Rijiju hints at IPL behind closed doors; but concerns remain

IPL 2020,Indian Premier League,Coronavirus,BCCI,Kiren Rijiju

Even as the Board of Control for Cricket in India has kept mum on the Indian Premier League 2020 in wake of the Coronavirus outbreak, the Sports Ministry on Thursday dropped hints that the IPL matches could be held in empty stadiums to avert the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju has reportedly opined that IPL 2020 can be held only if it’s very important. He has asked all sporting federations to avoid huge gatherings amid COVID-19 threat.

Also Read: Rijiju sees no threat to Tokyo Olympics Games

“All international events in India have been cancelled,” Rijiju told reporters outside Parliament. “But we are telling sports federations, we are telling all to comply with the guidelines issued by the Health Ministry and formulated by a group of ministers which is constituted by the Prime Minister. So any sports body in India should ensure [the guidelines are followed],” ESPN has reported the Sports Minister as saying.

Showing a lenient approach towards the IPL, the Minister further added that “we are not saying anything to stop the match. We are just saying: even if they go ahead with the match, ensure that guidelines are followed. People’s health cannot be put into danger.”

In spite of positive indications from the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports to go ahead with the IPL without spectators, there remains serious doubts on start as per the original scheduled as foreign players have been ruled out of the glitzy event till April 15 following Government-imposed travel restrictions.

IPL in empty stadiums would be up for discussion at the event’s Governing Council meeting on Saturday and the BCCI has decided to adopt a wait and watch policy till then. The T20 tournament is due to start on March 29 in Mumbai.

However, the Sports ministry has asked all national federations, including the cricket board, to follow the Health Ministry’s advisory and avoid large gatherings in sports events.

“…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 wihout allowing gathering of people, including spectators,” read an order from the Sports ministry.

Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya reiterated the ministry’s position while talking to PTI.

“We have asked all the NSFs, including the BCCI, to follow the Health Ministry’s latest advisory, which says public gatherings should be avoided in all events, including sporting activities,” Julaniya said.

The government on Wednesday suspended all visas, barring a few categories like diplomatic and employment, in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus as cases across India rose to more than 60.

No foreign player will be available in the league due to the restrictions.

A closed-door IPL seems like a real possibility now but even a postponement cannot be ruled out given that the 60-odd overseas recruits won’t be available to ply their trade, at least in the intial stages of the event starting March 29 in Mumbai.

“The foreign players who play in the IPL come under the Business Visa category. As per the government’s directive, they can’t come till April 15,” a BCCI source told PTI on conditions of anonymity.

The Maharashtra and Karnataka governments are already wary of organising the home games of Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore.

The outbreak, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday, has led to more than 4,000 deaths globally.

Earlier, the shooting World Cup and the Indian Open golf tournament were postponed while badminton’s India Open will be played without any spectators.

The coronavirus outbreak has also led to speculation over the fate of the Tokyo Olympics this year.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, has insisted that the Games will be held as scheduled in July-August.

Also Read: IPL deferment imminent; foreign players, restricted stadia entry big issues