Kolkata Knight Riders players
Kolkata Knight Riders players celebrate the wicket of Shikhar Dhawan of Delhi Capitals. Two KKR players have tested positive for COVID-19. Image Credit: Sportzpics

The Indian Premier League may have run into a COVID-19 storm. Two players have been affected by the coronavirus, and at least four teams may have had exposure. That’s hardly surprising given the widespread transmission throughout the country.

Here’s the breakdown: two players of the Kolkata Knight Riders tested positive, and reports say three members of the Chennai Super Kings contingent too are affected. Worse, the Delhi cricket board has confirmed that the five Kotla ground staff, who are infected, may have come in contact with the players of Rajasthan Royals and Sunrisers Hyderabad. So, four of the eight teams are affected.

Where does that leave the IPL? Will it pause to eliminate all lingering doubts about casual and direct contacts? Or should Season 14 be scrapped?

It should have scrapped when the COVID-19 situation in India spun out of control. How can cricketers continue to play in the safety of biobubbles when much of the country is suffering? Hundreds of thousands are gasping for breath, many more are struggling to get hospitals beds, and the unfortunate ones don’t even have a place to bury the dead. If this doesn’t shock you, nothing will. And to play sport at a time of national crisis is a bigger tragedy. It merely shows that we have lost our empathy, our humanity.

Consider this: when a flood or fire destroys a village or a town, is it appropriate to hold a concert there? Or, will you have a party at home when your neighbour is mourning the death of a loved one? There’s no argument here.

So is it okay to hold a major sports event when India is buffeted by the biggest health crisis in history? IPL and its stakeholders argue that the games provide distraction and relief when the country and its people are fighting a pandemic. Some say that IPL provides employment to many people when livelihoods are lost. It may be true, but like Australian cricketer Adam Zampa said: Who will watch the games when a loved one is fighting to stay alive. Millions of families all over India are battling COVID-19, and they don’t have the time for IPL. Not even Indian off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin or umpire Nithin Menon.

A chink in the biobubble

The IPL has crossed the halfway mark, with some teams playing eight of the 14 games. So the question of appropriateness is no longer applicable. Now the question is: Will they stop to take care of the players?

Recent statements from the Indian cricket board also affirms the belief that the tournament will go on. Also, a pause may not be an option for the stakeholders, especially since millions have been spent on it. But since four teams have been affected, doesn’t it make sense to take a break and assess the situation before continuing.

A break may not be feasible since all the foreign players have to return home: some have engagements back home. And the International Cricket Council may not agree to an extension of the IPL window. More so since there’s the T20 World Cup due later this year.

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If a pause is not possible, calling off Season 14 would be the prudent thing to do. Or else, we will have more reports of more players catching the virus. Do we have to get there?

Infections to Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier tell us that the biobubbles are not as secure as we are led to believe. There’s a chink. Biobubbles too are fraught with risk, especially when players travel. Any time a player leaves the bubble, the threat is magnified, as in the case of Chakravarthy.

This is a wake-up call for the Indian cricket board. The Board for Control of Cricket in India should wake up to the fact there are matters beyond sport. Matters of life and death.