Updated: April 27, 2021 8:50:43 am
The Indian Premier League is on, being played in a bio-bubble to empty cricket stadiums across India. Critics of the sporting spectacle, however, want the match to be called off. As the second surge of the pandemic rips through the country, with a record number of deaths and spikes of distress, they argue it is insensitive and uncaring for the game to go on. But this is misguided moral outrage. It offers a false choice between respecting the dead or fighting the pandemic and being distracted or even entertained by a cricket match. One does not cancel out the other. The only valid argument against scrapping a sporting event in the middle of a pandemic is if it violates safety protocols or threatens to become a source of contagion or if it diverts precious resources, whether oxygen or lifesaving drugs, that can be better put to use in containing the curve. None of these apply to the IPL.
True, three Australian players have opted out of the League, worried that they might not be able to return home if the surge worsens in India. Off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, too, has taken a break to help his family fight COVID-19. Those are personal choices that must be respected. Indeed, the bubble can shield players from the reality of the pandemic only to a certain extent. For some, it might even be true that the riveting contests in a sporting arena offer little solace when fellow citizens fight a deadly disease. But it is equally true that for millions more, cricket or cinema or music offers a reprieve. To grudge a few hours of escape to people under stress is to be a killjoy bent on planting a flag on the moral high ground. Finally, the IPL is a big money making machine, generating ads and jobs that a strained economy must not disregard.
But don’t cricketers have a responsibility to a country in crisis? As Olympian Abhinav Bindra pointed out to this paper, cricketers must be mindful of their privilege and use it well. They can follow the lead of Australian Pat Cummins, who has donated $50,000 to the PM Cares Fund. The BCCI, the world’s richest cricketing board, can use its considerable resources and reach to raise both money and awareness. Having said that, the responsibility of fighting the pandemic is not on players or celebrities, but state and central governments. To make everyone — players or celebrities or foreign governments — accountable for an unfolding health tragedy risks, ultimately, making no one accountable for it.
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