No other sporting competition of this scale and complexity has been conducted anywhere in the world this year since the Covid-19 pandemic has emerged
New Delhi; August 1: Apologies to begin with for a slightly misleading headline- you could replace the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the name of any country and the sense of it will remain the same. The fact that the very idea of staging the Indian Premiere League (IPL)- India’s biggest ever sports entertainment property by far and rightfully therefore the nation’s pride, in 2020 is plain absurd.
Consider this first. The Secretary of the most powerful cricketing body in the world and IPL hosts, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), is the son of the powerful number two in the Government of India (GOI). Yet their letter seeking permission for the League to be staged in UAE between September-November 2020, has seen no response from the latter. It has been close to two weeks now.
Now today i.e. August 1, 2020, purportedly the IPL Governing Council (GC) meets to finalise Schedules and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and ‘minor’ issues like those that need to be ‘ironed out’ or ‘discussed’ with ‘all stakeholders’- you can take your pick on the corporate jargon.
The point is in a raging pandemic, without a clear elaboration on such critical issues accompanying a permission seeking application, how can any discerning mind even think of an approval from no less than the GOI? Aren’t Indian lives at stake? Aren’t the lives of India’s best cricketing talents at stake? Isn’t India’s reputation as a cricketing powerhouse at stake?
Plants in media around finalized dates and surety of GOI permission etc. notwithstanding, IPL 2020 in the UAE is not going to be as easy as it is desperately being made out to be.
Even in rich, powerful and far more technology savvy communities and nations which have “flattened the curve” long back and where sporting activities have well and truly begun for a while now, it is not “business as usual” even after seven months of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Spectators are a no-no and not a single sporting event, even remotely close to the scale and complexity of a travelling IPL, has been conducted since March this year.
Doubters and defenders would point to the NBA, the PGA, the EPL and the Bundesliga for starters. It would be pertinent to note that these tournaments largely include local and/or domestic travel. Also, most of the teams involved in the team sports, had at least their nucleus including non-playing support staff, holed up at the team home-base during the course of the Pandemic. Getting them together and moving them around locally/domestically is far less a problem. Golf, on the other hand is considered one of the most physical-distancing friendly sports and was one of the first disciplines to take the field post global lockdowns began easing.
The England-West Indies bilateral Test series played recently in Bio-bubbles in England, the SOPs of which the BCCI is desperate to emulate for the IPL 2020, was also basically about flying in one international team of 20-people pre-tested Covid negative and then putting them up at a location inside the stadium complex.
The IPL on the other hand is an entirely different ball-game.
The eight IPL franchises disband after the seven week event and consist of key individuals who belong to as many as 10-15 different nationalities in some cases. These also include key operators like television broadcast crews, non-playing support and administrative staff, besides players and coaches. To get them all to merge into the UAE from all across the world following uniform protocols without any slippages, is extreme-risk taking in itself.
Add to that the huge problems being faced by India and Indians who make up the other critical bulk of the League, given the pandemic is yet to peak in the country, and one is left to wonder as to the whole purpose of staging the League.
Forget for a moment that iconic sporting events like the Olympics (no less), Wimbledon, UEFA Champions League and others have already been cancelled or postponed to next year.
Even the experiences of the now infamous Adria Tour, which resulted in no less than five international Tennis players including the likes of Grand Slam winners Novak Djokovic and Goran Ivanisevic testing positive, shoud have acted as an eye-opener. Or even the recent pullout of world number one ladies tennis player Ash Barty from the US Open in August, as well as talk of many top male tennis players looking to pull out of it, should give an insight into what is going on in the minds of players and athletes today.
India is slated to play a four-Test series in Australia in December. That one would believe, would be far more important for a cricketing point of view and much easier to pursue logistically. Who takes responsibility if top India players get infected during the course of IPL 2020, as has happened in even golf’s PGA Tour and Formula-1 racing, and then miss out, resulting in a bad tour for the nation? One which has been billed at being at par with “The Ashes”.
Sometimes, at the very least, during a raging and deadly pandemic, it might just pay more to think nation and its people above commerce.
This article has been written by Somit Biswas. Somit is an ardent sports fan with keen interest in football & cricket in general. He breathes sports while in his spare time loves to talk about varied subjects most importantly the economic and political situations around the globe. He is a communications professional and co-owns a sports speciality communication agency in India. Somit can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can connect with him on twitter @somit09