WITH EUROPEAN football leagues learning to co-exist with Covid-19, stakeholders in Indian cricket’s showpiece, the IPL, are hoping that the T20 carnival will become the first big sporting event in India to get past the pandemic.
Given that the October-November World T20 in Australia may get rescheduled, the hosting of IPL behind closed doors is already being discussed by BCCI officials and franchises in video meetings and webinars.
The plans are many. Two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders’ CEO Venky Mysore wonders when he’ll see a packed Eden Gardens but for this year, he is looking at Mumbai as a single-stop venue.
“If you imagine a city like Mumbai, which has four quality grounds and a fifth nearby in Pune, every side can have their own team hotel. We can explore if rooms need to be next to each other to ensure spacing between players…personalised towels, water bottles,” says Mysore.
But a sporting bubble is not easy to pull off — not when metros like Delhi and Mumbai are at the centre of the outbreak.
In Europe, German football league Bundesliga is aiming to complete 20,000 tests to wrap up the season. Their players were barred from meeting visitors or neighbours for a month before resumption on May 16 after a gap of two months.
And La Liga in Spain is testing everyone daily since the competition resumed on June 11 after 91 days. Players have been given biodegradable bags with a strict SOP to bring back kits for washing the next day.
For the IPL, Mysore insists that the safety of players is paramount, and that crowds may not be allowed. But there are ways to spice up the league, he suggests. “We can even have our own Covid compliance champion,” he says.
The BCCI, though, is waiting for the world governing body ICC’s announcement on the WorldT20. “Once we get a window of at least 40 days for IPL, we will figure out safety protocols, player travel, bio-secure arrangements, etc.,” says BCCI treasurer Arun Dhumal.
The rest of the top brass are on the same page. BCCI president Sourav Ganguly and IPL chairman Brijesh Patel have said that the board is exploring all options to get the league underway for an October-November timeline.
Mysore and Dhumal are sure that the IPL holds relevance in these times. “Staging the IPL will lift spirits,” says the BCCI official. “IPL will show the world how it’s done in cricket,” says the KKR chief.
But for the event to take off, the first big hurdle is the ban on international air travel.
Some franchises say they can go ahead with Indian players, but Mysore rules out that suggestion. “IPL is IPL because it has the best from around the world. I don’t see value in the IPL without foreigners,” he says.
Broadcaster Star Sports’ head
Uday Shankar has a plan. “They can be brought in charter flights. Earlier, they used to come five days in advance; now they will have to come two weeks before the game, be in quarantine, and be more careful when training,” he says.
As for guidelines, the ICC’s “back to cricket” advisory can be expected to work for IPL, too: Testing before travel, pre-match isolation, daily temperature scans, and hiring of medical advisors and bio-safety officials. Along with sanitising protocols, like players not sharing gym equipment, the ICC even says treatment beds in medical rooms should have no bed linen.
Nothing should be left to chance, says Mysore. “Travel, hotels, kits, food, gym, bus seating are all things to be minutely looked at. But we are talking of a finite group with eight franchises, and say 160 players and 80 support staff. That’s around 250 testing kits…should be manageable,” he says.
That’s a small testing number compared to the Bundesliga, which has 29 games left, after Saturday’s fixtures, till June 27.
But the BCCI will also have to figure out the economics of a closed-door IPL. For instance, Australia’s bio-security plan for the Indian series in December is expected to cost them over Rs 50 crore.
“It’s not easy,” says seasoned cricket administrator Ratnakar Shetty. “Arrival of teams, SOPs about hotel stay, movement to and from stadium, keeping track of production crew and other groundstaff… It is not impossible to pull off, but rules that apply to citizens will have to apply to star cricketers,” says the former official.
“The team strength will have to be reduced. The media interactions will be virtual, no players lining up for the national anthem before the match and no post match presentation,” says Shetty. Keeping the fans away might be another headache, he says.
Mysore, though, finds cricket’s non-contact nature encouraging. “Cricket has a slight advantage of natural social distancing with just 11 plus two players and umpires present on a massive field,” he says.
Veteran BCCI administrator Niranjan Shah, however, adds a note of caution — and asks a key question.
“This is an extraordinarily difficult moment in history. And it is ridiculous to even think of cricket right now. First, let’s bring the situation back to normal,” he says. “Can we risk even one player getting infected?”
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