Corfu Cricket Festival to launch in 2010

Mon, Nov 30, 2009 5:22 PM

here aren't many more romantic, or historic, places to play cricket than the Esplanade in Corfu Town, the only ground in the world, apparently, which is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The ground has seen better days: part of the outfield has been turned into a car park. But the Hellenic Cricket Federation is working to change that, and from next year it will form part of a major new initiative, the Corfu Cricket Festival.

The Festival was launched on November 10 at another almost unbelievably historic venue, the Long Room at Lord's. Around a hundred people gathered to hear the Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism in the new Greek government, Angela Gerekou - who is an MP for Corfu - declare her support for the new enterprise.

A joint venture by the Region of the Ionian Islands, which includes Corfu (a.k.a. Kerkyra), and the HCF, the Festival will aim to attract cricketers of all levels to the island, where the game has been played since 1823.

Formerly ruled by Venice and then under French occupation from 1797 until 1814, Corfu was part of a British protectorate between 1815 and 1862, when the Ionian Islands were ceded to Greece. This history explains both the island's distinctive heritage and architecture, and the unique place of cricket in its culture.

The nucleus of the Greek national side still comes from Corfu, although there is also a league in Athens and the HCF is actively promoting the sport on Zakynthos and Cephalonia, other islands of the Ionian group, and elsewhere.

The new Festival will kick off in May-June 2010, with its climax in September and October. It will be organised in four sections: a youth division for children aged 14-18; a 'returned Greeks' festival' for members of the worldwide Greek diaspora; a schools festival; and a traditional cricket section. It is intended to make it an annual event.

Long a favourite holiday destination, Corfu is increasingly having to compete with new resorts around the Mediterranean and further afield, and the Cricket Festival is intended to attract a new category of holiday-maker.

In addition to the ground on the Esplanade, there are excellent facilities at the Marina Ground in Gouvia and the brand new Ropa Valley complex, both of which were used for the European Division 5 tournament in September, which Greece won. Adjacent to Corfu's golf course, the Ropa Valley site comprises two grounds, one of which will be used solely for cricket, and seems likely to become one of the outstanding cricket facilities in southern Europe.

Given the length of the Corfiot season, the easy access to the island by air and the wide range of accommodation available, the Festival organisers are confident that the initiative will be a rousing success.

As HCF president Iosif Nikitas promised on Tuesday evening, sides which visit Corfu are assured of 'an unforgettable experience', both in the cricket they play and more generally. It will certainly find a unique place in the European cricket calendar.

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