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Why IPL Assumes Center Stage

In the last six months each one of us have learnt to deal with Covid and we now know that with ad­equate hygiene protocols in place we can surely keep the virus at bay.

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Covid-19 is now a part of our lives and we have to live with it in the foreseeable future. Also, much more important than govern­ment intervention, it is now an individual battle. While correctives and precau­tions are an absolute neces­sity, panic isn’t the order of the day anymore. 

In the last six months each one of us have learnt to deal with Covid and we now know that with ad­equate hygiene protocols in place we can surely keep the virus at bay. That’s what the mantra is for the IPL as well. Like every other sports league in the world, the IPL too had hiccups to start with. 

But frankly if anyone thought there won’t be any hiccups when people get together after months and with the virus still being there, it was a fool­ish thought. When the Bundesliga restarted in May there were cases. The same was true for the EPL and La Liga. The Pakistan team that travelled to Eng­land at the end of June had 10 of its players infected. Yet all of these competi­tions and tours have gone on and each of these people have recovered with medi­cal intervention.

The IPL, we can safely assume, will be no dif­ferent. So to see alarmist comments in the media that what will now happen to the IPL is plain foolish. It is a reflection of people’s ignorance and frankly it is appalling to see the sports media asking these ques­tions. For the sports media, at least, the IPL will come as a breath of fresh air. It is a survival mechanism to be candid and honest.

So while the Chennai Su­per Kings have been stung by the virus, it is fair to say that it could have hap­pened to any team or any person associated with the tournament. By no means should it be perceived as an alarm and used as some­thing to suggest the cancel­lation of the tournament. We have already seen a 24 per cent GDP contraction in the first quarter of this year in India. If the IPL doesn’t happen the sports economy is certain to con­tract by at least 30 per cent and more. 

To illustrate the point better. In pre-Covid times, every newspaper had 3 pages dedicated to sport. There were regular shows on national television and the digital realm was full of sports stories. Since the start of the pandemic many newspapers had all but done away with the sports page. While some like Times of India, HT, India Today, Indian Express, etc kept it going, the space allocated to sport was drastically reduced. It was only natural because there was no sport. 

For the first time in my 44 years of existence there was no live sport anywhere in the world. Each one of us who are part of the frater­nity felt pangs of anxiety. I for one had started to ques­tion if my work was rel­evant anymore. There were panic attacks and periods of depression. There was no space for sport and as a result an entire industry was in peril. In fact to see sports back, even without fans, was a massive relief. It was to say yes we remain relevant and we matter. That’s where IPL assumes center stage.

The IPL was never about Virat Kohli and M.S. Dhoni. As Sunil Gavaskar rightly said in one of my shows, “The IPL is also about the bigger picture.

The broadcaster, media, groundsmen, technical staff and everyone associ­ated with it who draw their sustenance from it.” That’s why we need the IPL. The start of the tournament means sports in India is relevant. To quote Sachin Tendulkar, “For once num­bers will have a very differ­ent meaning. It will not be about cases and recoveries but about runs scored and wickets taken.” 

While setting aside the positivity and the optimism that the IPL will bring, it will inadvertently enforce the stay-at-home order as well. With consumption on television expected to be at its highest, people will surely stay at home and consume the tournament and not venture out unnec­essarily. And with sports finding its feet, an entire industry which includes us all will become relevant once more.

This is what brings me back to the CSK discourse. What it underlines is that the virus is very much there and can never be underestimated. It shows the importance of the bio bubble and draws attention to the fact that the bubble is sacrosanct. No one, and I repeat no one, can break the bubble at any cost. One mistake can cost us the tournament and we just can’t let that happen. 

At the same time it is im­portant that the CSK issue is not blown out of propor­tion and questions are asked of the tournament. Twelve cases can’t result in the tournament’s cancella­tion by any means. To say Sourav and his team have made a mistake is plain wrong. They are spot on in trying to revive sport and it is now on each and every stakeholder to empower them and make their ef­fort a reality. Just like the government can’t fight our Covid battle anymore, so also the players and every IPL stakeholder needs to stand up and fight their own battle. 

It is not Sourav who will do it for them. Rather, it is as much their tourna­ment and they need to realise that and adhere to every protocol that has been put in place. And we the sports media need to stand by Sourav and offer every support we can. For at the end of the day we are doing it for ourselves. We are doing it to stay relevant, to earn our liveli­hoods and protect jobs. While it may sound sensa­tional and nice to question the IPL, the truth is such questioning is counter­productive and the earlier the media agrees with this the better it is.

I, for one, can’t wait for the tournament to begin. Also, I don’t really care who wins. All I want is for the tournament to go unevent­ful and smooth. We don’t want violations and cases once the bubbles are in place. That’s where the real success of the tournament will be and I hope Sourav and his team will be able to pull it off.