DAYS before the IPL kicks off in Chennai, several staff members of the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai and the event management team have tested positive for Covid-19. The challenges of organising sport in the times of the coronavirus have been made starkly clear by the infection infiltrating even the bio-secure bubble in which cricketers are placed — at least one player, Delhi Capitals’ Axar Patel, has tested positive.
Apart from proximity on the field and several players making physical contact with the cricket ball while playing, they also share dressing rooms, bus rides and flights. One cricketer getting infected could lead to a wave and cause cancellation of tournaments. Cricket has already experienced this in recent times — the English team aborted the tour of South Africa last December and the Pakistan Super League was postponed last month after being struck by a spate of Covid cases.
The IPL has not been a stranger to Covid – in the previous season of the tournament in the UAE last year, a few players and support staff had tested positive for the virus. The organisers had managed to nip the virus in the bud then and the tournament was not affected, climaxing with an entertaining final in November. Organising 60 matches — involving over 150 players and hundreds of staff members — in 50-odd days during the first wave of the pandemic was a Herculean task. For this year’s IPL, the challenge is bigger as India is experiencing the second wave and the new variants of the virus are more infectious and deadly.
The economic imperatives of the IPL are very strong, for the tournament is the cash cow of the Indian cricket board (BCCI) and fills up its coffers; it also provides a livelihood to thousands of staff/workers in the supporting sectors, apart from enriching the players themselves. BCCI must do its utmost to ensure that the players and staff are protected from the virus. The safety protocol must be enforced stringently; those who transgress it should be penalised heavily. Covid cases are mounting by the day, and BCCI must spare no effort or expense to ensure that the bio-secure bubble for the players and staff is impregnable.