IPL: The Show Goes On, But Should It Really?

IPL 2020 was something we had all looked forward to during the first lockdown. It was a much-needed respite to break the monotony that had set in from months of being locked up in our homes. So naturally, when IPL 2021 was announced, everyone was just as excited. However, with the second COVID-19 wave ravaging India, the decision to continue the matches has led to questions about whether it is essential that the show go on at this very moment.

India is going through an unprecedented second wave of coronavirus, with each day recording over three lakh cases and thousands of deaths – the highest anywhere in the world. Citizens and the hospitals have been despairing and grappling with an acute shortage of medical supplies, oxygen cylinders, medicines and hospital beds. Frontline medical workers are at the brink of burnout from exhaustion. The staggering number of cases and lack of resources has brought the healthcare infrastructure in the country to its knees even as medical staff soldiers on.

While the crisis is wreaking havoc in the country, the world’s glitziest cricketing league continues unperturbed.

While some argue that IPL is a welcome distraction amidst the chaos, it seems like a luxury which the country can avoid given the circumstances.

To ensure that the players are given utmost protection and the game continues normally, BCCI and IPL authorities have set rigid norms for all players and staff. Bio-bubbles have been created to ensure that all the players remain isolated from the rest of the world with minimum risk of contracting the virus. While the players are being tested every two days, ordinary Indians have been running around unable to find testing centres due to a shortage of RT-PCR kits. Unable to get tested in time, many have lost their lives since many hospitals do not admit patients unless they have a positive report – something which is no longer the case in the national capital after the the Delhi high court’s decision yesterday.

In the grand scheme of things, using up kits which are short in supply in testing the players, coaches, and hundreds of other IPL staff is a colossal wastage of resources. With premier hospitals running out of beds and being forced to turn away critical patients, cricket stadiums and hotels housing the players could have been turned into COVID-19 facilities for those in need. One can’t help but wondered whether the league has been eating into essential medical resources and money which could have otherwise been judiciously used in saving lives.

In fact, with matches shifting to Delhi now, it seems macabre that the stadium is across the road from LNJP government hospital, and mere kilometres away from the busiest cremation ground, the Nigam Bodh Ghat.

This complete disregard and tone-deafness during an ongoing national crisis has drawn criticism and questions from many sections of the society as well. The New Indian Express released a statement saying that it would no longer cover the IPL in order to keep national interests focused where it mattered the most at the moment.

Rajasthan Royals pacer Andrew Tye, who left the league midway, said in a recent interview that he wondered how the franchises and government were affording to spend so much on IPL when people were unable to get even hospital beds. This statement comes amidst the jarring silence that most Indian cricketers have maintained about the ongoing crisis and the failure of the government in managing it. While hundreds of volunteers on social media and on the ground have been staying up all night, collating and sharing resources to help those in need, the lack of acknowledgment from the ultra-rich and privileged stars of cricket is disappointing.

Cricket is religion for many Indians and cricketers are revered and admired by fans of the sport. It has been a source of comfort and happiness to people from all sections of the country. At a time such as this, when the same citizens are languishing amidst a crisis, one would expect that those they look up to speak up on their behalf – or at least convey a small message of encouragement instead of the radio silence.

In February, during the farm protests against the three farm bills rushed in by the Centre without consulting the impacted parties, the international backlash had prompted many high-profile cricketers to come out and speak on the behalf the government and brand the unrest as an “internal issue” that didn’t warrant comments from foreigners.

Well, don’t the deaths of thousands of Indians not qualify as an internal issue that deserves acknowledgment?

Fans of cricket and the IPL have always been supportive and encouraging, perpetually cheering on their favourite teams, invested in the players and their wins, and sharing the heartbreak of losses. It’s the ability of the sport to bring people together which makes it such a delight.

In these extremely trying times when the whole country is going through immeasurable pain and distress, IPL does not seem to serve any purpose apart from promoting insensitive consumerism. Do the values the sport entails justify hosting the IPL during a national crisis ? At a time such as this, when people are struggling to save their loved ones, it hardly seems prudent or even sensitive to have the otherwise much-loved cricketing league go on.

Reniya Naji is a software engineer who aspires to pursue her creative interests through writing.

Featured image credit: Reuters