Cheering for the Kiwis at the BlackCaps vs India match at Eden Park in Auckland, Therese Walsh could pass off as just another cricket-crazy local. She looks unassuming in her white capris and floral tunic that it comes as a surprise when she introduces herself as the head of New Zealand operations for the ICC World Cup 2015. One of the most powerful women in sport in her country, Walsh managed to secure an equal split of pool matches, a quarter final and a semi final with Australia, their co-host for the tournament. Walsh talks to THE WEEK about how NZ is gearing up for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC) and the preparations that are under way.
What are the significant upgrades that are being carried out for the World Cup?
In terms of stadia, there are three in the South Island–Christchurch, Dunedin and Nelson–and four in the North Island–Wellington, Hamilton, Napier and Auckland. Among this, the main stadium being upgraded is the one in Christchurch called Hagley Oval. The stadium has been a cricket venue for over 160 years. But with the earthquake in Christchurch in 2011, the main venue has been damaged. So we are loading upon the bankment and that would be the venue for international cricket henceforth starting with the World Cup. It will host a couple of warm-up matches but it will really come into the spotlight only by the Cricket World Cup and will have the opening match there (New Zealand vs Sri Lanka).
Another venue which is brand new and will be used in the CWC is Nelson. Eden Park in Auckland was already upgraded for the Rugby World Cup in 2011, so it doesn’t really need a lot of work. And Hamilton has got a couple of smaller things happening to it, just in terms of upgrading some of the peripheral facilities. Napier is in very good shape and in Wellington, we are just extending our bar areas and some of the hospitality areas. But apart from that Wellington is also a reasonably new venue, so it is in really good shape.
Give us an idea about the stadia capacities.
It is varied in different places. Somewhere like Nelson, which is the new one, only 6,000 seats are available. Auckland is the biggest with about 50,00 seats and will host the semi final. Wellington is the next biggest with around 35,000 seats and it will host the quarterfinal.
What is the kind of money involved?
The major amount of money is being spent in Christchurch. The redevelopment is undertaken by the Christchurch Cricket Association and it is costing them around 9 million NZ dollars. Each venue is handled by the respective cricket associations.
How about the accommodation and security facilities for the teams and fans?
We have a tie-up wih 10 of the best hotels in the country and bookings have been made, but we are not yet allowed to publicise it. Coming to security, in New Zealand, all security activities are run out of a central government. We have a police force and security agencies and they will be putting together a strategy for the CWC. And we will also be working very closely on this account with Australia.
How different will CWC be in 2015?
The main attraction is that it is happening in the southmost place of the world and it hasn’t happened here for a long time. The last time we had a World Cup match here was in 1992 and it has been 23 years. I think a lot of people would want to come and experience New Zealand and Australia as it is a different part of the world. This is a once in a generation opportunity for fans and families to experience the Cricket World Cup. And this time the tickets are priced as such affordable rates with stand tickets as low as 5 to 20 NZ dollars. We want not just the visiting fans but all the Kiwis, too, to come and cheer even when the BlackCaps are not playing.
For a fan travelling from India, what would you suggest as the best base?
The two matches that are guaranteed that India will play in are in the North Island at Auckland and Hamilton. These places are quite close to each other, so you can base yourself in Auckland and move around easily. Then, the quarter final is in Wellington and the semi final in Auckland, and there is every chance that India will play in them considering they are the defending champions. So Indian fans can even visit Wellington to catch the quarter final. It is quite an easy trip from Wellington to Auckland.
What are the numbers you are expecting and what attractions are in place to woo fans from around the world?
We are looking at about 30,000-35,000 people coming in for the World Cup. We are still working on the tourist attaractions for the moment. But we will be putting in place some activities that we will soon publicise. We are going to have quite a big opening ceremony at Christchurch, so that will be quite an attraction. In New Zealand, it is tourist season anyway, and we have a lot of scenary, natural adventures and places to check out. So I think people will be occupied with them. There will also be a whole layer of cricket-related festival activities and contests during the World Cup.
Finally, how difficult is it being a woman chief in the largely male-dominated sports administration circuit?
(Laughs) It is quite difficult, trust me. I was the CEO of the New Zealand Rugby Union and the biggest problem I faced was the dress code. I used to feel strange when all the men would wear NZRU ties for the board meetings. People used to find it hard to believe that a woman can head a sports council. I used to be mistaken as someone’s secratary most of the time. When I was made the head of the CWC team, I made sure that they had pendants and brooches with the CWC logo made for the women in the team. I think I survived this long because I have opinions and am not scared to voice it.