As IPL 2021 returns to India, second wave of COVID-19 poses a serious challenge
IPL 2021 returns to India against the backdrop of the second wave of Pandemic in the country and poses a mounting challenge for the BCCI to conduct this year's tournament Covid-free.
It is that time of the year! One of the most-watched sporting events in the world - Indian Premier League 2021 is all set to commence from Friday, April 9 with defending champions Mumbai Indians (MI) taking on Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) in the first game of this year’s edition at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.
Even as fans eagerly wait for their favourite teams to take the field, the ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases across India might play a spoilsport. IPL 2020 in UAE was a grand success but this year’s edition comes with a new set of challenges.
Teams, support staff and many other stakeholders are in a bio-bubble till the end of a tournament but we have already seen multiple cases of coronavirus infections among players, franchise staff, ground staff and several other stakeholders associated with the tournament. With RCB’s Daniel Sams contracting COVID-19 on Wednesday, a total number of 36 people, who are directly associated with this year’s IPL including support staff and various other stakeholders, have tested positive for Coronavirus.
Last year, BCCI managed to pull off an impressive show with an almost Covid-free IPL in the UAE during September-November. The entire tournament was conducted at just three venues with a shorter distance journey between the three stadiums. This meant that teams could easily travel to three locations on a bus, decreasing of chances of contracting Covid. However, this year’s IPL will be played on six venues – Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Delhi, Ahmedabad and Chennai – which requires air travel, inadvertently increasing the exposure to the virus. Although the tournament has been mapped in a way that teams will only travel three times, players still catch a high risk of catching the virus during travel. At the same time, when spectators are barred from the tournament then what is the need to play at six venues.
Among the venues that will host the matches this season, rising COVID-19 cases in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai and Ahemdabad is another cause of worry. Mumbai is the epicentre of COVID-19 and has reported more than 10k cases in recent days. Earlier, 12 members of the ground staff at the Wankhede Stadium also tested positive for COVID-19. Delhi, Chennai are also seeing a rapid rise in daily new cases.
The size of the bubble is also smaller this time around. Most teams will have to survive their bio-buddle within the confines of their luxury hotels. Only Mumbai Indians have booked a beachfront property in Chennai giving a much bigger space to their players. Even though players are aware of the bio-bubble life in the post-covid era, it will not be easy to stay restricted in their rooms and the isolation fatigue can hamper their performance during later stage of the tournament.
Unlike last year, there is no GPS tracking of the players this year. GPS tracking helps in preventing players from knowing or unknowingly break the bio-bubble. This will only make the current bubble more vulnerable as even a small violation by a player can increase the risk of catching the virus.
With the growing number of positive and asymptomatic cases in recent days, dark clouds of the second wave of a pandemic loom large over this year’s edition. Will BCCI be able to conduct the mega tournament for a second time in a row without any untoward incident? Only time will tell but one thing is for sure, the beginning of this year's edition from Friday will bring much-needed relief to people in these gloomy times.