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Editorial

Published on: Aug. 24, 2020, 2:55 p.m.
The show must go on
  • Illustration by Panju Ganguli

By Business India Editorial

After prolonged uncertainties due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Indian Premier League (IPL) – high voltage entertainment cricket – is now set to begin in September. This is good news for the millions of cricket fans in India. But they will not have the option of cheering for Dhoni or Kholi from the gallery, as the tournament will be played to empty stands in the UAE.

IPL was scheduled to begin from 29 March. But the tournament had to be postponed till 15 April due to the Covid-19 pandemic. As Coronavirus cases surged in the country, the government declared a lockdown. At the same time the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had announced the indefinite postponement of IPL 2020. Following the postponement, the BCCI and the IPL franchises discussed the future of IPL followed by several suggestions to go ahead with the tournament even if played in an empty stadium. Also, there were concerns that prolonging the delay of IPL might cause it to overlap with the T20 World Cup, which is scheduled to begin in October.

Earlier, in an interview, BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said that IPL is an important part of domestic cricket. The BCCI had been exploring several options. Ganguly said: “We are monitoring the situation.” The BCCI was also considering taking the IPL outside India for the season, as it did not want to finish the year without the IPL. The tournament is the biggest revenue earner for the BCCI. However, sources say Ganguly was of the view that playing IPL outside India would dent the image of the BCCI.

When the International Cricket Council (ICC) postponed the Men’s T20 World Cup, citing the pandemic, the deck was cleared for the BCCI to organise the IPL in September-October. The T20 World Cup was slated to take place from 18 October to 15 November in Australia. The BCCI then put into action its ‘Plan B’ to organise the IPL in the United Arab Emirates. Brijesh Patel, chairman, IPL governing council, stated that it was all the same, whether held in India or not, as it would be played in an empty stadium.

There are several stakeholders involved in this mega event – the broadcaster, title sponsor/sponsors and franchises. IPL is valued at $6.7 billion Star TV has already paid Rs16,000 crore for the global broadcasting and digital rights for five years to the BCCI. Franchises paid a huge amount to players. So, the cancellation of the tournament was never an option.

Meanwhile, following the border tensions with China, Vivo, the popular Chinese phone-maker pulled out from the title sponsorship. Dream 11, the fantasy sports platform, won the title rights of IPL by paying Rs222 crore.

Finally, in the first week of August, the BCCI received permission from the Indian government to conduct the 13th edition of IPL in the UAE. The Emirates Cricket Board will host the tournament. The matches will be played in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. IPL 2020 will be played from 19 September and the final match will be held on 10 November. The 53-day tournament comprises of 60 matches, and eight teams will be participating. There will be no spectators in the field during the matches. The Emirates Cricket Board is planning to allow people in the field in a staggered manner for the semi-final and final matches but this depends on whether Corona virus cases remain flat.

A bio-bubble environment is planned, to prevent the spread of the Corona virus at the venue. The UK-based company Restrata, which specialises in integrated safety, has been hired for the event. Indian players have started arriving in Dubai, maintaining all safety parameters. International players will arrive in September. IPL 2020 will be following the model put in place for the European football leagues like NBA, and the England-West Indies Test cricket series. Currently, the UAE has close to 66,000 Covid cases.

Hosting IPL 2020 in India was a priority for the BCCI. But it was the government’s failure that made the tournament shift to another country. If the government was keen on the tournament being played here, it should have looked at smaller cities, which have a lower number of Covid cases, and multiple cricket grounds. It could have also put in place the same safety measures as in the UAE.

When spectators are not an option and matches will be televised, does it matter on which ground a match is played? Also, India could easily handle the logistic challenges of several international flights and players’ and officials’ safety. The government is probably playing safe due to the pandemic but unfortunately that did not restrain them from organising extravagant rituals at Ayodhya.

However, despite all the obstacles, the IPL show is on and expected to be a great success, Covid or no Covid.

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