In a world where a killer virus is spreading like wildfire, a new sad reality hits us every day. In India, the reality is even sadder with citizens running from one hospital to another, from one pharmacy to another, crying for beds, oxygen cylinders, and concentrators. The fact that this is happening every day in the national capital is far more worrying than the virus itself.
Far away from all the distress and SOS calls, a cricket league continued in the same country without any hassle. The players kept getting tested every alternate day, they remained in a bio-bubble with no physical contact from the outside world and the cricket happened every day, on some days, twice a day.
But that bubble has now been breached.
The Indian Premier League (IPL) game between Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in Ahmedabad on 3 May had to be rescheduled after two KKR players — Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier — tested positive. The whole squad is isolating right now. And as this is being written, there are reports that three members of the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) support staff have also tested positive in Delhi where more than 400 people died due to the virus for a second successive day. Another report says that five of Delhi and District Cricket Association (DDCA) ground staff members have tested positive as well.
Just a week ago, when the call for postponing the 14th edition of the IPL was growing, some argued whether it will be the right thing to do. One argument was that it is not advisable from a commercial point of view to stop the league and that a lot was at stake. The other argument was that IPL was a big distraction from what was going on in the outside world. It was helping bring some joy to people in times like these.
The second argument was not wrong completely. If IPL was helping someone get distracted from the cruel reality outside then why not continue with it? But there was one basic issue in that thought. It worked on the assumption that the world inside the bio-bubble was completely protected from the virus. That thought bubble, that led people into believing that the virus could not reach the players, has burst too.
And this brings us back to the same question: Should BCCI have paused IPL when the cases were increasing and the mortality rate was on the rise? More importantly, shouldn't they have shifted it outside India when the cases were on the rise from mid-March itself in major cities, including those that were to host the IPL. Clearly, the BCCI knew of the situation and chose to look away.
The Narendra Modi stadium in Ahmedabad, the venue for two India vs England Test matches and five T20Is, allowed fifty percent spectators to watch the games. That means 50,000 people (the stadium has a capacity of 1 lakh seats) walked in and out of the stadium for seven days (five days combined for two Tests and two for two T20Is). Seeing the rise, the BCCI discontinued the practice, and the remaining T20Is were held behind closed doors in Ahmedabad. But by then, much of the damage must have been done.
The last T20I at Ahmedabad took place on 20 March. On 21, Times of India, reported that city had reported 401 new cases, its highest daily count till then. It is difficult to directly establish a connection between the rise in cases and the crowd gathered at Narendra Modi Stadium but it is not difficult to ignore its impact on the sudden rise in cases either. As many as 50,000 people sitting, cheering, and dancing together on a daily basis at a time when the second wave was gripping the country must be taken into account while assessing what went wrong.
From late March, Ahmedabad, like other cities in Gujarat and across India, continued to record more cases every day. In April, the state of Gujarat recorded 2.6 lakh cases and 2,600 deaths. Ahmedabad is the worst affected city in Gujarat today with 4,980 cases on 1 May (last updated at the time of writing on Amdavad Municipal Corporation website). And these are just the official figures.
But these were cold statistics for BCCI. The Ahmedabad cricket stadium, a newly built theatre of dreams, named after country's current Prime Minister, remained the IPL venue. So did Delhi, India's national capital, currently the worst-affected city in India.
While the India Open (badminton) and Asian Boxing Championship, scheduled to take place in Delhi in May, were called off, IPL reached the national capital on 28 April. No sporting event could take place in Delhi but IPL surely was an exception.
Because IPL has a massive army of people looking after the players, and the money to maintain the bio-bubble, the tournament continued to take place even in hotspots like Ahmedabad and Delhi.
The thought that the bubble was 100 percent safe is now an invalid argument. The recent developments will make the players and support staff and their families insecure and create the same fear that exists outside these bio-bubbles.
And think for a while about the foreign players who are hearing news about their countries sealing borders for those arriving from India. Think about their families. With some of them returning early and many still stuck, is it okay to let them play with so much fear around?
Hopefully, the reality has hit the tournament organisers. Fortunately, the hard truth has not been spoken in a big way. They read and ignored the signs along the way till the cases emerged but now the time has come to the take the right decision. The time has come to take a pause.
The IPL was not cancelled even when thousands continued to die outside because it was seen as a good distraction for others from the tragedy. It was not cancelled because it could affect many livelihoods in direct and indirect ways. It continued even when cities suffered for want of basic health facilities because it did not have anything to do with that. It could not be cancelled to ensure the state manpower and resources spent on making the spectacle happen could be used to save lives.
The IPL was not cancelled because it was in a comfort zone of itself. The virus had not affected it.
But now, that bubble has burst. The tournament needs to come to a stop now as the players and the people running it are at a huge risk. And BCCI must act quickly. Nothing is bigger than human life. Cricket, definitely not.
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