Just less than three weeks before the scheduled launch of the IPL 2020 season, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has delayed the tournament to 15 April as a “precautionary measure” against the rapidly increasing impact of coronavirus in India and around the world.
The 13th season of IPL was to be held from 29 March to 24 May, but with concerns high, the BCCI was forced to take measures. The decision was taken by BCCI’s top brass led by its president Saurav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah along with other top management on March 13 after a meeting with the franchise owners.
Jay Shah, Honorary Secretary of the BCCI, said in a press release, “The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) met the Indian Premier League franchises owners at the Board headquarters here in Mumbai to discuss the Novel Corona Virus (COVID-19) outbreak and its impact on the upcoming season.
The BCCI along with all the IPL franchises have reiterated BCCI’s stand of putting safety and well-being of fans, athletes and employees as a priority. The board will continue to monitor and work closely with the Government of India, state governments and other state regulatory bodies to decide on the future course of action in the best interest of public health.
The BCCI and all its stakeholders are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for everyone involved in our great sport and the nation.“
Following the announcement, the IPL joined a long list of other high-profile sporting events across the globe that were either cancelled or postponed. Some of them include the English Premier League, the NBA, the ATP Tour, and the UEFA Champions League.
The move was affected by various factors, the biggest of them being the Indian government’s severe travel restrictions for everyone travelling in and out of India. This meant the international players that are a crucial part of IPL could not be flown in for training and matches.
Additionally, the government notified all sporting organizations in the country to adhere to the Health Ministry’s guidelines. Even several state governments, including those of Maharashtra, Punjab, Karnataka, and Delhi, stepped in and barred mass gatherings, indirectly banning IPL matches in their respective states for the time period. And with more statewide and countrywide lockdowns in the near future, even online IPL betting won’t be a relief for the fans.
The BCCI had initially taken a “no postponement” stance on the issue. On March 9th, its president Saurav Ganguly had said, “It’s on…and BCCI will take all protection (against coronavirus).” Another senior BCCI official had confirmed that the board would replicate the precautionary guidelines given by the government and forward them to stakeholders including players, franchises, team hotels, airlines, broadcast crews, and everyone else involved.
BCCI’s hesitation can be justified by the massive losses that would be incurred by cancelling or postponing the event. With a long list of sponsors and the involvement of multiple franchises, this cash-rich tournament is projected to face losses to the tune of ₹3869.5 crores. It was even reported that one of IPL’s biggest broadcasters had sold off almost all of their advertising spots for the IPL two months prior to the original launch date.
But within a week, the BCCI has gone from, “There is no threat to the IPL” to “We are committed to providing a safe and healthy environment for everyone involved.” Apart from the governmental restrictions, BCCI also faced a lot of heat on social media and among the general public, from fans and casual commenters alike. With even the most developed countries facing a serious challenge during this pandemic, the IPL stadiums could have become major breeding grounds for the virus in India’s major cities.
Thus, it was a breath of relief when Shah Rukh Khan, Kolkata Knight Riders’ franchise owner tweeted, “Wonderful to meet all the Franchise owners ‘off the field’ so to say. The meeting by @Bcci and @ipl was to reiterate what all of us feel…safety first of the spectators, players management & cities we play in. All directives of the health agencies & govt to be followed…” He then followed it up with a quip, “Lovely 2 meet every1 & then sanitise ourselves repeatedly.”
Delhi Capital owner Parth Jindal also took to Twitter to commend the move by IPL, saying, “Wonderful to meet all the @IPL team owners today. Thank you to @SGanguly99 @JayShah and Brijesh Patelji for organizing this meeting. As much as we all want IPL to happen the health and safety of the public, players, staff and all others is of paramount importance – we will continue to monitor the situation and defer to the central government rules and regulations in order to decide next steps. All possible scenarios were discussed however another meeting would be required after a few days to finalize based on the COVID – 19 situation.”
But even as these tweets poured in, fans were still curious as to the fate of one of the biggest Indian cricket players, M S Dhoni. The team management and the selection committee had hinted quite a while ago that Dhoni’s performance in IPL 2020 could pave the way for his return to international cricket.
But the uncertainty looming over the IPL delay raises the question, “Will Dhoni ever come back to international cricket if there is no IPL?” Late on March 17, former India batsman Aakash Chopra commented on the issue.
He said in a YouTube video, “For a player like Dhoni, IPL was never going to be a yardstick. If he had scored runs in the IPL, experts would have been like ‘select Dhoni’, ‘do this and do that’. MS Dhoni knows what he is doing, whether he wants to come back or not,” He continued by saying that IPL was never a critical factor in Dhoni’s return. Rather, his experience will get him picked without a doubt. Saurav Ganguly also confirmed that the BCCI will adopt a “wait and watch” approach while safety is prioritized above all.