Cricket World Cup 2011
Kolkata axed for CWC opener
New Delhi - Cricket-loving India suffered a sporting humiliation on Thursday when its most famous ground, Eden Gardens in Kolkata, was declared unfit to host its first fixture of next month's Cricket World Cup.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) said another stadium would have to be found to hold the India-England clash on February 27 after a renovation programme at Eden Gardens fell months behind schedule.
"Regrettably, Eden Gardens has not made sufficient progress to justify the level of confidence required to confirm that the venue would be ready in good time," ICC chief executive Haroon Lorgat said in a statement.
The ICC did not say where the game would be played and said it would face a "challenge" to relocate the game because of last-minute ticketing and travel requirements.
Three other World Cup fixtures, which runs from February 19 to April 2 in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, are also scheduled to take place at the ground.
The decision was a major blow for India's image and the estimated 64,000 spectators who were expected to pack the legendary stadium, which has been undergoing a major renovation.
The ruling echoed the chaotic run-up to New Delhi's 2010 Commonwealth Games, which instead of marking the arrival of a new, modern India on the world stage became a national embarrassment of delays, shoddy workmanship and alleged corruption.
"All venues had ample time in which to prepare for World Cup matches," said Lorgat.
"We had been understanding and had provided extensions to the deadline dates but unfortunately we are now at a point where we must carefully manage our risks."
The ICC said concerns were mainly over "cricket operations, media, broadcast and sponsorship facilities" that were not finalised or confirmed by the venue.
In recent weeks, fears had grown over Edens Gardens as it remained a chaotic scene of cranes, rubble, dust and bare concrete.
Hundreds of labourers wearing virtually no safety equipment have been toiling day and night to finish off two new blocks of stands which are still covered in scaffolding.
When an AFP reporter visited in early January, seats had yet to be fitted in many tiers at the ground, which is celebrated as one of the great pilgrimage sites of international cricket.
Until Thursday's ICC ruling, Indian organisers had been dismissing reports about problems at Eden Gardens as scare-mongering by the media.
Jagmohan Dalmia, president of the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) which runs Eden Gardens, told AFP on Tuesday that the ground would host the match without difficulty.
"It appears that ICC team is happy after the inspection of the venue. The match is on 27th, we have to finish the work before the match," he said.
In Thursday's statement from the ICC, tournament director Ratnakar Shetty said: "We will work with the new venue, the tour operators and the ticket distributors to manage the logistical challenges that will surely arise."
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which oversees the multi-billion-dollar sport in India and is seen as dominating the game worldwide, distanced it from the failure to rebuild Eden Gardens on time.
"I don't think the BCCI should be blamed for this," BCCI spokesman Rajiv Shukla to AFP.
"These things happen. I am sure the organising committee will choose a suitable venue soon for that game. But there is no doubt the remaining matches in Kolkata will be held on schedule."
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