The government’s decision to suspend “all existing visas” until April 15 in the wake of coronavirus outbreak has put a big question mark on the Indian Premier League scheduled to begin on March 29. India’s one-day international matches against South Africa, with the opening game to be played in Dharamshala on Thursday, are likely to be played behind closed doors after the sports ministry issued directives to state administrations late Wednesday night to “adhere to the advisory issued by the health ministry in letter and spirit.”
Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya said he spoke with Chief Secretaries of Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh and asked them to ensure that mass gatherings are avoided at the matches. The ODI series between India and South Africa begins in Dharamshala Thursday, followed by a match in Lucknow on March 15.
“So the sporting event may go on but public gathering has to be avoided,” Julaniya told The Indian Express.
If implemented by states, this will be the first time in the country that an international match will be held behind closed doors. The India Open badminton championship, too, is likely to be hit following the government’s revised advisory, which may also put some of the country’s top players who are competing abroad into a 14-day quarantine.
As many as 63 foreign players from countries like Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and the Caribbean are drafted to compete in the IPL. There are as many international shuttlers – from nations with high number of cases like China, Japan, South Korea and Spain, among others – who were to take part in the India Open, scheduled to begin in New Delhi March 24.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India has, so far, maintained that it will conduct the IPL as scheduled. Last week, amid concerns over mass gatherings, it sought advice from the Sports Ministry which referred it to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
The Karnataka government, too, had sought advice from the Health Ministry on whether IPL matches should go ahead as planned while Maharashtra was considering a ban on ticket sales. On Wednesday, a cricket board official said: “We will speak to the government and arrive at a decision in two to three days.” Another office-bearer added: “We will present our case and request the government to grant an exemption to the foreign players taking part in the IPL.”
A Badminton Association of India (BAI) official said they, too, will approach the Centre. “Almost all the players were granted visas. We have not received the latest communication but if that’s the case (visas getting suspended), then we will ask the government to make an exception,” a BAI official said.
Earlier in the day, the Badminton World Federation (BWF) and BAI had said the tournament will “go ahead as planned” and were exploring the possibility of conducting it without spectators. Even if the tournament goes ahead, the bigger concern for BAI, which is headed by BJP’s Himanta Biswa Sarma, would be the availability of all the shuttlers.
More than half of the players will have to go into a minimum 14-day quarantine upon their arrival in Delhi, including top Indian stars like Saina Nehwal and Kidambi Srikanth as per the advisory issued today. Indian shuttlers had taken part in the Barcelona Open, which was held from February 18-23, and are currently in Birmingham, competing in the All England Championships.
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