For BCCI, it’s about money and not safety

With the Indian Premier League juggernaut moving to two most Coronavirus-affected cities, Ahmedabad and Delhi, every cricket fan is asking questions from Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) “Where will you take a player in case of any medical emergency”

 

The concerns of cricket lovers are valid.

At a time when India grapples with an unprecedented health crisis, with so many dying on roads because of the immense pressure on the medical infrastructure or dearth of Oxygen to save lives, does the BCCI have any plan to tackle on-field emergencies — like what happened to Australian national player Phil Hughes in recent times.

Even senior players like Ravichandran Ashwin sensed the danger and decided to be with his family during these tough times, along with half a dozen foreign players who have returned to their respective countries.

Ashwin announced via social media: “I would be taking a break from this year’s IPL from tomorrow. My family and extended family are putting up a fight against #COVID19 and I want to support them during these tough times. I expect to return to play if things go in the right direction.”

But what about those who are still stuck in India while countries like Australia have warned them to make their own arrangement in case a complete travel ban is imposed on flights from India?

Around 35% of IPL players as well as the production crew come from outside India. And Australian prime minister Scott Morrison publicly warned them to make their own arrangements to travel back to the country as the IPL is not an official Australian tour.

Batsman Chris Lynn has already replied with a request attached that “Cricket Australia should arrange a chartered flight to bring Australians home at the conclusion of the tournament as the 10% of all players’ earnings goes to them”. England’s Liam Livingstone, Australians Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson have all withdrawn citing the difficulties of the bio-bubble life.

No MHA control now

Stroll down your memory lane a bit and revisit 2014 when the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) denied permission for IPL citing general elections in the country.

What happened next and how IPL chairman Lalit Modi faced the consequences for taking the tournament to South Africa is known to every cricket lover. But now, things work differently for BCCI as Jay Shah, secretary of world’s richest cricket board, is son of Union home minister Amit Shah.

At one level, it works well for the players that BCCI has been able to secure extra privileges from the government, like having separate check-in counters and security corridors at airports exclusively for players and officials of IPL. But there has been no discussion amongst the various state officials or even with the IPL top bosses managing the tournament about emergency plans.

And the worst is when even Indian Cricketers Association (ICA), an elected body of cricketers to take care of their interests’, has not raised the concerns of players safety and emergency plans, if needed, with the all-powerful BCCI secretary.

To make it even simpler, no one has free access and guts to tell junior Shah about his mistakes. There is only one man, Arun Singh Dhumal, BCCI treasurer and younger brother of MoS finance Anurag Thakur, who has direct access to Shah. Going by BCCI insiders, “Any discussion happens only between the two and is later conveyed to the rest”. And with no access to media inside stadiums, only the good news is leaked out of the empty stadiums.

Money vs safety

Talk to any BCCI official associated with IPL arrangements, and he will tell you how this tournament generates a significant proportion of Indian cricket’s revenues.

The argument that the sports industry would be hit for around Rs 10,000 crore, because of gate receipts, sponsorship and media rights, franchise revenue and players fees as well as hospitality and travel- related costs, creates a sympathy around BCCI.

But no one talks about where they would take a player, if hit by a ball or in case of Corona related emergency, in cities like Delhi and Ahmedabad?

“Big boss is resourceful enough to tackle any such situation,” is all that any official whispers.

Globally, the virus outbreak has disrupted major sports events, even spelling uncertainty over the Tokyo Olympics set to begin in July. Despite Japan and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) saying that Games will go ahead as per schedule, the medical board and Japan govt are yet to take a call.

Cricket or entertainment

Another argument that dominates the discussion is the well-being of the domestic cricketers, coaches, support staff and countless others who rely on the BCCI for wages. 

“The BCCI can’t afford to do so if the show is cancelled”.

Sure enough, IPL has become a three-hour movie show for present day officials. Otherwise, where were they when the domestic Ranji Trophy tournament was cancelled because of a pandemic.

Olympic Games involve billions of dollars risk if cancelled, but the IOC or Japan govt have been busy looking at safety measures for the participants. Or for that matter, a much bigger cash rich tournament like the NBA can abruptly be suspended during the 2020 wave of pandemic when a Utah Jazz player was found to have tested positive before a game was to begin in Oklahoma City. 

It has been extensively argued that besides causing a risk of exposure to the hundreds of cricketers, staff and commentators involved in the league, to hold IPL under present scenario also puts pressure on the existing system and frontline workers.

Since the venues and cricketers require heavy police protection as well as medical equipment, repeat RT-PCR tests every third day as well as doctors and ambulances on standby, isn’t it time to use all these resources for needy patients?

Last but not the least, the argument of “bio-bubble’ does not stand for a second here as the “Corona is now airborne”!!!

 

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Chander Shekhar Luthra
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