Editor's Note: This article has been republished ahead of India's third Test against England set to be played at the newly-revamped Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad. A seating capacity of 1,10,000 makes it the world's largest cricket stadium.
The first T20I between India and South Africa in Dharamsala is about to be abandoned due to incessant rain. The crowd is running for cover as the water is pouring down heavily. A large section of the crowd is leaving the stadium amid darkness as there is a massive power outage all over the city.
The main road from one of the stadium gates is at least 500 meters and people are riding their luck trying their best not to walk into open sewage or a recently dug-up ditch by government workers. Fans are walking back with water level having risen to knee length and families with women and kids are not even attempting to go on this adventure. There is also a long patch of muddy road and the rain has made it even worse for walking. All of this is being done with guesswork as the mobile phone's torch is being used to gauge how long this patch exists.
This is an ugly sight outside one of the world's most beautiful grounds, Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association Stadium in Dharamsala. Inside, the spectators may get the best view one could ask for during a cricket match but outside, it is all a fine mess, reflecting the fact that spectators, once out of these cricket stadiums, do not matter. The fact that this behaviour is so normalised, no one really cares to ask for better facilities, in this case, a level road, power backup on the road attaching the stadium to the main road, volunteers to help women and children and assist the elderly. As a result, the authorities do not address these concerns.
It is Lunch on Day 1 of India versus Afghanistan Test match at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore. In North Stand, there are a few spectators who had waited for an extra half an hour before the scheduled time for the opening of the gates to finally grab their seats. There are samosa vendors selling double-fried samosas, two for Rs 50. For lunch, you are being served a veg biryani box for Rs 150 and the non-veg one for Rs 250. Both inedible. Out of hunger, some are gulping the rice down, others choosing a six-samosa meal to make sure they have something in their stomach. To be ready for the afternoon session, you head to the washroom to make sure you are not taking a bathroom break in the next two hours. But you stop at the entry as they are not clean and stink.
This is for Rs 500 per day that you have paid separately at one of India's premier Test match centres.
After the end of an IPL contest, while leaving the ground from one particular side of the Wankhede stadium, two of three gates have one main exit and one sees a huge crowd walking from either side to eventually step on the road bridge that takes them out of the stadium. It is a horrific exercise, something one experiences in a Mumbai local during peak hours.
This slow walk to exit Wankhede comes after tiring your legs while sitting and watching the game. The seats at Wankhede are smaller in size, with no two people of different sizes able to sit comfortably together. Also, the leg space becomes an issue as the organisers use bamboo between the rows. After one of the games at Wankhede in 2019, a member of the famous North Stand gang had told the author, "Another important issue, bamboos are used as a fence between two rows of seats in the North Stand. We didn't quite understand the reason behind it. It caused a lot of inconvenience as far as movement and foot space is considered."
The same member also pointed out that there was no sign of Ladies/Gents on the doors in the washrooms at North Stand. One has to knock before entering. Not to forget, that these washrooms are as unbearable as those at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in terms of cleanliness.
Also, the elevator is usually under-repair, causing issues to those with knee problems or the elderly.
The scenario is not much different at Feroz Shah Kotla ground in Delhi. Here, even in the Corporate Box, you can find dirty toilets, as experienced by a fan Tina Gurnanay during an IPL game in 2019. "At the time when I happened to go to the washroom, it was dirty. The flush wasn't working either," she said.
Also, despite the cost of Corporate boxes, fans are not allowed to take food and drinks to their seats, unlike regular stands. So in a T20 game that runs for a minimum of three and a half hours, you may get busy for a good half an hour to 45 minutes, going up and down the stairs for food and beverage. However minuscule these issues seem at first, they combine to ruin the spectator experience at sports grounds.
In the last two to three years, few of India's grounds have addressed concerns for fans with disabilities but a lot still needs to be done on the same. The Wankhede stadium came up with a stand for disabled fans, Kotla too has space for them. However, there are many other factors that lead to fans not attending games, such as lack of parking facilities, volunteers to help these fans reach them from parking, entry points to the seats.
During 2018 IPL, only two differently-abled fans attended an IPL game and they faced parking issues. Parking is a big issue for disabled fans as the space where they park their vehicles should be closer to the gates they are asked to enter from. In 2019, a differenly-abled fan had to return from MA Chidambaram stadium after a policeman pushed him following an argument over parking space. The need is to universally offer exact number of seats for differently-abled fans across stadiums in India, have volunteers to support them in case they are visiting alone.
At Lord's, for example, wheelchair positions and amenity seating accounts for four percentof the overall capacity. Differently-abled seats are guaranteed at SCG as well along with all major cricket grounds in Australia. The Adelaide Oval clearly mentions on their website that "there are 275 seats for wheelchair users with flexible seating for personal assistants, companions or guests. Each accessible space (800 X 1300mm) is ground marked." At Eden Gardens, the number is only fifty. And this information is not available on their website, because there is none.
In fact, all major cricket stadiums in India do not have an online presence where you can search for these basic facilities or avail any. For example, here is the Sydney Cricket Ground website, where you can find each and everything in the stadium, with the help of a map. Lord's also runs a website where basic information related to the ground is available easily. Both SCG and Lord's have an active social media presence as well. None of the Indian cricket stadiums have their own Twitter account or Facebook page, which is a must for a nation obsessed with cricket and in this age of digital communication.
After the end of the first Test of the ongoing series, the official broadcaster for the India vs England series cut to the visual of a staff putting plastic chairs in one of the stands. These are normal pictures in Indian stadiums. There are many where there are concrete seatings and no fixed chairs. But do such visuals give a great impression of our iconic cricket stadiums?
In 2018, India hosted West Indies at Brabourne, where there is no numbered sitting. There are movable plastic chairs, without numbers, which cause huge ticketing issue, leading to fans tussle for seats in packed games.
For BCCI, which is currently the richest cricket board in the world, these visuals and acts should be embarrassing but unsurprisingly, they are not.
Fans have queued up outside MA Chidambaram Stadium to buy tickets after a long gap. Cricket comes first for them, even during the pandemic. It is time the stadiums and organisers reciprocate the respect.
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