BRISBANE // While Melbourne’s 100,000-capacity stadium is barely big enough to seat all those members of the “Blue Billion” wanting to see India play, not all fixtures at this World Cup are able to sell themselves.
The UAE and Ireland, two countries where cricket is not the No 1 sport, will meet at the 42,000-capacity Gabba in Brisbane on Wednesday – it is possible the players might feel a little lonely in such a cavernous arena.
Nearly 35,000 Emiratis visited Australia in 2013 but it is unlikely many turned up cricket purposes.
The UAE team won fans by the way they played in their opener against Zimbabwe in New Zealand last week, but it might not translate to tangible support at the Gabba.
At least their opponents will be able to count on some following as about 100 supporters have travelled with Ireland’s official supporters group, the Blarney Army, for the competition.
That number could swell with independent travellers and Australia-based Irish people backing the side in green.
Noel White, Ireland’s ambassador to Australia, said that a third of Australia’s population claim Irish heritage.
As such, he said there is “definitely a strong connection” between Australians and the Irish.
That points to adopted support for the side in green, even though the sport is still some way off top billing in Ireland.
“There is not the public awareness of soccer or rugby but, having said that, it is coming up fast,” the ambassador said.
“The heroics of the team in the past two World Cups, with the wins against England and Pakistan, have really captured the public’s imagination.
“There is definitely a good awareness of those big wins, and people are watching to see what that means for the future and what it means with regard to status. But it is in a different place to other sports.”
Australia has some history to call on, in terms of marketing less-fashionable fixtures in global events.
In 2003, two nations with minimal international pedigree, Namibia and Romania, played each other in rugby’s World Cup in Launceston in Tasmania.
The city’s mayor launched a campaign called “Odds and Evens” by which people born on an odd numbered day were told to support Romania and people whose birthday was an even number backed Namibia.
The locals lapped it up and 15,457 went along to watch at the 20,000-capacity York Park Stadium.
No such schemes have been formally promoted by the ICC for this tournament, but the organisers said they had been working hard to get people through the turnstiles.
“We have engaged with all cricket clubs throughout Queensland to encourage their members to get along to matches,” a tournament spokesman said. “They were offered a priority period to purchase tickets.
“In association with Cricket Australia, we have run a schools programme called Cricket Smart. Schools that sign up to this are offered free tickets to get their classes along. So far we’ve had in excess of 2,000 schools sign up around Australia.”
That is an old fail-safe. Of the 2,643 people who came to watch the UAE’s opener against Zimbabwe in Nelson, many were children who had been give the day off on account of the match.
The national team picked up a variety of supporters among schoolchildren, many of whom had been tasked with researching facts about the country for their homework.
The kids were grateful for the time off, too. One schoolboy showed his colours by carrying a UAE flag and wearing a rugby shirt with the Fly Emirates logo on the front.
The UAE team’s match against Ireland is the middle of three scheduled for Brisbane during the World Cup.
The biggest of these, Australia against Bangladesh on Saturday, was abandoned without a ball bowled because of torrential rainfall.
Everyone who bought advance tickets for that game was refunded their money, so maybe they will re-invest it in watching UAE play Ireland, or Pakistan against Zimbabwe on March 1.
David Richardson, the chief executive of the ICC, said a variety of considerations are made when matching a venue to a fixture.
“Some of these factors are commercially based, like time zones for broadcast back into India and into England,” Richardson said.
“Then we have to make sure that the players don’t have to travel too much. We try to minimise the travel and not make it too onerous for them.
“The venues all compete for these high-profile matches in particular, and we have to make sure they all get their fair share.”
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