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Barmy Pricing in Sri Lanka

Hopefully you will have read Chris’ piece explaining the current situation with ticket price plans for England’s tour of Sri Lanka this autumn. If you haven’t, I suggest you go read it now because this whole article is just a comment (read: rant) about it and Chris has explained everything very clearly so you’ll know what I’m going on about!

To say I’m disgusted by Sri Lanka Cricket’s policy is an understatement. England is the only travelling team that brings with it thousands of supporters. These supporters do a huge amount for local and national economies: Sri Lanka may be becoming increasingly popular as a resort holiday destination but it’s the cricket fans who travel around the country, seeking out different experiences and spreading their cash to many pockets rather than simply putting their feet up in a Bentota beach hotel. Our money makes a real difference, as it did for the Tsunami relief effort in 2005-6.

England bring thousands of tourists exchanging foreign currency for hotels, transport, eating out, drinks, and match tickets.

On my very first away tour (South Africa 2005-6) I saw all five days at Newlands, Cape Town, for £25. That was really the reason why I could afford to go: when you travel for cricket you expect to be able to afford to watch a whole test match. Since then, every single tour has seen conversations between England fans about how we can only come abroad to watch test cricket because the ticket prices are so reasonable. Given the exchange rates we have with most test-playing nations and the economic disparity between us, it’s to be expected that prices will be lower (enabling us to decide to spend £500 on a flight and a couple of grand once we’re out there on everything else).

Indeed, so many England fans that tour abroad don’t get to watch test cricket in England because we can’t pay £50+ a day for a privilege.

Did the Sri Lankan ticketing agency responsible for these prices just decide to look at Lord’s prices, think ‘they sell out, let’s charge the same’? If they did, they’re missing a few very fundamental differences between the experiences you get at Lord’s (and pretty much any other English Test ground) compared to Colombo and Galle. No one likes to sit and list the shortcomings of overseas grounds but really Sri Lanka have asked for this:

- Lord’s offers comfortable, designated seating from which there are hardly any bad views. You are guaranteed a degree of personal space and know you will not be hassled in your seat by hawkers or other undesirables.

- Lord’s is easily reachable by public transport rather than the enforced use of private hire vehicles

- Lord’s offers a full range of food and drink options, as well as the possibility of bringing in your own refreshments

- Lord’s offers a range of leisure activities within the stadium complex beyond just sitting in your sweaty plastic bucket seat

- Lord’s offers a range of areas in which to enjoy your day, aside from your seats, with designated bars, restaurants and picnic gardens.

- Lord’s offers a clearly codified refund structure in the event of loss of play or early completion

None of this is on offer when we travel to a hot, humid, dust-bowl ground like Colombo or Galle. We will be forced to roam outside the ground in search of food vendors; toilet facilities will be of the ‘hold your nose and close your eyes’ variety; we’re expected to pay over £50 for a non-refundable fifth day ticket. Nobody wants the ridiculous tour backpack or cap being lamely ‘offered’ by the ticketing company involved.

Let’s all be honest about what is going on here: the ticket policy is racist. The price England supporters pay will all depend on the colour of their skin. British citizens of Sri Lankan heritage will be able to buy local tickets and enter the ‘Sri Lanka Fan Zones’ because they have brown skin. Any white fans will be denied this opportunity. Or are the ticket agencies planning to demand passport checks to purchase lower rate tickets?

England are used to being treated differently when touring: for the 2006-2007 Ashes and since then, Cricket Australia has done everything possible to disrupt England fans buying tickets (unless paying a premium for a group tour). On the 2012 Sri Lanka tour England fans were asked to pay £25 a day for access. I think I came across about 9 supporters who did: the rest either boycotted the stadiums or snuck in without a ticket at all. I think most England fans would stomach paying double, even triple the ‘locals’’ ticket price as a recognition of our generally higher wealth. But not this.

This blatantly racist, commercially short-sighted policy must be stopped. The ECB has the clout to do it, if it has the balls to get involved. Pressure from the UK sport media will help show the ECB that we are the most loyal cricket fans in the world. We are almost single-nationedly (you know what I mean!) keeping Test Cricket afloat and filling the ECB’s coffers and it’s time for them to stand up for us for a change.


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