Coronavirus attacks Indian cricket’s armour – the IPL

Suvajit Mustafi
Friday, 13 March 2020

The bulk of the reason for India’s domination with the moolah-power in the world of cricket is due to the Indian Premier League (IPL). It’s safe to say that India fuels the rise of the sport. The cash-rich tournament finds itself dangerously clutched in the grip of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

The bulk of the reason for India’s domination with the moolah-power in the world of cricket is due to the Indian Premier League (IPL). It’s safe to say that India fuels the rise of the sport. The cash-rich tournament finds itself dangerously clutched in the grip of the novel coronavirus outbreak. The tournament, scheduled to start on March 29 has been deferred until April 15. The BCCI top brass led by its president Sourav Ganguly made the decision on Friday, a day before the much-awaited IPL Governing Council (GC) meeting.

Earlier this week, the sport ministry’s advisory to all the national federations stated: “there shall be no public gathering at any sports events and will be played behind closed doors without spectators.”
The remainder of the India-South Africa ODI series, which was supposed to be held in the empty stadiums, in Lucknow and Kolkata, has now been called off. Both BCCI and CSA have decided to reschedule the same.  

The dreadful virus is spreading rapidly and makes no discriminations. From eminent politicians to sportspersons to celebrities, coronavirus has now many A-listers in its clutches.

The pandemic has led to the postponement of global conferences and national sporting leagues, including the Serie A, NBA and the FIFA World Cup Qualifiers. Question marks also hover around the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The lighting ceremony took place without any audience, in the historic site in Olympia on Thursday.  

Alarmingly, one of the spectators out of the 86,000+ attendance at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) during the Women’s T20 World Cup Final on Sunday has been detected positive for the virus. 

IPL 2020
As the toll balloons for detected cases and fatalities, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak as a pandemic. The IPL Governing Council (GC) will monitor the situation and take the global developments into consideration when they meet on Saturday to discuss further on the future of the 2020 edition.

From General Elections to drought, IPL has found itself on the sticky ground numerous times, but this is new. 

“This time the issue is unusual. IPL has faced numerous local issues like drought, power consumption, security and others, but coronavirus is a global worry. IPL is the biggest competition for BCCI, and even the ICC refrains from organising other major competitions during the IPL to enable maximum participation from the overseas stars.We need to discuss all the possibilities and their impact,”Abhay Apte, the former President of Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA), told Sakal Times on Thursday.

The ICC T20 World Cup will be held later this year, and that makes this edition of IPL furthermore important. Many players have pinned hopes on the tournament for a national selection. The Indian think-tank have also made it clear that IPL’s performance could pave MS Dhoni’s path to the national side.

In the wake of the current crisis, the above dilemma holds little ground.

Government interference 
Over 80 people in India have already been detected positive of the virus, and one death has been reported. Maharashtra remains one of the worst affected states with 17 confirmed cases and to curb the spread of the virus, the Maharashtra Government will be invoking the Epidemic Disease Act, 1897. From malls to cinemas to public swimming pools and gyms, all will be closed in major cities like Mumbai, Navi Mumbai, Pune, PCMC and Nagpur, till further notice.

The State Government of Karnataka has expressed its reluctance, whereas the Delhi Government has said its 'no' to the tournament. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray has granted his permission only if the games are played without an audience. 

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has left the decision to the BCCI, though with reluctance.

“I think it is for the organisers to decide whether to go ahead with it or not. Our advice would be to not do it at this time, but if they want to go ahead, it is their decision,” a senior MEA official told reporters.

However, the decision-makers at the national level know about the importance of the tournament in terms of commerce.The BCCI has ensured that they will work closely with the Government of India along with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and all other relevant Central and State Government departments to make the best decision.

Availability of the overseas players
Coronavirus' contagiousness has led to the pandemic that has now claimed almost 5,000 lives, globally. Countries like China, Italy, Iran, France, and South Korea have been the big sufferers. In wake of the same, India has suspended tourist and medical visas till April 15. The overseas cricketers pose a similar threat as carriers of the infection.

With the dates pushed and if the visa norms don't change. Foreign players could still participate. However, if it remains a closed-door IPL, visas for international players could be advanced as exceptional cases.

Franchises do not want the tournament without the availability of the foreign players.

Rejigging the format or a possible cancellation?
A prudent decision to postpone the IPL has already been made. Unless there’s a massive outbreak, there would be no cancellation. According to the BCCI sources, the tournament could be played in between April 16 and June 5, if the situation improves.

There could be some major changes like a compressed format – which could see the close-to-two-month tournament cut into a three to four-week affair. Teams could play one game against each other instead of the home-away system.

Breaking the teams into two pools of four each could be another possibility in a bid to curtail the tournament. Considering the reluctance of a few state governments, the IPL could be limited to two to three venues. That would also curb travelling. 
Key discussion points
If it remains closed-door event…

  •  From police to cleaners to transport to confectioners to many others, IPL is a revenue-generator for several allied businesses and also a livelihood for many. How do the organisers tick those boxes? 
  • The BCCI has time to reassess the situation. The close-door IPL ensures a spike in television and digital viewership. However, does this guarantee en-cashing the advertisers, especially in the backdrop of the global economic slump? 
  • The ticket revenue for each of the teams varies in the range of INR 15-30 crore. Will BCCI compensate the teams for the gate-money loss? Will there be a revenue sharing with the broadcasters?

With the ICC's FTP in place and tournaments like T20 World Cup and World Test Championship staring at the calendar, how does IPL maximise its effect?

Despite the month-long time, the rescheduling matches, rejigging the format and also limiting the venues will lead to a logistical nightmare. In addition to these are the sponsor commitments. Considering the switched-on panic-mode across the nation, is BCCI equipped to handle this in the short timeframe?

Ganguly’s legacy is associated with the renaissance of the Indian cricket team at the turn of the century. As a captain, he's credited for metamorphosing a talented unit to a world-class side. But this is a different ball game. As a cricket administrator now, this will be his greatest challenge to conquer. Every aspect will have to be weighed and carefully evaluated – and there’s not much of time.

The BCCI have prudently involved all the stakeholders and governments in the process of decision-making. The spotlight is on Saturday. As the world fights the pandemic, scores of eyes are on the BCCI, its beloved president and the IPL GC meeting.

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