IPL 2020 vs Coronavirus: What Are The Options Left For the BCCI?
The Indian Premier League in the times of coronavirus.
India’s biggest sports league has withstood the forces of nature, elections, corruption and fixing, and this time round, the BCCI has a new challenge –the coronavirus, a pandemic that has claimed over 4,000 lives and has seen over 70 cases in India. Many cases from states where IPL matches are hosted like Virat Kohli’s Bangalore and Rohit Sharma’s Mumbai.
And with the league slated to start in a few week’s time what are the precautions the BCCI is taking?
None, as of last week. Yes, the trouble starts from the top. On 4 March, BCCI President Sourav Ganguly was asked if the board was keeping a tab on the spread of coronavirus and his answer was simple, “We haven’t even discussed it also.”
This at a time where many football matches across Europe are either cancelled or played behind closed doors. Formula 1, Olympic qualifiers, tennis and golf events are being cancelled and even the NBA has suspended all operations. The most the BCCI has done as a preventive measure is send out an advisory telling players to “avoid close contact with outsiders and not handle unknown phones for selfies” during the ongoing ODI series against South Africa.
Also, they have directed ‘all public washrooms at the Dharamsala stadium to be stocked with hand wash and sanitisers’.
However, the bubble the board was existing in burst on 11 March when the new visa guidelines issued by the Indian government effectively ruled out most of the overseas players from the IPL at least till 15 April because their ‘business visas’ aren’t exempt from the new guidelines.
And this is where the IPL and the BCCI is now forced to sit up and take action. What happens if foreign players are not allowed in India through the league. Worse — what happens if they themselves refuse to travel to India? There are, after all, dozens of flights they need to take through the season and numerous players they come into contact with.
All IPL contracts are insured but at this late stage, it is probably too late for franchises to look for replacement players.
There’s also the now-ignored government guideline to all sports federations, including the BCCI, to avoid any public gathering.
Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya told PTI, "We have asked all the NSFs, including the BCCI, to follow the Health Ministry's latest advisory, which says public gatherings should be avoided in all events, including sporting activities. The sporting events can go on but the advisory needs to be followed.”
And the manner in which that has been worded can work in favour of the IPL because empty stadiums are better than a cancelled season. Crores are riding on the league from broadcast rights, sponsorship deals and ad revenue. All of which can still be collected if the league is to be played behind closed doors - meaning no fans in the stadium. A practice that is being followed by many football leagues across Europe.
Because what else are the alternatives?
Cancelling the IPL season has never happened before and as mentioned, has a lot of financial consequences. But all teams and the league and each and every match are insured. So it could be a last resort.
Postponing the IPL is unlikely, since a lot of the players and even the broadcasters have other bilateral cricket series planned as soon as the scheduled 24 May final is to play out.
Shortening the IPL could be one option. Do we really need 2 months of the tournament this time, in this current climate? A truncated league with just one round of matches could be an option.
As things stand right now, teams have suspended or put on hold the sale of tickets for their home games and everyone awaits the 14 March IPL Governing Council meeting after which some clarity is expected.