The Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament continues to play despite a catastrophic Covid-19 second wave that is killing thousands of people every day in India.
The lucrative IPL, which runs until May 30, is a two-month cricket festival that attracts big contracts for the best players in the world.
The glitzy affair, which is currently being held behind closed doors as India scrambles to cope with the spike in cases, effectively puts an end to international competition.
The IPL is the world’s sixth most valuable sports league, behind the NFL, the Champions League, and European football’s four major domestic leagues, according to Forbes.
Pat Cummins, the most expensive international buy in the IPL’s 2020 auction, released a statement on Monday that mirrored the debate about whether it’s right to keep playing.
“I’m advised that the Indian government is of the view that playing the IPL while the population is in lockdown provides a few hours of joy and respite each day at an otherwise difficult time for the country,” Cummins wrote in a statement on Twitter.
On Sunday, IPL organizers told Reuters that they are still optimistic that the biosecure bubbles around the teams will keep the players healthy while competing.
“IPL provides a much-needed distraction for all from the doom and gloom around us,” an IPL official told Reuters.
“Yes, cases have surged in venues like Delhi, but we have two standby venues in Hyderabad and Indore and we’d use them if needed.”
Neither India’s Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) nor the IPL were available for comment when contacted by CNN.
India is officially in a state of emergency. Its health-care system is in shambles. In Delhi, hospitals are running out of oxygen and ICU beds, forcing patients to wait outside for treatment.
For the fifth day in a row, the country recorded 352,991 new cases and 2,812 virus-related deaths, making it the world’s highest daily caseload. Experts believe the true toll is higher than the official estimates.
And critics are now asking whether the IPL tournament should be held in a country that is currently on its knees.
“It doesn’t make me feel good. I’ve seen a lot of lives being lost,” Oswald Dsouza, 55, a passionate cricket fan from Bangalore, told CNN Sport.
“On one side, you have people losing their precious lives and on the other you’re talking about entertainment and commercial cricket.
“Yes, I also love the IPL but lives do matter at the end of the day. What’s the point with going on with IPL when we have so many lives lost.”
He added: “Why take the chance? Why risk cricket players’ lives? I’m sure the money is there and the big bucks is there in the IPL but lives are very important. They could sacrifice one season.”
Several international and domestic players have already left this season, with Australian trio Adam Zampa, Kane Richardson, and Andrew Tye among the first to return home for personal reasons.
Ravi Ashwin of the Delhi Capitals also announced his retirement from the league, stating on Twitter that he was taking a break to support his family.
“My family and extended family are putting up a fight against #COVID19 and I want to support them during these tough times,” he wrote.
“I expect to return to play if things go in the right direction.”
Meanwhile, Cummins has urged IPL players to contribute to the funding of medical supplies, especially oxygen, for those in need.
“I encourage my fellow IPL players — and anyone else around the world who has been touched by India’s passion and generosity – to contribute. I will kick it off with $50,000,” Cummins wrote on Twitter.
The central government of India has received widespread criticism for its handling of the outbreak.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi only spoke to the nation about the crisis last week, after holding political rallies and mostly downplaying the urgency of the second wave in the weeks prior. Since then, he has stated that his administration will construct 551 oxygen-generating plants.
The cancellation of the season due to the pandemic will undoubtedly have financial consequences for India.
The latest broadcast contract for the IPL is worth $2.5 billion. The league employs thousands of people, and with a population of 1.2 billion people, cricket is a major moneymaker in India. The New Indian Express, a Chennai-based newspaper, has decided to suspend its IPL coverage indefinitely until “semblance of normalcy” is restored.
“In such a tragic time, we find it incongruous that the festival of cricket is on in India, with layers of bio bubbles creating protection,” read a message from the paper’s editor.
“This is commercialism gone crass. The problem is not with the game but its timing. Cricket, too, must accept that we are passing through an unprecedented crisis.”
Supporters of the IPL may argue that European football’s ability to continue in the face of the pandemic is justification enough to keep playing the country’s favorite sport.
However, with many Delhi hospitals tweeting SOS messages on Monday, claiming they were out of oxygen and crematoriums turning into an assembly line of death and suffering, the optics of a lucrative cricket tournament continuing to play on arguably don’t look great.
In the current edition of the IPL, twenty matches have been played, with all of them taking place in Chennai and Mumbai. This week, the tournament will begin with 16 games in the nation’s capital Delhi and Ahmedabad.
India is also set to host the T20 World Cup in October this year.