The Indian Premier League (IPL) marches to a beat of its own. It may lack the enduring international appeal of the World Cup, the Ashes or tussles featuring India and Pakistan, yet for a domestic cricket league that blends the local with the global, the IPL has commercial heft and guarantees annual thrills. Since its launch on an April night at Bengaluru in 2008, the league gained traction and also suffered controversies. The 2013 spot-fixing crisis forced a cleansing exercise within the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) but the tournament continued unhindered. Even two general elections could not stop the IPL as South Africa conducted the event in 2009 while the United Arab Emirates (UAE) staged the first half during 2014. But the current year, wilting under a raging pandemic, has altered life and routines. The IPL, slotted for the summer, was postponed. For a sporting brand valued at ₹47,500 crore and head-lined by blue chip cricketers, the stakes are high and the BCCI scouted for a window to prop up the league. Opportunity arose when Australia shelved the ICC Twenty20 World Cup from October 18 to November 15. With India still grappling with coronavirus, the UAE stepped in and the IPL will be held there from September 19 to November 10, subject to the central government’s approval, now deemed a formality.
Essentially a recreational activity, sport is also considered as war minus the shooting and even the IPL is not immune to the resultant pressures. Once the league’s governing council mentioned over the weekend that Vivo, the cellphone company with Chinese roots, will continue to be the title sponsor, all hell broke loose. The border stand-off on the icy Himalayas was bound to have its economic repercussions in an atmosphere rippling with nationalistic fervour. For now both Vivo and the BCCI have blinked, a separation is certain, and the hunt for a lead sponsor is on. If commerce is one headache to be dealt with, the bigger migraine is the absolute importance that has to be given to conducting the tournament in bio-secure bubbles at Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah. With eight squads and 60 games spread over 53 days, the organisers cannot afford any slip even if spectators are kept at bay. Recently, England speedster Jofra Archer reacted to a basic human urge — the need to go home, but in these fraught times, his move almost put the entire England-West Indies series in peril as he had breached medical protocols. West Asia with its Indian diaspora has its distractions and the IPL officials have to ensure that while cricket prospers on the turf, the larger picture of health is not ignored. The virus remains a threat, and the thirst for profit should not override public health concerns.