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Does Brampton need an international cricket stadium or more community pitches? The mayor says both

Brown breaks ground for a schoolyard pitch and dreams of a $100-million facility for the world’s elite.
Oct. 20, 2023
Kerry Gillespie

A day after the cricket world celebrated joining the 2028 Olympics, Aditya Babbar watched a vital development to his dream of playing the sport unfold at his Brampton school: construction of a new cricket pitch.

“I love playing cricket but, because of the space constraints near my neighbourhood, it’s not possible,” the 15-year-old Babbar said.

Cricket facilities are in such short supply that players across the Greater Toronto Area routinely take over empty baseball diamonds, soccer fields, tennis courts, public parks and concrete school yards to play the game. Babbar and his friends, like other passionate players, have tried that route but he says they had to give it up over fears of breaking something or hitting someone with the hard ball.

“We don’t have a safe place where we can play.”

He hopes the new cricket field at his school will change that. So does Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown.

Brown, city councillors and school officials happily shovelled dirt at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for the Turner Fenton Secondary School cricket field, said to be the first joint venture in Canada between a city and a school board for cricket.

This $2.7-million, cost-shared project for students and community players is just one piece of the cricket infrastructure puzzle for Brown; the far more expensive piece is the $100-million-or-more cricket stadium he wants to build a few blocks down the road.

“We’ve got great sporting venues in Canada but cricket is missing,” he said.

Brown first promised a multi-purpose cricket stadium, built to the level required to host international matches, in his 2018 election campaign. It’s finally on the cusp of reality with city council set to hear details later this month of proposals to build the stadium and develop the surrounding area, he said.

Brampton put out a request earlier this year for expressions of interest from developers to build and pay for the “state-of-the-art multi-purpose cricket facility” in exchange for the right to develop some or all of the vast city-owned 112-acre site near Highways 410 and 407.

“I’m told council will be receiving three very impressive proposals,” Brown said.

With T20 cricket, the shortest international format at about three and half hours, coming to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics, he sees a role for Brampton to play. “Countries are going to look at locations within North America to have test matches leading up to it. I think Canada would be a natural venue to have some of these friendly matches and, if that means filling the stadium full of people, what an economic gift that would be to our city.”

The goal is to construct the stadium “within this term of council,” he said. That runs until October 2026, making for an eyebrow-raising fast timeline for such a major project.

Brown originally brought the cricket stadium forward as a $35-million city project. It grew to $49 million and was shelved by a majority vote of council in June 2022 over questions about how the city would pay for it. Even at the lowest price tag, there were councillors at the time who argued the city would be better off focusing its resources on community-level infrastructure to satisfy the surging demand of grassroots players for cricket fields rather than a stadium pegged to professionals.

Brown argues that both pieces are needed in Brampton, home to a large population hailing from cricket-loving countries, but says that council’s unanimous decision to pursue a private sector partner to pay for it is “a better option.”

That lets the city focus its limited dollars on community projects such as building more fields, adding lights so they can be used in the evening, doming a field for winter use and making junior cricket a city recreational program for kids, he said.

“I hope Turner Fenton is going to be such a success we can replicate that at schools across the city.”

Praim Persaud, president of the Brampton Etobicoke District Cricket League and Ontario Cricket, the sport’s provincial governing body, says “you can’t even build (cricket pitches) fast enough.”

His league, one of the largest in North America with 224 teams this year, had to turn away more than 90 team applications because there’s nowhere for them to play. The league’s sign-up portal for next year isn’t open yet but they’ve been inundated by people reaching out by email, phone and social media trying to get a jump on registration.

“If they go to the other leagues in the Toronto district -- same thing -- they don’t have enough facilities,” Persaud said. “If they go to Mississauga’s league, it’s the same thing. If they go to Hamilton, it’s the same thing. There are no facilities for any of the leagues to take in new teams. There’s an extreme shortage.”

Persaud says Brampton is well ahead of other cities in embracing the sport. It is adding facilities, putting in lights and, crucially, improving the quality of pitches and cutting the grass at half an inch rather than the two-inch standard park height so the ball can roll as it’s meant to.

But for decades, even in Brampton, cricket was “under the table” and the last sport anybody considered for funding, he said. Only recently has its profile been raised to the point that it is “considered equally with the other sports for infrastructure planning” within the city.

Brampton has 18 city cricket fields, with two more expected next year. There are 84 baseball diamonds.

Toronto has 27 cricket pitches, though players complain about their poor quality, and 342 baseball diamonds. Toronto’s parks and recreation department says three new pitches are slated for 2024 and that some baseball diamonds will “eventually” be converted to cricket pitches.

“All the cities must accept the fact that cricket is one of the major sports and they need to react to the demand by building better fields and making facilities available for the growth of the sport,” Persaud said.

He says the Turner Fenton pitch, slated to open in 2024, is just the kind of facility that’s needed. The joint venture provides access to the Peel District School Board and its students during the day and is available to help meet surging demand in the community on weekends and evenings.

Kathy McDonald, the local Peel District School Board trustee, agrees. She knows firsthand how deep passion for the sport runs. “I remember growing up in Jamaica and during cricket season you couldn’t talk -- everybody had their little transistor radios on listening to cricket,” she said. “We need to ensure that we have activities that the kids want to play and enough kids want to play.”

Babbar, for one, can’t wait. He’s hoping the school will include cricket in gym class and start a team to play on the new field. “It’s exciting.”