The Cricket World Cup’s top official was severely criticised on Thursday after police battered hundreds of fans with bamboo sticks outside Bangalore’s M Chinnaswamy Stadium as anger at the lack of tickets on sale for the clash between India and England boiled over.
In a memo leaked to the media, the governing body of the sport (ICC) accused its own president Sharad Pawar of mismanagement and said he was “threaten(ing) to undermine” the whole tournament with the way tickets were being distributed — or rather not being distributed — in India.
Pawar, who is also the chairman of the tournament’s Central Organising Committee, was under attack for bringing ICC’s relationship with its corporate sponsors to “breaking point” as they had yet to receive their allocation of tickets despite investing millions of dollars into the Feb 19-April 2 event.
In Bangalore, violence erupted after thousands of fans who had camped outside the 50,000-seat stadium since Wednesday were told all 7000 tickets allocated for public sale for Sunday’s India v England game had sold out.
“The biggest challenge we face today is to meet the expectations of the people, that is not possible, that is never possible,” former player Javagal Srinath, who is now the secretary of the Karnataka Cricket Association responsible for the Bangalore match, told a news conference.
“There is a limit where we can keep people happy. There is not much we can do. Around 7,000 tickets were all sold out in three hours,” a bizarrely grinning Srinath added as he exchanged jokes with the assembled media.
However, it was no laughing matter for those fans who had queued up all night desperate to get a their hands on the India v England tickets that are turning out to be more precious than a Maharajah’s fortune. After the box office sold its quota of tickets by 1130 local time, those who missed out vented their frustration by hitting out at police, causing damage to the area.
The venue was given hosting rights for the highly-anticipated Group B match after the International Cricket Council (ICC) was unhappy with the preparations at the 100,000-seater Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
Ticket sales for the tournament have proven to be a major headache for organisers, who are unable to meet demand for the high-profile matches, especially those featuring India as well as the April 2 final in Mumbai’s Wankhede Stadium.
Thursday’s ugly scenes would have raised further questions about the way tickets are being distributed in the cricket-crazy nation.
Only a small quota for many of the major matches is being sold directly to the public while the rest are distributed among the ICC and clubs affiliated to the local cricket associations.
Thursday’s clashes occurred just two days after the ICC’s legal head David Becker had warned Pawar in the leaked memo that tickets for the final should not be sold at the box office because the high demand created the “potential for chaos and physical injury when the box office sales open”.
The 70-year-old Pawar, considered to be the richest politician in India, is also president of the Mumbai Cricket Association, which is responsible for the running of the Wankhede Stadium.
On Monday, the official online ticket agency that had been expected to sell 1,000 tickets for the final crashed as 10 million fans tried to log on in just 20 minutes.
Of the 33,000 seats at the Wankhede, around 4,000 are available to the public — 1,000 via an online ballot while some 3,000 have been earmarked for box office sales.