Must the Show Go On? Options for IPL Amid COVID-19 Outbreak
It was meant to be the summer of sport – first the Indian Premier League then the European Championships, and finally the big Olympics in Tokyo.
However, as the world hit March and COVID-19 found its way into newer continents, the Euros have been shifted to 2021, there is a big question mark on the Tokyo Games and scramble as it may, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is finding it hard to make any concrete decision on the IPL.
But even as things are on hold till the 15th of April due to a government advisory against any overseas residents coming into the country, IPL boss Sourav Ganguly has already said the league will see a truncated version, if it indeed takes place.
That was the last of the official communications from the board, following a day of meetings between the IPL’s Governing Council and franchise owners.
While all involved parties had one common statement to make to the media, that the “the health and safety” of everyone was of paramount importance, the fact remains that there are crores of rupees on the line for the board, the franchise owners and the broadcasters.
"See, we will be having basic losses of around Rs 15-20 crore, which comes with paying salaries and other things. But there are other losses as well like those that come from merchandise sales etc. While tickets and all are insured, these are losses which the franchises will have to bear if the tournament doesn't happen,” one team official told news agency IANS.
With Ganguly refusing to put a cut-off date on the final decision regarding the league and Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju saying an outcome can only be expected after 15 April when the government issues a fresh advisory, what are the options the IPL is looking at?
6 Options Discussed
While no official mention was made of this, the meeting between the IPL Governing Council (of which host broadcaster Star Sports is a member) and the franchises saw some ideas being thrown around. That the league will not start before 15 April is now a given but with all teams stressing on the need to not go ahead without foreign players, here’s what may still be on the table, if the league decides to forge ahead.
- A Shorter IPL: "If it happens, it has to be truncated because if it starts on 15 April, then anyway 15 days are gone,” said Sourav Ganguly after the meeting on 14 March.
- Group Format: Instead of two rounds of matches with each of the eight teams playing each other in one home and one away game, the teams could be divided into groups from which the winners move ahead into the knockout stage.
- More Double Headers: The broadcaster and also the teams had managed, through months of discussions, to get the numbers of double headers cut down to 5 this season with the afternoon games on Saturday not getting as much traction. That, however, is most likely to be done away with, with doubles headers on weekdays also likely.
- Two-three Venues: Over 40 people constantly travelling across eight cities spells all kinds of trouble. Thus, the alternative the board is looking at is to have all games played between two to three venues, which would restrict the risk of exposure.
- Closed Stadiums: An alternative adopted by Italian clubs before the suspension of leagues is one the IPL could look at as well. No fans in stadiums but the show goes on much like is happening in Australia even now.
- Extend the League: The IPL final this year was scheduled to be played out on 14 May. However, it is believed that the league could look at the option of extending it to as far as 7 June. Foreign players who have commitments would be allowed to exit but the final takes place 2 weeks later than planned.
The Aussie Model
While there is not likely to be any update from the board till the end of the month, IPL fans could take some confidence from what’s happening in Australia right now.
The clampdown on sports events across the world has not reached the country where the AFL (Australian Football League), the National Rugby League (NRL) and the A-League football tournament are forging ahead. Behind closed doors.
While the decision to play on has met severe criticism, it is a tough one taken at a time when Aussie Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that no more than 500 people are allowed to gather for an outdoor event. One rugby game had 241 inside the arena, including players and the NRL’s containment plan is to keep the teams together in isolation so they don’t get infected by any fans or friends.
Silver Seeking a Lining
The NBA in America was one of the first big leagues to announce a suspension of their season when one player tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Unlike the IPL or the Australian leagues, the NBA was in its final few weeks of the season and commissioner Adam Silver now seems to be contemplating bringing it back to the arenas.
“People are stuck at home. They need a diversion. They need to be entertained,” he told ESPN in an interview as reports suggest the NBA is giving a thought to restart the season by holding all players in quarantine and away from any outside forces. The matches would be played with no crowds allowed.
Even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is adamant on remaining optimistic about the extent of damage COVID-19 could do to their plans of a successful 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. The opening ceremony is scheduled to take place on 24 July and even till now President Thomas Bach in maintaining that “cancellation has not be discussed”.
Must the Show Go on?
So, if for the sake of “diversion” for the people stuck at home, the Indian Premier League, too, were to stage a 13th season this time around, the stakeholders are believed to have made a few suggestions of their own.
Like calling in foreign players and putting them in a franchise-sponsored quarantine right up to the start of the league.
"If we get a clearance from the government and visas are issued, then quarantining the players shouldn't be a big deal. In such a scenario, we can fly them into the country in the first week of April and follow the process of 14-day quarantine,” a team official told IANS.
Not to be connecting any dots but according to global advisory firm Duff & Phelps, the IPL will see a value erosion of USD 200-350 million or 3-5 percent if the BCCI goes for a shorter season. But that could be more acceptable to the other option, a cancellation as that may see the league’s value drop by 10-15 percent or USD 700-1,000 million.
With massive money at stake, at this stage, any version of the Indian Premier League could work for the stakeholders, as long as foreign players are involved and someone lifts the trophy at the end of the tournament.
But that also may not be as easy with Cricket Australia reportedly looking at the possibility of banning their players from coming to India for the tournament, if it does take place, according to The Australian.
And that would be a massive hit with 17 Aussies contracted this season including two franchise captains – David Warner and Steve Smith.
India’s Fight Against COVID-19
There is, of course, the bigger picture to keep in mind.
As of Saturday, 21 March, India has reported a total of 258 coronavirus cases. The number has doubled in the last four days.
According to the Health Ministry, India is currently in the second stage of the spread of COVID-19.
Stage 2 is when the virus is transmitted to those who have come in contact with a carrier patient.
The next stage is when things get out of hand. Stage 3 is when an individual doesn't even need to have travelled to a country that has reported cases or have come in contact with an infected person. Meaning, the exposure across the country is so extreme that tracing where the virus infected the individual too is tough.
Many believe India is already at this stage.
However, Stage 4 of the spread of coronavirus is when it is declared an epidemic and is passed on to people from just about anywhere. The healthcare guidelines move from trying to restrict the spread of the virus to simply focus on treating the infected.
Also Read : Explained: The 4 Stages of COVID-19
Now, would the BCCI and the IPL want to take the risk of going ahead with the league and damaging any chance the country has of not letting the situation get out of hands?
While the prime minister’s pleas of a Janata curfew will see its effect on people over the next few days, is a cricket league ready to risk bringing in another 50 odd foreigners into the country and have 150-200 players and broadcasters inside one stadium across at least a month.