Ever since the coronavirus pandemic brought sport to a halt in March, it terms of cricket, the Indian Premier League has been the focal point for many. It was supposed to begin on March 29 and the eagerness of the Board of Control for Cricket in India to stage it as soon as possible has been obvious.

And on Monday, IPL Governing Council chairman Brijesh Patel said that this year’s edition of the T20 tournament will be held in the United Arab Emirates, once the Indian government gives its approval.

“The IPL Governing Council will meet within a week or 10 days and all decisions [including the final schedule] will be taken then. As of now, the plan is to have a full-fledged IPL comprising 60 games and most likely in the UAE,” said Patel.

The IPL is the BCCI’s biggest revenue earner. The board would lose close to Rs 4,000 crore if the tournament doesn’t go ahead this year. Which is why Patel’s statement just a day after the announcement of this year’s T20 World Cup being postponed comes as no surprise. The BCCI was waiting with bated breath for the International Cricket Council to make this decision so that it could lock a window for the IPL without further ado.

While the possibility of the IPL happening in a few months from now will surely be music to cricket-starved fans’ ears, the big question is – why choose an outside venue?

Two weeks ago, in an interview with Sports Tak, here’s what BCCI president Sourav Ganguly had to say about hosting IPL 2020:

“We want to have the IPL, it is the most important part of our domestic season. Cricket needs to be back. Our first priority is hosting it in India. Even if we get 35-40 days, we’ll host it. Places like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai have big teams in the IPL. 

“But I don’t think at this stage you can put your hand to your heart and say that cricket will happen in these places. So it isn’t easy to say at this point that we will host the IPL in India. 

“Let me put it this way – we first have to find a window, after which the priority will be having it in India, and finally we will consider taking it somewhere outside. But where can we go? Because having the IPL outside is very expensive for everyone – the franchises and the board. The currency conversion becomes very, very expensive. So we are monitoring the situation and are very keen to host it. We don’t want the year 2020 to finish without an IPL.”  

From Ganguly’s statement, it is evident that hosting IPL 2020 in India was indeed a priority for the BCCI. So what has changed in the past two weeks? Perhaps, it is the government that is not in favour of having the tournament in India since plenty of Covid-19 cases continue to come up each day across the country.

Be that as it may, the organisers seem to have erred in their decision-making to move the thirteenth edition away from India.

One of the reasons Ganguly mentioned for considering an outside venue is the number of Covid-19 cases in big cities like Mumbai, Chennai, etc. But if the government and the BCCI were indeed keen to host the IPL in India, then they could have looked at one of the many smaller cities in the country, which don’t have nearly as many cases but have multiple cricket grounds.

When having spectators in the stadiums is not an option and all the matches will be televised, how does it matter which ground a match is played on?

Perhaps, one option that could have worked is this – pick a smaller city (or two) which has fewer Covid-19 cases, an airport, hotels and multiple cricket grounds, and conduct the entire tournament there.

The big challenge then would be to create a bio-secure bubble for everyone involved in the tournament. Are the government and the BCCI convinced that that is impossible to do in India? The tournament is likely to commence towards the end of September, which is two months from now: isn’t that enough time to figure out all the necessary protocols for the bubble?

England and its cricket board are putting forth a fine example in this regard. They have strict health safety procedures in place for the ongoing Test series involving West Indies, with regular testing of everyone involved, and have even committed to hosting Pakistan and Ireland next month.

Cricket Australia has said their representatives are in constant touch with members of the England and Wales Cricket Board to understand their methods. Australia are set to host India later this year, along with the Big Bash League and the WBBL, and are evidently putting in all possible efforts in order to organise tournaments that are safe for all.

Not just the Test series in England, there are a number of sporting leagues that are well on their way in different parts of the world. European club football, for instance, has been up and running since May. Even the NBA is set to resume at the end of July.

And it isn’t as if all the places that are having sporting events are free of Covid-19. In fact, many of these countries, including Spain and the USA, have had, and still do, a huge number of positive cases. But these countries have put strict health safety protocols in place and have figured out ways to bring back their biggest sporting leagues.

Once it was decided that cancelling the IPL was not an option, the BCCI, arguably, could have taken a similar approach.

Which brings us to the most important aspect of it all – the fact that hosting the IPL in India will be hugely beneficial to the country’s economy.

A tournament of the scale of the IPL generates a lot of employment. It wouldn’t hurt if those jobs went to Indians. The country has been torn between the idea of shutting down to protect people or opening up to revive the economy. And slowly but surely, the government has allowed offices to open up with certain regulations in place. Why not follow this path and give the IPL a shot as well?

Over the past few months in India, there has been great emphasis on the importance of aatmanirbharta (self-reliance). One cannot help but wonder if moving the biggest sporting events out of the country says the opposite.