Covid-19 in India

India's richest cricket tournament carries on despite Covid crisis

The Indian Premier League is hosted by the world's richest and most powerful cricket board and enjoys huge popularity among the country's sports fans
The Indian Premier League is hosted by the world's richest and most powerful cricket board and enjoys huge popularity among the country's sports fans Indranil MUKHERJEE AFP/File

Activists and social commentators say the Indian Premier League's (IPL) decision to continue the competition in Delhi on Wednesday shows insensitivity as hospitals faced shortages and bodies piled up in morgues due to the Covid crisis. Several key players have even ducked out from the world’s richest cricketing carnival to avoid new international travel restrictions.

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India posted 360,000 new cases and 3,293 deaths on Wednesday, taking the overall national tally to 17.6 million and 200,000 casualties so far. 

Wednesday was also the seventh straight day with more than 300,000 daily new cases which ranked India as the world’s second-worst hit country after the United States.

In Delhi, funeral pyres blazed non-stop and residents raced from one hospital to another, carting critically-ill relatives on cars, bikes or rickshaws.

It was in this context that the Indian Premier League said it would stage eight T20 matches until 8 May in India’s shuttered capital, which reported 24,000 new Covid cases on Wednesday.

Flights cancelled

Three Australian cricketers made a quick dash for home just before Canberra suspended flights to India in line with Britain, Canada, France, Hong Kong and others who have shut their borders to the world’s most populous nation. 

Fourteen Australian players, two coaches and four commentators remain in the glitzy event which will play out in six Covid-ridden Indian cities until 30 May.

League managers promised cricketers from England, New Zealand or South Africa will not be stranded in India.

Rahul Banerjee, an Indian sports blogger, said such an event was perhaps unnecessary at a time the country was grappling with 200,000 virus deaths, clogged cemeteries and medical shortages.

A man wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) stands next to funeral pyres of those who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a mass cremation, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India April 26, 2021.
A man wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) stands next to funeral pyres of those who died from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during a mass cremation, at a crematorium in New Delhi, India April 26, 2021. © REUTERS - ADNAN ABIDI

“Is it really necessary to hold matches every day during this unprecedented crisis?” asked Banerjee.

“But on the flip side, IPL was also offering some distraction to people cooped up in homes,” the blogger told RFI.

Last November, an Indian TV industry monitor boasted IPL scored 405 million hits in a previous edition.

‘Tool of mass distraction’

Indian off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin also pulled out from the spectator-less tournament, also labeled a tool designed to divert attention from the handling of the national health calamity. 

“These deflection tactics should not work and everything else should be on hold,” said social activist Saira Shah Halim, accusing the government of using the event as a smokescreen.

A former cricket board executive who declined to be identified said “profit was taking precedence over tragedy.”

Former Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist also weighed in but did not join the off-field sledging.

"#IPL continues," he wrote on social media. "Inappropriate? Or important distraction each night? Whatever your thoughts, prayers are with you."

Problem of timing

The New Indian Express newspaper suspending the glamorous tournament’s coverage, called the step “a small gesture towards keeping the nation's attention focused on life and death issues.”

“In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India…This is commercialism gone crass. The problem is not with the game but its timing,” read an editor’s note published on the daily’s front page.

“The IPL so far has shown phenomenal insensitivity towards what is happening in India,” added Sumanth Raman, a political analyst.

‘What is the IPL doing? Why can’t they say ‘look, we will set up Covid-care facilities? They have huge amounts of money. In fact, so far there has been just silence and that’s awful. Just awful,” Raman said.

Australian bowler Pat Cummins pitched 41,400 euros to a local Covid emergency fund in India. Compatriot Bret Lee also stepped up to help out India.

The League, which supposedly raked in 440 million Euros from broadcasting rights of the tournament’s 2020 edition, has made no such offer so far.

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