Cricket and COVID-19 | Suspending IPL is a hare-brained idea

Chennai Super Kings (Image: IPL, BCCI)

Chennai Super Kings (Image: IPL, BCCI)

There’s a growing chorus for boycotting the Indian Premier League (IPL). The reasons for such calls are hazy at best.

Through his tweet former Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist asked if it was appropriate for IPL to continue and if it served as an important distraction. A media house found it ‘incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India’ (whatever that means), and decided to suspend its IPL coverage. Also, social media users called out celebrities (cricketers included) for not voicing their views on the COVID-19 health emergency India is currently facing. Many of them who have been vocal in the past, especially about India’s farm laws, are now conspicuous in their silence.

Thankfully, the argument here is not about the quality of cricket played in the IPL — that’s a ship that sailed about 13 years ago.

Is there a moral argument against holding the IPL at a time when COVID-19 cases are spiking? Is it ethically right to have sports when large parts of the nation are facing a health nightmare? Maybe. It is, however, a tenuous one. Logic would suggest that the show must go on — provided it remains within a bio-bubble, and is not an impediment to efforts to fight the pandemic.

Calculated Risks

Cricketers are not frontline workers and what good does it do to have them sit at home? On the contrary, holding the games makes economic sense.

Unlike previous years, where spectators were allowed, this year cities hosting the matches will not see horrific traffic jams nor will the match temporarily boost the local economy. However, it is a bonanza for brands associated with the teams and advertisers. With viewership in the millions, it provides a platform hard to find in these testing times.

The complete lockdowns during 2020 showed its adverse effects on the economy, and sectors that can be opened with minimal risks need to open. Calculated risks need to be taken to further open the economy. In that sense, the IPL is an example of how big ticket sporting events can be held in the ‘new normal’ or for the foreseeable future. At a time when sporting leagues are bleeding economically, isn’t it better to minimise losses than suffer a washout?

Better Planning

If the argument is that the money spent on the IPL can be spent on fighting COVID-19, it is a specious one. India is currently struggling to stay afloat during this second wave of the pandemic not because it does not have the financial resources, but because of lackadaisical planning, bordering on negligence and overconfidence. Also, it is exhaustive planning that has enabled the IPL to go on so far.

No Mean Feat

For all those who look down upon the IPL as an entertainment event, the question is: So what? If a match can hold the attention for millions of people for three-four hours a day for almost two months, it’s an achievement in itself.

Most of those reading this article in India will be currently under some form of COVID-19-related restriction against free movement. Call it lockdown, or call it curfew, you’re expected to remain indoor unless there is a pressing need to be outside on the road. These quarantines and isolations can become mind-numbing. Many of us would have experienced it, and it’s not a pleasant experience. Imagine if this pandemic had struck us before the dawn of OTT platforms, before mobile connectivity and Internet bandwidth is what it is today, or before the smartphone revolution!

The point is it is hard to expect a nation of 1.2 billion people to sit idle, and it is harder to get them to follow instructions — and if the IPL is managing to keep millions of people glued to a screen for hours, it’s no mean achievement. Throw in a bit of health awareness during the matches and there a greater chance of reaching out to people than, perhaps, any other platform. The alternative would be to stand on our balconies and bang steel utensils, light candles, and what not! We know to what extent that helped.

Bio-Bubbles And Fake Noise

It is wrong to compare the IPL to religious gatherings or political rallies. The bio-bubbles, in which the IPL is being held, seem to be doing the trick for now.

Sporting experiences are nowhere near what this Moneycontrol article suggested in July, and that’s not the only problem with IPL 2021. If one really wants to have a beef with IPL 2021, how about asking why its title sponsor is Chinese mobile manufacturer Vivo? Less than a year ago Vivo was dropped as the title sponsor following India-China border tension. Not much progress has been made from where things stood last year.

On a lighter note, the artificial spectator noise is perhaps the biggest let down. To realise that there is someone sitting in the stadium watching the match and pressing keys that play pre-recorded sounds to mimic a packed stadium feels like a betrayal. Another problem is why are the jerseys of the Mumbai Indians and Delhi Capitals near identical?

Yes, there is a pandemic we are fighting, and we’ve been caught flat-footed — but it’s the State that’s responsible for this mess, and not the Board of Control for Cricket in India.