When a dreaded plague struck Surat and western India in the mid-1990s, not just cricket, even the economy of the country came under immense threat. Survival became the watchword as the fallout from the outbreak was instant: cancelled flights, quarantine, demolition of the nation’s exports, tourism, hospitality industry, etc.
‘Masala’ matches that were being staged had to be cancelled with some foreign players stranded. The tour West Indies tour of India later that year was almost called off. Even when it went through, their great opening batsman Desmond Haynes refused to come because of fear of plague and instead preferred to end his career.
Two decades after those terrible days, the ramifications of a World Health Organisation (WHO) declared COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic on Indian sports are even scarier. Consequently, the much anticipated annual cricketing mega-event, the IPL could well take a hit in some form of the other.
The prognoses for the staging of the IPL are not good. India is one among the countries that are working in close co-operation to seal their borders in an effort to minimise the spread of the coronavirus.
🗓️🗓️ Announcement 🚨🚨
Schedule for league stage of the VIVO IPL 2020 is out 😎
Mumbai Indians to take on Chennai Super Kings in the tournament opener in Mumbai on March 29th 🏟️🏟️
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) February 18, 2020
Naturally, the cancellation of all non-priority visas until 15 April, puts IPL franchises in a spot of bother. The IPL players from overseas are usually brought on an entertainment visa and that segment is simply not a priority for the nation or anybody else right now.
Many similar events across the world have been postponed, suspended or cancelled in recent times. This includes the NBA in USA, Italy's Serie A football League, European football leagues, professional tennis tournaments, golf, etc. Of course, some events, like the Road Safety World Series 2020 cricket tournament in Maharashtra, a few European football leagues in Spain, Portugal, Germany, F1 Racing in Australia are being staged behind closed doors.
Although there are genuine fears that the worst is yet to come, International Olympic Committee (IOC) officials maintained that the Tokyo 2020 Games will go on as scheduled in Japan in July-August. Thus, they are going ahead with the Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece on Thursday, albeit behind closed doors. It remains to be seen if the rest of the world shares their optimism and enthusiasm.
But it is the conduct of this year’s IPL, the jewel in the Indian sporting calendar that is the subject of much speculation. The IPL Governing Council (GC), headed by former Test cricketer and seasoned administrator Brijesh Patel, along with BCCI President Sourav Ganguly and Secretary Jay Shah, will take a decision on the staging of the event this Saturday after consulting government officials.
Government nod and support are absolutely needed for visas, travel, transport, security, uploading of live telecast footage, health care, quarantining, sanitizing of various areas, etc. Unless the government is fully in agreement with the IPL GC, the BCCI cannot move an inch. Thus the onus is not only on the GC and BCCI but also on the central and state governments. And that is the hitch.
The Maharashtra government, which is enthusiastically sponsoring the Road Safety World Series tournament for cricket's retired legends in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai (Pune leg of matches are to be shifted to Navi Mumbai), has banned the sale of IPL tickets for matches to be played in Mumbai in an effort to prevent crowd gathering at the venue. The sale of tickets for the inaugural match between Mumbai Indians and Chennai Super Kings was to start from next week and this clear-cut ban has put the staging of the match under some doubt. Whether it will be held behind closed doors or not at all is a decision that will be taken this Saturday.
— IndianPremierLeague (@IPL) March 5, 2020
Television is driver
Almost all major sporting events do not really depend on spectators at the venue to drive the event and ring in the big bucks. Television does job far more profitably and efficiently. But the IPL is a different beast. It cannot be confined to any one medium.
The IPL’s format is such that there is plenty of travel packed in a short span of two months. The eight teams play a total of 56 league matches on a home and away basis, made worse by the fact that some of the franchises have opted for multiple home bases.
Thus vast contingents of players, support staff, officials, franchise administrators, owners, security, television crew including production teams, technicians, commentators, etc; IPL and BCCI officials, umpires, cheerleaders, grounds advertisement personnel, etc all need to be moved across the length and breadth of the country. There's equipment that needs to be shifted constantly.
In fact, the staging of the IPL is a logistics nightmare at the best of times and now in the times of a coronavirus pandemic, it could be a disaster waiting to happen.
Maybe the best option would be to postpone the start of the tournament to mid-April and hope for the best. And if things still do not improve then the only solution would be to cut the losses and call off the IPL this year. It could lead to a financial mess but that option would be better than trying to play fearless cricket in the midst of a pandemic.
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