Indian Possibilities League: IPL 2020 to be held behind closed doors?

Updated: Mar 13, 2020, 08:22 IST | Harit N Joshi | Mumbai

With government advisory restricting public gatherings, IPL franchises suggest options for conducting cash-rich Twenty20 extravaganza; assess situation after no-spectator games or postpone event by a few weeks. Testing times ahead.

Cheerleaders dance in front of empty stands during a IPL Qualifier 1 match between Royal Challengers B’lore and Chennai Super Kings at Wankhede in 2011
Cheerleaders dance in front of empty stands during a IPL Qualifier 1 match between Royal Challengers B’lore and Chennai Super Kings at Wankhede in 2011

Yet another Indian Premier League build-up takes place on an anxious note. This time it's the Coronavirus (Covid-19) that is giving the BCCI and IPL teams sleepless nights.

A Sports Ministry advisory said: "You are advised to adhere to advisories issued by the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare and ensure that no public gathering takes place in any sporting event. In the event, the sporting event cannot be avoided, the same could be done without allowing gathering of the people, including spectators."

The Indian government has not said that the IPL should be called off but the possibility of holding the mega T20 tournament behind closed doors is big.

The BCCI office-bearers, IPL Governing Council and franchise officials will meet on Saturday at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai to decide the way forward.

While the BCCI is mum on the fate of their most glamorous domestic tournament, franchise officials whom mid-day spoke to on Thursday, will put forward some of their suggestions at Saturday's meeting.

One of the suggestions is to conduct the first few weeks of the IPL with no spectators before re-assessing the situation. "The entire country is faced with a very peculiar situation where no one really knows what exactly is happening [with Covid-19]. Since there is nothing concrete before anyone, the best thing would be to have first two or three weeks of the IPL without any spectators. After that, the situation can be analysed and a decision be taken accordingly. If the situation eases out, the BCCI can take a call as to whether fans should be allowed for matches in the remainder of the tournament after taking necessary precautions and advice from the government," a franchise official said.

A win-win situation?

Another franchise official spoke about postponing the IPL by a week. "Anyway, overseas players are scheduled to join their teams in the first week of April. Many top players are missing the first two games, so postponing the tournament by a week could be a win-win situation as well. The teams will get their top players and the BCCI will get extra time to assess the situation! If there is no change, then playing in front of empty stands is a fair option," said the official.

There is ambiguity as far as overseas players' visas are concerned. The Home Ministry has suspended, "all existing visas, except diplomatic, official, UN/International Organisations, employment, project visas till April 15." The foreign players arrive with business visas and the franchises are keen to know the exact criteria.

Warner's visa rejected

It is learnt that Australian star and captain of Sunrisers Hyderabad, David Warner's visa was rejected on Wednesday. However, several foreign players have already received their visa after applying "well in advance." It could not be ascertained whether their visas will still be valid following the advisory from the ministry.

The other conflicting situation that could arise is the support from state governments. Punjab and Maharashtra have already banned public gatherings. Cinema halls and schools in Delhi will be shut till March 31. "So, even if the BCCI wants to host the IPL, will the state governments allow it to happen?" a franchise official asked.

While most franchises are in favour of IPL taking place instead of shelving it, if the situation worsens then teams are ready to consider the "humanitarian" aspect.

"If the situation demands shelving the IPL then so be it. Financial implications notwithstanding, if the BCCI decides to go ahead with the IPL and if one guy gets infected, then his whole team and the opposition team will be quarantined. So, for 14 days there won't be two teams. Is it worth taking that risk?" a franchise
official asked.

Contingency plans

The franchises are trying to evaluate possible scenarios and put in place a contingency financial plan.

According to a franchise official, around R85 crore is spent towards players' salary. The entire operations cost for one franchise ranges between R15 to 20 crore. The marketing budget varies from R5 to 25 crore.

As much as the IPL teams are looking forward to Saturday's meeting, the teams' sponsors are also keeping a close eye on the developments. Though no team sponsor has backed out as of now, the officials are expecting a revision in the sponsorship deal if matches are played without spectators.

"Revenue from ticketing will take a hit, but overall it is not a very big loss. If matches happen, we will get money from the central revenue rights. If the matches take place behind close doors, there will be a lot of cost-cutting as far as hospitality and security are concerned. The flights and hotels are booked; player uniforms are ready. These are non-refundable expenses of around R5 to 10 crore," said a
franchise official.

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