Well, there was no twist in the tale in the way the things unfolded this week - the ICC World Cup 2020 was duly cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic and the moneyspinner Indian Premier League (IPL) will be taking up that window from end-September till the first week of November in the UAE. This is, of course, subject to the approval of both Indian and the UAE governments.
Not suprisingly, the International Cricket Council (ICC) earned some flak from certain quarters that they dragged their feet in making the formal announcement - somewhat unfairly. The job of the world governing body of cricket is to try and host their marquee events with due diligence and also ensure that there is enough room to factor in the Future Tours Programme (FTP), while the option of three major ICC events over next three years could not have been an appealing proposition for the broadcaster and sponsors and kept as a last resort.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) must have heaved a huge sigh of relief at not having to forego to the tune of $ 530 million - a figure repeatedly thrown up by their top officials - but they have an extremely sensitive task at their disposal to deliver a successful 13th edition of their biggest cash cow at the moment. There is a gulf of difference between the two previous occasions when the IPL had to be shifted overseas in 2009 (South Africa) and 2014 (UAE) as it was a logistical problem in terms of security arrangements due to Parliamentary elections in India. This time around, it’s more of a business decision as the country is grappling with a health emergency and is in no mood to host a cricket tournament where the hectic schedule of teams and logistics pose the biggest of challenges in the best of times.
In the current ecosystem of sport where one has seen how the priorities and commitment with broadcasters forced the hands of top European leagues to resume soon after the lockdown - despite being enough doubters around - and the IPL is no exception. The BCCI officials, while arguing in favour of IPL, said it’s an event tailormade for the TV and they are more than prepared to host it behind closed doors - and this is a stance they should adhere to while hosting the league in the stadia of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
There is, however, a talk of keeping the options open to allow about 30-40% of spectators - if it’s acceptable as per the protocol of the federal government here - and the overwhelming percentage of expat population from the cricket-crazy Indian sub-continent will just lap up the idea. However, one has to bear it to mind that none of the major sporting events that have resumed so far from June have allowed the fans - and this includes the England-West Indies Test series, the major football leagues or the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The same rule will apply for golf’s three delayed Majors, the two tennis Grand Slams (US Open and French Open) while the Tour de France is looking to scale down on the fans in a major way.
The problem with allowing of fans, irrespective of the numbers, is it will be impossible to control their spontaneous reactions - and even a single reported case could be enough to raise an element of doubt over a six-week long tournament.
Let’s wait and watch...