Is IPL 2020 Going to Be Coronavirus’ Latest Victim?


Is IPL 2020 Going to Be Coronavirus’ Latest Victim?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

It’s that time of the year when most Indian cricket fans are excited over the commencement of the IPL, which is just around the corner. But this year, that’s not the case. There is utter panic surrounding the outbreak of coronavirus, which has been officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. With the IPL scheduled to begin at the end of this month, on 29 March, there is a state of confusion surrounding how the matches will be played under the restrictions imposed to control the disease’s spread.

The Ministry of External Affairs has advised against hosting the event, but has left the eventual decision to the organisers. The Indian government has suspended almost all visas of foreign nationals entering India until April 15, and this includes international cricketers as well. So if the IPL were to proceed, the teams will be missing their star attractions until almost halfway into the tournament. So in case you were hoping for a star-studded opening ceremony, sorry.

To make matters worse, a BCCI official said that there is a possibility that this year’s IPL might be played behind closed doors, while speaking to reporters from NDTV. Imagine that: An IPL match playing out before empty stands as if it was an early-stage Ranji Trophy fixture. Beyond the lucrative sponsorships, beyond the Bollywood masala, beyond the cheerleaders, it is the fans who contribute most to the carnival atmosphere at an IPL match, and removing them from the equation will be like stripping the IPL of its soul. Now, all eyes are fixed on the IPL governing council’s meeting on 14 March, when a decision on the way forward will finally be taken.

Fans who contribute most to the carnival atmosphere at an IPL match, and removing them from the equation will be like stripping the IPL of its soul.

Meanwhile, the question of whether an IPL without live crowds or international players is worth playing is one that fans are asking each other. To these fans, a cancellation or a postponement is preferable to a watered-down version of cricket’s most exciting tournament. And it’s not like there is no precedent for calling off games because of the coronavirus.

In Italy – Europe’s worst-hit country by coronavirus – the ongoing Serie A football games have been called off. Serie A team Juventus’ player Daniele Rugani was also found to have tested positive to the coronavirus. However, Italy has gone into a state of national lockdown, so it’s not a stretch to see why they called off their football matches.

Unlike Italy, USA is not in a state of national lockdown (though President Trump has banned travel to and from Europe for 30 days). Even so, they’ve had to adjust their sporting plans around the virus. The basketball league NBA has called off their ongoing season after Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive. Another event taking place in USA which is sure to attract travellers and performers from across the globe is WWE’s Wrestlemania 36, in Tampa, Florida. Hundreds of thousands of professional wrestling fans are expected to make an annual pilgrimage to Wrestlemania, unless the city of Tampa’s authorities step in and call off the event.

So, IPL fans can take solace in the fact that they are not alone in feeling concerned about the fate of their favourite tournament. And perhaps the alternative is not so bad. After all, to paraphrase a common saying, it’s all fun and games, until someone catches coronavirus.