Editor’s note: The article was first published on 12 March. Since then the BCCI has decided to play the second and third ODIs between India and South Africa behind closed doors while a call on IPL is yet to be taken.
India is under virtual lockdown for visitors from outside the borders. The government late on Wednesday suspended ‘all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/international organisations, employment, project visas’ until April 15. The visa-free travel facility for Overseas Indian Card (OIC) holders has been suspended until the same date. The curbs go into effect at 1200 GMT on March 13 at the port of departure.
The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic with more than 118,000 confirmed cases and 4,291 deaths in 114 countries. India’s count of infected people is 62 with no confirmed deaths so far from the disease but the number of infected has been growing on a daily basis.
The government has shifted into high gear to try and contain the virus. PM Narendra Modi decided that there was going to be no Holi Milan function this year. And other ministers followed suit. A number of state governments have approached the central government, expressing concerns due to the COVID-19 advisory asking people to avoid crowded places.
But none of that seems to affect the Board of Control for Cricket in India. They have continued to sell tickets for the India vs South Africa ODI series. The players have been given a list of do’s and dont’s:
* washing hands with soap & water for a minimum of 20 seconds,
* use of hand sanitizers,
* covering mouth while sneezing or coughing,
* reporting to the medical team immediately in case of fever, cough or any illness,
* avoid touching face, mouth, nose and eyes before thoroughly washing hands,
* avoid eating out at restaurants where hygiene standards are unknown or compromised,
* avoid close contact & interaction with individuals outside the team environment (to avoid cross-infection from unknown individuals). Includes avoiding handshake, handling unknown phones for selfies.
The Board has also said the restrooms in the stadiums will be stocked with hand sanitizers. But one can’t help but wonder whether that is enough?
At the best of times, the cricket stadium is never the most hygienic of places. But given the highly infectious nature of the disease is it alright to even be selling tickets and inviting thousands of people to come together in one place?
The ticket sales for the ODI series opener between India and South Africa on Thursday - were stuck at 60 percent on the eve of the match. Still, that is 60 percent of 23,000 and that is a pretty big number in itself.
Around the world many leagues have been suspended, matches have been played behind closed doors, tournaments have been cancelled. Authorities in India have already postponed the Shooting World Cup and the final round of Santosh Trophy. But cricket has, so far, refused to panic. Maybe, it should.
Forget the IPL which is two weeks from now. A decision on that can be taken in a bit, there is still time. Was it even alright for the Road Safety World Series to be held with packed stands when the risk remains so great?
The organisers of the Road Safety World Series have now announced that the matches will be held behind closed doors now. But the BCCI feels the show must go on.
(Update: RSWS has now been postponed)
If nothing else, the BCCI needs to at least announce that the series will be played behind closed doors for now. Gate revenue is anyway a minuscule percentage of the host organisations earnings from any cricket match. So while there is a financial cost involved in making the decision, it is still better than fuelling the chances of an even larger outbreak.
And anyway, the BCCI has been fine playing Test matches in largely empty stadiums, one fails to understand how this would be any different. No one in India needs to panic but erring on the side of caution may not be a bad thing at the moment.