With sports leagues taking drastic measures across the world, it is time for the IPL to study what to do next
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is one of the richest and most successful global sports leagues in the world. Almost every teenager in the world is aware of superstars like LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard. But after one of its players tested positive for COVID-19 virus, the league suspended its games indefinitely. It even abandoned an ongoing match. Only a day earlier, the league had suggested that some games be played behind closed doors, with just the players and no fans. But as the player tested positive the very next day, he forced the NBA’s hand. This episode holds lessons for other such spectator sports or events that call for mass gatherings to not waste time and take a firm and quick decision, even if it comes at the expense of entertainment or money. Rightly so, with the Coronavirus death toll crossing the 4,000 mark across the world, nations have become cautious and are taking every step to eliminate the possible dangers of “mass gatherings.” It’s common sense that these increase the chances of transmission of respiratory pathogens and, thus, large gatherings of people are generally inadvisable in such situations. Summits, conferences, festivals and sporting events are all getting truncated, cancelled or postponed across the world. The F1 season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne may be cancelled anytime soon. The Indian Wells tennis tournament has already been called off. In light of this, what fate does India’s festival of professional sport, the Indian Premier League (IPL), the world’s leading professional cricket league, hold? The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already suggested that this IPL season be postponed. With the Government imposing visa restrictions until April 15 to contain the threat, a vast number of foreign players, including coaches, staff, broadcast crew and even cheerleaders, may not be allowed to enter the country even if they have valid work visas or are quarantined. While one may see the foreign players and commentators as the face of the IPL, the broadcast of a global event has a globalised workforce and without them, a viable IPL is impossible.
The Government has done its bit in giving sage advice to not hold the IPL but the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has been digging its heels on this issue for a while. Following the MEA’s advisory, it was quick to rule that the next two matches of the India-South Africa series will be played behind closed doors. A panic economy and self-curfew have anyway resulted in a poor spectator turnout. But the BCCI seems to be worried about a hit on the micro-IPL economy that depends a lot on ticket sales, a felt experience, a bit of glamour and drama. Undoubtedly, stakes are really high: The cricketing body has already pocketed massive sponsorship revenues — such is its popularity and viewership that the IPL is today valued at $6.7 billion. Star TV has already paid Rs 16,000 crore to acquire media and digital rights for five years. Players are all too well- compensated. With the season on, more than 200 brands advertise on prime slot. This makes it clear why it is a hard ball game for the BCCI. The problem is that the IPL season cannot be postponed either but cut down. But because the window is carved out by cricket authorities across the world, the IPL 2020 already looks like a lost cause. If it is cancelled, the losses will be humongous for all stakeholders but can public health be jeopardised? Matches behind closed doors may lack colour and fire but at least some recovery can happen through broadcast fees? We must take a page out of Italy, which has confirmed that all sporting events would be staged behind closed doors until April 3. Even back home, for the first time, a full-fledged sporting event — with an Olympic qualifier status to boot — will be played behind closed doors. This is entirely do-able: People can enjoy the action at home. With no mass gatherings, the risk can be averted. Some money can be made yet. Hope the vaccine is out next season.
(Writer: Karan bhasin; Courtesy: The Pioneer)