The IPL: Is it worth it?

As Covid-19 cases skyrocket in India, the necessity for the IPL t20 tournament has been called into question. Is there a need for this tournament to continue while the cricket-obsessed nation struggles?

IPL Players who have withdrawn
Andrew Tye and Ravidranchan Ashwin have withdrawn from the IPL amidst COVID fears (Source: cricket.com.au)

India loves their cricket and the IPL. There’s no doubt about it.

Millions of people tune in to watch homegrown heroes like Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, and Jasprit Bumrah, and even international superstars like Steve Smith, David Warner, Pat Cummins, and many others take centre stage in the worlds most prestigious domestic cricket league.

They consume all cricket available to them. From test cricket, bilateral white ball series between other countries and all the other domestic T20 competitions all over the globe.

Cricket is undoubtedly the heartbeat of the nation. And while their passion is truly commendable, should their energy be directed to larger issues at hand?

India right now is a country in distress.

The first wave of cases peaked at 97,894 back in mid-September last year. However, the second wave came quickly and deadly. In fact, it was so intense, it would be more accurate to call it a tsunami.

According to the Indian Health Ministry, India has averaged 310,310 cases over the past seven days.

In total, cases have reached 16 million around the country.

But what it more concerning for India is the death toll. Nearly 200k are dead, and with more on their deathbed.

The virus has also mutated, making it more contagious, deadlier and difficult to contain.

With a short supply of oxygen tanks for patients, people being treated on the streets due to a lack of medical facilities, and mass crematoriums burning the disease’s victims – what’s going on in India is far bigger than cricket.

Taking away the money factor, Is there any real reason as to why the IPL show is still going?

While it provides comfort in a time of distress. Fair point. But, how many other sporting leagues were cancelled or postponed when COVID reached its’ peak last year?

The NBA, EPL, and AFL all postponed play until it was safe to continue. With the situation in India worsening by the day, The IPL could and should follow the lead of these major codes and make the same call.

It encourages people to stay inside for a few hours every night. Sure, it provides a distraction, but that distraction is also taking away from a larger, more severe issue at hand.

Chennai-based newspaper, the New Indian Express suspended all coverage of the tournament, calling it “A small gesture towards keeping the nation’s attention focused on life and death issues.”

“In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India” the news outlet said.

“This is commercialism gone crass.”

Two more publications, The Morning Standard and the Sunday Standard have since followed suit and shared the same sentiment.

India’s lone individual Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra expressed his disappointment with the IPL the cricketers and the BCCI.

“Cricketers and officials can’t just live in their own bubble and be totally deaf or blind to whatever is going outside. I can only imagine that while you’re having these IPL games, outside the stadium you have ambulances going to hospitals. I don’t know how the coverage on TV is, but I would really appreciate it if it’s a little bit muted.” He wrote in the Indian Express.

“I think celebration and everything around it should be at a minimum because you have to show a little bit of respect to society.”

Bindra urges the governing bodies and players to recognise their privilege.

“The players should realise just how privileged they are to be able to play the IPL in these times. So, I just hope everybody involved in the IPL play their part in one way or the other, either through right messaging – like the importance of masking up, the importance of social distancing – or even finding creative ways to amplify the health requirements of people.,” he wrote.

“If I was the BCCI president and had the capability – and I understand the IPL is not a charity – I would definitely give a large amount to do, say, the vaccination right or help out in any other way. This is one way to acknowledge that to conduct IPL right now is a huge privilege and everyone should act responsibly.”

The tournament is being played behind closed doors with medical staff and equipment on hand, lowering the players’ chance of infection.

In the last edition of the IPL, staged in the UAE, the BCCI revealed it spent over 1.7 Million Australian Dollars on 20,000 COVID tests.

There is nothing to suggest, figures for this season, wouldn’t be similar if not, further amplified due to the current predicament.

But would that money invested on the cricketers be better spent in poorer communities that don’t have access to treatments?

Would the resources going towards keeping the tournament up and running benefit the Indian communities?

Could turning the ovals into treatment facilities be beneficial and keep people from being treated on the streets?

Could the security manning the bio-bubble be better used in keeping people off the streets and in lockdown?

