Some things can never go together. Like celebration and mourning.
From the day its 14th edition began on April 9, the Indian Premier League (IPL) has had its back towards the state of helplessness and gloomthat the country has descended into. On the one hand you had millions of people waging a losing battle against the virus, and millions more living in perpetual fear of losing a loved one; on the other, a bunch of people were in hyper-celebration mode as if residing in a parallel world with little idea of the suffering outside.
For a sports association that prides itself in having the biggest fan base and leverages it to earn billions through media rights, the BCCI’s insensitivity towards the plight of the people has been beyond imagination. In the first couple of weeks of the tournament, there wasn't even an acknowledgement from the players, officials and commentators of the pandemic situation in the country. It was business as usual till backlash started hitting them from all corners, forcing some sort of acknowledgement and messaging.
On Tuesday, the BCCI was forced to “postpone IPL 2021 season, with immediate effect” following several positive Covid-19 cases across franchises over the past couple of days.
This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The way the Covid-19 virus has been ravaging the entire country, it was only a matter of time before it pricked the bio-secure bubble that the BCCI had created for all the players and the officials. For how long can you insulate yourself from the monumental chaos unfolding outside your doors?
There was more than enough criticism of the IPL carrying on with amplified artificial surround sound of crowds, filmy beats, fan walls, relentless sponsor mentions and loud, celebratory commentary. The empathy towards people was conspicuous by its absence.
The plank that it provides jobs to hundreds of people and puts money in the accounts of some domestic players who would otherwise struggle to make ends meet; that it helps in keeping people at home and relieves them of the anxiety caused by the gloom all around doesn’t sound convincing when you can’t (or don’t) empathise with the people who are suffering. You don’t take a wedding procession past a grieving home, do you?
More than 2.2 lakh Indians have lost their lives due to Covid-19 as of Tuesday (by many accounts that’s way less than the real figures). Another 2 crore are suffering from the virus. How do you expect people to enjoy IPL when their mornings begin with sending condolences and days spent enquiring about the availability of hospital beds?
The IPL was played in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last year without much problem. It could have been again held there this year. Against over 3.5 lakh daily cases reported in India on Monday, the UAE recorded just over 1,700. For some unfathomable reasons, the powers that be, chose to host the tournament in India. Like in the UAE last year, there are no spectators in the stadiums this year too. When it’s a telecast-only event, how does it matter where it is played? Was it an oversight, a gamble or an attempt to earn political brownie points?
The one difference from last year was the number of venues — increased from three in the UAE to six in India (Mumbai, Chennai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru). If anything, there was a lesson that a lesser number of venues makes it easier to manage bio-bubbles and keep everyone involved safe. They could learn from India Super League (ISL) that played its whole season in Goa. What were the compulsions to make it a multi-city extravaganza?
Some may argue that India’s Covid load was consistently going down when the decision was taken, and no one could imagine that the situation will explode like it has. If that was the case, the BCCI urgently needs better people in decision-making positions who can make provisions for all kinds of possible scenarios.
One of the biggest lessons in the last one year has been to make short-term plans. The circumstances in a pandemic change very quickly and one needs to have Plan Bs and Plan Cs ready.
There were clear indicators of a spike in Covid-19 cases as early as mid-March when IPL 2021 was still more than 20 days away from its inaugural match. Is the BCCI so inept that it didn’t think of keeping a stand-by venue to account for an emergency, even if it was unforeseen?
India has just witnessed high-stake elections in five states(!) where political parties mobilised millions of people for their rallies to show off their strength and support — possibly one of the biggest direct/indirect contributors in the huge number of cases that Covid-19’s second wave has thrown up. Just imagine a situation where the BCCI takes the IPL out of the country on account of the huge Covid-19 case load but political parties, especially the ruling ones, don’t show the same restraint in their election campaigns. Was the IPL held in India to not show their political masters in a bad light?
Whether the BCCI was guided by commerce or was part of a larger narrative-building exercise to paint the situation as normal, the bubble it created has burst in its face. Thankfully, the BCCI hasn’t been as tone-deaf to the worsening situation within the league and has made the logical choice of suspending the game.