2019 tournament saw an extra 4,500 people arrive into Trinidad around the finals that year.
“In Guyana there is such demand that there are not enough hotel rooms…something that the business community and government are working to fix.”
So, he concluded, “The stumbling block is always the issue of inter-Caribbean travel. But we have plenty of experience in making this work with authorities to make this as easy as possible.”
Trinidadian Chad Ramgattie, a Trinbago Knight Riders fan, has travelled to Florida (2018) and Guyana (2019 and 2022) to watch CPL matches, and has already booked his flight to Guyana for the 2023 CPL leg.
What motivates him to visit other countries to watch CPL?
“Imagine you in the Oval, you in a sea of red, you have a few drinks in your head; the vibes, the atmosphere does be insane. You always chasing that feeling, that frenzy.
“My motivation was along the lines of wanting to experience the cricket elsewhere. You wanna see if it’s the same vibes. You want to experience a different atmosphere, given that I’m a big cricket fan.”
He said the price of flights is one factor which dictates where he would go.
“The cost was so cheap for Florida, cricket was kind of secondary. We wanted to lime and shop. That was the birth of my first child and I sold it my wife that I’m going to shop.”
But he said the Central Broward Stadium in Ft Lauderdale “lacked a Caribbean vibe.”
He said the experience in Guyana is reminiscent of home – but the overall package is more enticing.
“The vibe, the people, the culture, the liming, it’s kind of similar to Trinidad. They’re real fanatical about their side, even though they lost five times (in the men’s finals).”
He was full of praise for the Cricket Carnival concept.
“I think…that idea to marry the hosting in a two-week period was such a brilliant idea. I’m not sure if Guyana has a carnival like most Caribbean islands, but it’s a good idea and it’s a tourism product that people will go to.”
He said the fete/carnival experience is still below Trinidad’s standard, though he played with a band in last year’s mas and enjoyed it.
“It was cheap – US$100. You can’t go wrong.
“I’m always comparing my experience in Trinidad to other experiences. It’s unfair to compare...but they’re learning – and sooner rather than later, they’ll fix some of the issues.”
He said other countries need to showcase their culture more to attract visitors during CPL.
“I don’t think some of the smaller islands are promoting other events as much. It’s all about who they’re gearing towards really – is it the ‘foreigners’ bringing in that US dollar or British pound, or Caribbean (people)? The cost in Guyana – none of my friends are millionaires. We go where we could get the most bang for our buck.”
At the launch of Cricket Carnival last year, Guyana’s Minister of Culture, Youth and Sport Charles Ramson Jr described it as “a turning point for Guyana, the creation of Guyana as a destination for fantastic, world-class events in the region.”
With the financial backing of its robust energy sector, Cricket Carnival has helped Guyana take a big stride towards achieving that objective. Few would bet against its coming to fruition.