IPL has to show heart

To call a halt to the IPL would be extreme but the league needs to reveal a heart, it can raise funds for fighting the pandemic, spread awareness about the disease and the stars too can amplify the effort.

IPL-14 is currently underway in India.

To call a halt to the IPL would be extreme. It greases a part of the economy - aviation, hospitality, stadiums and television, to name a few.   -  SPORTZPICS

The Indian Premier League (IPL) operates on a different plane. It has often thrown up riveting cricket and fresh stars while brands and players found new synergies. It was sport and revenues made in corporate heaven. Even general elections could not stymie its ardour, and thrice the league managed to cope with national polls by leaning on neutral venues either fully or partially.

In the list of hurdles, the biggest the IPL has encountered so far is the coronavirus pandemic that leapt from Wuhan to the rest of an ever-shrinking world. But even this deadly virus could only delay the 2020 event, which was finally held in the United Arab Emirates. Cut to the present, the league’s 14th edition made its annual appointment with the Indian summer while mangoes, watermelons and prickly-heat powders jostled in the markets.

It is just that COVID-19 hasn’t gone anywhere and the virus, lurking on surfaces and wafting in the air, has struck back with a vengeance. India is in the middle of a ghastly second wave and the quest for oxygen and bodies lined up at crematoriums have become the tragic beat of our lives. Seemingly oblivious to all this, the IPL marches on.

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To be fair to its organisers, primarily the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), when the 14th edition’s dates were locked in a few venues with stringent bio-bubble norms, the virus seemed on the wane and India by then had hosted England in Tests, ODIs and Twenty20Is. A 50 per cent crowd was allowed too in the second Test in Chennai and in the third and fourth games in Ahmedabad.

It looked as though India and the world were finally emerging from the shadow of the virus and out here it was time for State elections, rallies and even the Kumbh Mela was held. It is apt to ask why is the anger on mute-mode when it came to rallies and religious congregations while a tournament played in sanitised environs with absolutely no fans being allowed, has generated ire, even if it has a television audience and presents an alternate option to Amazon Prime and Netflix?

It perhaps stems from the tone-deafness that the IPL ecosystem has lapsed into and its obvious disconnect from what is transpiring in our streets and hospitals. All these sunshine videos on what players do in their hotels or the excess enthusiasm of some commentators are obviously awkward. It is like wearing a t-shirt with graffiti to a house of death.

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On Wednesday night, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad played at Delhi, the capital that has been racked by the pandemic while deaths continue unhindered one gasp at a time. The two worlds - cricketing and illness-induced – seemed distant and it grated. The players could have sported black arm-bands as a symbol of solidarity with the city’s denizens but that didn’t happen. Above all to have these matches in Delhi, there are seven remaining at this venue, seems to be a stretch.

Yes, the IPL isn’t being a super-spreader and it isn’t a drain on India’s frontline resources fighting the pandemic but on the contrary, some can argue that every COVID test for the athletes also eats into a necessary tool for an ailing patient. It is a fact that lab results are being delayed because so much testing is being done and when players in a bio-bubble are given preference, it looks skewed.

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But to call a halt to the IPL would be extreme. It greases a part of the economy - aviation, hospitality, stadiums and television, to name a few. Many jobs are tied to the tournament and stopping it will hurt these micro-economies that flourish in its wake. Yet this reticence to admit that India is in the middle of a crisis which many say is the biggest it has encountered since partition in 1947, does not reflect well on a championship that blends a player’s sweat with stardust.

Pat Cummins donates $50,000 for Covid-19 relief in India  

The league’s stakeholders have to introspect. Yes, there are TRP ratings and fans glued to the television but the IPL needs to be sensitive to its immediate world which is now caught up in an endless dirge. Acknowledge the circumstances, the sport may offer a diversion to many, but equally, there are many more coping with grief after losing their dear ones to a virus while governments dither.

The league needs to reveal a heart, it can raise funds for fighting the pandemic, spread awareness about the disease and the stars too can amplify the effort considering their clout on social media. Rajasthan Royals today contributed Rs 7.5 crore towards COVID-19 relief and Delhi Capitals earlier had run a campaign to promote plasma donation. More can be done.

Being blind to the unfolding crisis only robs the IPL of its halo and makes it an insular product obsessed with crisp notes and soaring sixes. There is life beyond that as the last few months have revealed.

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