Play in India’s top cricket league suspended as country’s covid numbers spiral out of control

Cricket officials in India announced Tuesday that they are suspending play in the Indian Premier League as the country continues to be ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement, the Board of Control for Cricket in India said it “does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL. This decision was taken keeping the safety, health and well-being of all the stakeholders in mind. These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times.”

Players or staff at three IPL clubs tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday, when the Indian government announced the country had surpassed 20 million cases during the pandemic, becoming the second nation after the United States to reach that mark. India’s health-care system has nearly collapsed with so many new cases, and crematoriums are running constantly to cope with thousands of deaths.

The Indian Premier League, which takes place from March to May and is seen as the most lucrative and highest-attended professional cricket competition in the world, had held 29 matches this season without fans. Its players, coaches and officials were adhering to strict bubble conditions, but one of the players who tested positive — Varun Chakravarthy of the Kolkata Knight Riders — did so after leaving the bubble to get an injured shoulder checked out.

IPL officials had faced criticism over their decision to keep playing amid the pandemic, with the hashtag #CancelIPL trending on Twitter at one point. Last week, a senior IPL official told Reuters that the league continued to play “because the matches were providing solace and entertainment to people and helping to keep them indoors.”

The IPL attracts top players from around the world, and some of its foreign stars had begun to leave India, among them Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson of Australia. They returned to the island nation last week, before the Australian government announced Monday that anyone who arrives in the country after visiting India in the previous 14 days can face up to five years in jail, a $50,000 fine or both. This prompted a fierce backlash against Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home,” former cricket star Michael Slater, who was working as a television commentator for IPL matches, tweeted Monday. “It’s a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.”

Considering the busy international cricket schedule, it will be difficult for the IPL to resume play once conditions improve. The International Cricket Council’s T20 World Cup, scheduled for October and November in India, also is in doubt, with the Associated Press saying the tournament could be moved to the United Arab Emirates, where the IPL conducted its 2020 event earlier in the pandemic.

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