Given Covid-19, must the IPL show still go on?

13 Mar,2020

 

 

An update: BCCI has announced the postponement of IPL 2020 to April 15, 2020. This column was written much before the announcement was made.

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

The twelfth edition of IPL is scheduled for kick off 10 days from today, i.e., on March 23, 2020. In the wake of the escalating Covid-19 situation across the world, ‘non-essential’ travel and community gatherings are being restricted, both by the administration and the private sector. Sporting events tick both these boxes. They are non-essential, and they involve community gatherings in stadia. And it’s only natural that they should be considered for postponement.

 

While several sporting events have been canceled or postponed over the last two weeks, the big news came in yesterday with the suspension of NBA, after player Rudy Gobert tested positive. Gobert incidentally mocked the Covid-19 situation by touching the mikes at a presser, just two days before he was diagnosed.

 

Should IPL go on, then? Till about a week ago, BCCI was cautious, but keen on going ahead with the league anyway. But much has changed since then. The ‘best-case’ scenario of BCCI today stands at an IPL played in empty stadia, to eliminate the community-gathering risk. Television and digital media are the revenue drivers for IPL, and while empty stadia may take some of the zing away, the economics of the big-ticket event will be impacted only marginally.

 

However, one could question the desperation to go ahead with the tournament at any cost. IPL is clearly non-essential, and the marathon length of the event would mean that players and officials are exposed to multiple people during the course of the league. Over the last few days, high-profile cases ranging from heads of state to ministers to actors have emerged from across the globe. In no uncertain measure, it tells us that public life puts you to more risk than an average citizen. Sportspersons fall in this category, and there’s the additional complication of overseas players, who may have traveled to different countries in the lead up to IPL.

 

But a lot of cricket is going on worldwide. Among that, India is playing South Africa at home, where the remaining two matches will be held to empty stadia. The Ranji Trophy final is being played too, even as I write this. The veterans’ tournament, promoting road safety, was called off yesterday after five days of cricket. But in general, cricket across the world seems somewhat immune to the hazard at hand. Then why should IPL take all the blame?

 

But that’s how IPL’s imagery is. There’s an intrinsic association between IPL and greed, built as a public perception over the years. Because there’s so much money involved, all IPL-related decisions can come across as material and insensitive.

 

The players, especially the young talent, would really want to play. They may not get this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity again. But this should not be a decision governed by advertisers, franchises or players. It should be based on larger considerations of a situation that’s evolving rapidly with each passing day.

 

IPL can surely wait another year (it’s impossible to reschedule it later in the year given the cricket calendar). And BCCI could be fighting many perception battles, with the media and the administration, if they decide to stick to the schedule.

 

 

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