Before the 14th edition of the IPL, fifteen tests from people partaking in the whole production of the tournament ranging from players to coaches to support staff to broadcasters and commentators returned positive, putting the IPL in jeopardy even before a ball was bowled.

India was beginning to be engulfed by the virus and yet the show still went on.

Australian All-Rounder Daniel Sams tested positive for COVID four days after he arrived at the Royal Challengers Bangalore’s hotel.

Additionally, Indian Spinner Axar Patel and young stars Devdutt Padikkal, Nitish Rana, Kiran More, and 10 grounds staff from Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai all returned positive tests.

Before the tournament even begun, several international players pulled out, citing COVID related issues, such as bubble fatigue as a reason.

Australian paceman Josh Hazlewood was due to represent the MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings for a second season but pulled out, wanting to spend time away from the bio-bubble restrictions with his family.

Billy Stanlake reportedly declined a contract to replace Hazlewood, due to the gravity of India’s situation.

Australian all – rounder Mitch Marsh also found the bubbles too restrictive and pulled out.

Since the commencement of the tournament, English batsman Liam Livingstone departed the IPL due to bubble fatigue.

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His Rajasthan Royals and Perth Scorchers teammate Andrew Tye left the tournament amidst concerns about the current situation. Tye’s lead was followed by South Australian bowler duo Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson who have both confirmed they will follow Tye’s footsteps and have left Royal Challengers Bangalore and are en-route home.

Some of the other Australians playing in the tournament, are reportedly considering leaving as the crisis in India worsens and are lobbying Cricket Australia to assist with a safe passage home.

The Australian Cricketers Association has indicated there may be issues getting players, coaches and commentators home due to travel constraints, amplified by Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement.

With all flights from India to Australia ceasing at least until May, various Australian cricketers, coaches and commentators could be stranded overseas.

Some of the high profile players in India include Steve Smith, David Warner, Glen Maxwell and Pat Cummins.

On the coaching front, Ricky Ponting, Simon Katich, Trevor Bayliss are head coaches, while Michael and David Hussey, and Brad Haddin are all specialist coaches.

Michael Slater, Neroli Meadows, Brett Lee, Matthew Hayden, and Mel Jones are involved in the media coverage of the competition.

With an issue like this emerging for the Australian team, it would be reasonable to suggest other countries’ players would follow suit.

Along with Tye’s announcement last night, Indian all-rounder Ravichandran Ashwin has withdrawn to provide support to his family.

Speaking to the media, Kolkata Knight Riders assistant coach David Hussey spoke about the atmosphere within the bubble and the players, Australian, Indian, and otherwise.

“Everyone’s sort of a bit nervous about whether they can get back into Australia. I dare say there’ll be a few other Australians a bit nervous about getting back into Australia.” Hussey said.

As for the crisis itself, it’s unavoidable. Several Indian players have been touched indirectly by the virus, and there is a general apprehensiveness about the nationwide emergency.

“It is on the radar. It’s on the news every minute of the day. You see people in hospital beds. It puts a lot of things in perspective.

“We actually discussed after the game last night, how lucky we are to play the game and try to entertain people around the world.”

“Everyone’s pretty nervous about what’s going on over here.” 

The virus is having a mental toll on the players. Is it worth putting the stress on the players to keep a tournament up and running during these distressing events?

From an outsider’s perspective, I think it is irresponsible for it to continue in the current circumstances.

Sport is a fantastic distraction in troubling times. I’m sure the Victorians who tuned into the AFL every night last year during their lockdown would agree. But now is the time to draw the line.

The death toll is off the charts and people are struggling to receive medical support, while the government and the cricketing board use these resources unnecessarily in the bio bubble. And speaking of the BCCI and the IPL board, the silence is deafening.

I love my cricket as much as anyone else. I love the spectacle of the IPL and I love seeing the Aussies do well in this tournament. But to see it pushed and glorified like it is, the deadly wave of coronavirus currently sweeping the country is inappropriate, insensitive, and frankly, quite irresponsible in a national catastrophe.

India needs more than cricket right now. It needs someone to give a damn. It needs support, and it needs help.

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