A few days ago, Rajasthan Royals fielding coach Dishant Yagnik tested positive for Covid-19. It was the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) first coronavirus case, with the tournament scheduled to start on September 19 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The franchise advised Yagnik to get admitted to a hospital and go through a 14-day quarantine.
The 2020 IPL is going to be played against the backdrop of a pandemic that has ravaged the world. Data updated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as on August 14 showed that globally there have been 20,687,815 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 750,400 deaths. With 2,461,190 confirmed cases and 48,040 deaths, India is ranked third in the WHO list. Staging the IPL in India this year was never a possibility. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) decided to shift it out to UAE, a country that has significantly flattened the Covid curve. A tally of 63,489 confirmed cases and 358 deaths – as on August 14 – speaks volumes for UAE’s success in controlling the pandemic.
And yet, an IPL in the desert is fraught with risks. The franchises, observing the guidelines of the BCCI, are making their own bio-bubbles. They are conducting Covid tests of their respective players, support staff and other squad members before embarking. Upon reaching UAE, squad members will have another round of tests followed by a six-day quarantine. Regular temperature checks and Covid swab from time to time are part of the health protocol.
Nobody connected to the IPL would be allowed to leave the bubble during the entire duration of the tournament. Then again, it just needs one prick to burst a bubble. If one member of the whole touring party is tested positive, the IPL could be jeopardised.
During a private conversation, chief executive of a successful IPL franchise admitted to the risks. At the same time, he spoke about how time has come to live with the pandemic. “You cannot just sit idle at home. You have to earn your livelihood. We got to learn to live with the restrictions imposed and be careful. Without the IPL, the economic loss would have been huge for the franchises, players and Indian cricket,” he said.
Yes, without the IPL, the BCCI was staring at a black hole in excess of Rs 3,000-crore. They would have lost the broadcast rights revenue and sponsorship revenue for this year. The Indian board distributes 70 per cent of its broadcast revenue from international cricket among its affiliated members. The IPL money caters to many cricketing aspects, including infrastructure building or development. Franchises, too, would have lost in excess of Rs 300 crore each if the IPL were cancelled. Players would have missed out on their earnings.
So far so good. But there’s a counter-argument that also holds enough water. If the greatest show on earth, the Olympics, can be postponed, Uefa’s flagship tournament, Euro, can be deferred and the T20 World Cup that was scheduled to played in Australia can be pushed back, then why not the IPL? Mega money notwithstanding, it is a franchise-based T20 league. Also, it’s debatable how much it will contribute to Indian economy, given that the tournament is going to be played away from home.
This is IPL’s biggest challenge since its inception in 2008. Adhering to stringent health regulations will be absolutely important. Only a few days ago it was reported that cricketer Ravindra Jadeja’s wife Rivaba allegedly got into an argument with a woman police constable at Rajkot when the latter stopped her for not wearing a mask while the couple were out on a drive. Rivaba, however, told The Indian Express that “it (the checking) was nothing related to masks as all of us were wearing it” and alleged that the constable behaved rudely.
This correspondent is not going to check into the true and false in the two different versions of the story. But there’s no denying that in India, some stars and so-called celebrities like to put themselves above the system. In a country like England, for example, transgression has legal consequences irrespective of a person’s popularity or social standing. Three years ago, Ben Stokes, the world’s best allrounder by a country mile, was arrested following a late-night street brawl in Bristol. Stokes lost his England vice-captaincy and his place on an Ashes tour after the incident.
Three years down the line, he has redeemed himself with his on-field heroics, but on the night, the police didn’t spare him. Something similar in our country borders on the unthinkable.
Stars, superstars and megastars in the IPL must approach the challenge with humility.