Shailesh Kapoor: IPL 2021: Cricket without Controversy

16 Apr,2021

By Shailesh Kapoor

 

Shailesh KapoorThe rapid escalation of the Covid-19 crisis in India has dominated headlines over the last week in particular. The ‘second wave’ has pushed the health infrastructure to its limits, and beyond. Mixed messaging from the governments, both at the Centre and in the various states, is not helping the cause. Instead of talking about vaccination and masking, our leaders are busy managing elections and overseeing religious events. It doesn’t make any sense. But that’s how it is.

A medical emergency, when combined with political apathy, can make for a grim picture. And lockdowns and economic disruptions don’t help either. In this atmosphere, a very unlikely candidate that emerged as a mood-uplifter: The Indian Premier League!

IPL has been ridden with endless controversies over the years. The league has been badgered, often justifiably so, for being obscenely commercial. Fixing, corruption, legal battles… IPL has seen it all. It’s hugely popular, but not unblemished by any stretch of anyone’s imagination.

Last year, BCCI managed to pull off a season in the UAE about six months after the scheduled season was canceled, which led us to a unique scenario of two IPL seasons within six months. Earlier this year, when England toured India and the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad was inaugurated with much fanfare, spectators were allowed in. Images of 65,000 spectators packed in that stadium in a T20 International, with no social distancing at all, became a huge talking point on social media, even at a time when our Covid situation didn’t seem like a crisis.

The decision to hold matches to empty stadia may have come in too late in that series, but there has been no such indiscretion with IPL 2021. Well before the current Covid wave came in, BCCI was clear that this IPL season will be held without in-stadia spectators, and with minimal team travel.

Absence of in-stadia spectators makes the IPL come across as highly Covid-appropriate. Coming from a league not always known to be mature and sensible in the past, this has turned out a mightily wise move. Home stadia and gate money are key components of the sports franchise model, and any compromise on them is hard on the league and the franchise owners. Thankfully, such commercial temptations have not coloured sound judgment this time.

So, we are in the middle of the most controversy-free IPL season of all time, it seems. With more people at home and the possibility of disruption in prime-time content on GECs because of shooting restrictions, it is likely to be one of the most-watched seasons too. Now let’s hope BCCI does not do something silly between now and the end of the IPL.

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