BCCI president says that opening up venues to crowds will be “a bit of a risk”

Will the entire 2021 IPL be played behind closed doors? BCCI president Sourav Ganguly has hinted that the option cannot be ruled out, saying allowing crowds into the venues could pose a potential “risk”, something a “huge” tournament like the IPL can’t fancy.

While announcing the IPL schedule on Sunday, the BCCI secretary Jay Shah said in a media release that an unspecified segment of initial half of the IPL will be played behind closed doors.

The BCCI’s cautious move for the IPL is in contrast to it allowing both Chennai and Ahmedabad venues being filled up to 50% capacity for the final three matches of the four-Test series against England which ended last weekend. Ganguly pointed out that there was a marked difference between hosting the IPL, an eight-team event, compared to a bilateral series.

“Don’t know yet, depends on the situation,” Ganguly told India Today on Monday. “It’s [IPL] slightly different than a bilateral [series]. If you open up to crowds, there are teams playing in middle, there are teams practising outside as well. Lot of these stadiums have practice pitches outside, and teams practice there because they play every day. So to open it up to crowds, you expect them to get closer to the practicing teams. So that could be a bit of a risk.”

This is the second time that the IPL is being played amid the pandemic. Ganguly said that the BCCI had adopted a similar policy even in 2020 when the IPL had been played without crowds in the UAE. “Dubai also was the same: we started closed doors and expected to open out to the crowds, but since it went so well, we didn’t take the risk of having crowds back, so we’ll see.”

As explained previously, one big reason the BCCI wants to have an incident-free IPL is because India will be hosting the 16-team men’s ICC T20 World Cup, scheduled to begin late October with the final on November 14. The ICC has not yet finalised the venues and the schedule for the T20 World Cup, but its chief executive officer Manu Sawhney recently said the global body will be monitoring closely the T20 events like IPL before finalising the protocols.

This time the IPL has shortlisted six venues – Chennai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Ahmedabad – for the 52-day tournament comprising 60 matches. Unlike previous IPL editions conducted in India, which entailed teams flying across the country multiple times, this time the IPL has ensured the eight teams will travel just thrice.

According to Ganguly, the IPL travel plan was mapped on the similar lines of the India-England series, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, and the Vijay Hazare Trophy. “We’ve done it in clusters,” he said. “So there will be three flights maximum for every team, hopefully we’ll manage. Because, see, with the England tour, India have gone to Chennai, Ahmedabad and will go to Pune. And also the domestic teams [would’ve travelled to a couple of venues – one for group stages and another for knockouts]. We’re trying to do it that way only. Hopefully it’ll be fine, the numbers are much less, it’s a lot better but fingers crossed.

It’s a huge tournament. The BCCI did it successfully in Dubai and hopefully we’ll be able to get through this time as well.”