Staging the Indian Premier League – which begins tomorrow – successfully this year will be the biggest administrative test ever faced by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). In the midst of a surging second wave of infections, the world’s showpiece cricketing extravaganza is back in India. In fact, to be able to stage it in Mumbai when the city is witnessing a high positivity rate – which has forced the state government to resort to a partial lockdown – is a humongous challenge for the world’s richest cricket board.
And in achieving a desired outcome the BCCI will have to go against the very grain of how Indian sports administration has been run for years. It has to denounce a cult of ‘entitlement’ which officials are used to for decades.
Every staging association has its own hierarchy of officials who have been around for years. They consider it their entitlement to frequent the association premises, and it is impossible for the groundsmen or the security personnel to stop them from entering the venue. That is where the problem lies.
These officials, who aren’t in bio bubbles, are a high risk category. The ‘you know who I am’ claim is the BCCI’s biggest nightmare. One wrong step and the tournament, which is already walking on eggshells, can turn into a nightmare.
Frankly, the BCCI cannot allow a single breach. No ‘jugaad’ of any sort can be permitted. Whoever you may be, unless you have the requisite permission to enter a designated area, unless you are part of a bio bubble yourself and are regularly tested, you have to stay away. Only such a rigid stand can save this IPL.
Staging the tournament in the UAE was easier. Officials weren’t allowed to travel and only a handful of staff were present in the UAE to conduct the tournament. Teams had well-defined SOPs to follow. Credit should go to each of them, for making sure that their compliance was to the fullest.
The broadcaster had also put a detailed SOP in place and deserves every credit in making sure there was no breach. 2021, however, is different. With the tournament back in India, it will entail a limited degree of travel. And on such days it is absolutely imperative that players and support personnel who are moving between cities aren’t exposed to infection at airports or other public places.
Tarmac to tarmac flights, which have been planned, are the only solution. Fans too have the responsibility of not pushing for selfies or trying to get close to the stars. ‘Oh it won’t happen to me, I am safe’ is the worst false sense of security that one can suffer from.
Some suggested that the BCCI should have moved the tournament out of Mumbai when groundsmen at the Wankhede got infected. Some even said it should be staged again in the UAE.
Frankly, the virus can infect people in any venue in India. So to move the tournament away thinking it will not happen in a different city or country isn’t the answer. The solution lies in the strictest enforcement of discipline and biosafety protocols.
RT-PCR tests every alternate day will ensure multiple levels of checks are in place, and the rigorous nature of the SOPs can help stage a successful tournament. Most importantly, this can become a template for the future.
Covid is a long drawn battle and humanity has to evolve its own counters in dealing with the virus. With vaccinations picking up pace, the virus will eventually be defeated and science will surely win. But till then, things can’t come to a standstill.
Lockdowns, it is known by now, are a last resort. The IPL comes with a huge economic value and to stop or postpone the tournament is a call that is best avoided. If the BCCI is able to stage the tournament when India is witnessing a lakh-plus cases every day, it will be a statement to the world about our ability to do things in the midst of the pandemic.
The BCCI, needless to say, will require support at every level. Vaccination of stakeholders for example is a welcome step. DDCA has already done so and the faster every staging association does so the better it is for the tournament. Immunity will take time to kick in and vaccination of the maximum number of stakeholders will go a long way to minimise risk.
The BCCI has faced many a stiff challenge in the past. From moving the World Cup to India to becoming the world’s richest cricket board, things haven’t ever been smooth. And it is always easy to take potshots at the establishment.
Here’s wishing BCCI and the tournament all the best with just one caveat. Let’s not allow a single breach in the next two months. More than any one franchise, the tournament will then be the winner on May 30.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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