The Indian Premier League has been postponed following weeks of outrage over the decision to continue playing during a devastating Covid-19 second wave in India, after several players tested positive for the virus.

The IPL was forced to suspend action after several players tested positive for Covid-19 and three teams went into isolation. The decision to cancel the lucrative IPL comes as India passed 20 million coronavirus cases, with the surge showing no sign of relenting.

Australian cricketers in limbo after IPL suspended amid India’s deepening Covid crisis
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A statement on the IPL website on Tuesday morning confirmed the Board of Control for Cricket in India had voted to postpone the league indefinitely after cases were detected in staff and players from Kolkata Knight Riders, Chennai Super Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad.

“The BCCI 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 wellbeing of all the stakeholders in mind,” they said.

While the announcement was only to suspend the league which still has a month of matches left, it is widely considered unlikely to be able to resume at all this season.

The BCCI said it would “do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021”.

However, the decision to indefinitely postpone the IPL is particularly bad news for the 30 Australian players, coaches and staff in India. They are unable to fly home after the Australian government imposed a travel ban until at least 15 May and threatened citizens who attempt to return with a hefty fine or even jail.

Several Australian players had already pulled out this season over fears of getting stranded in India. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, has said there would no exemption to the travel ban for returning cricketers.

Four Australians, including the players Steve Smith and Marcus Stoinis and the coaches Ricky Ponting and James Hopes, are among the Delhi Capitals squad who have all now been put into isolation. The Kolkata Knight Riders team, with four Australian players, have also been put into isolation this week after several players tested positive.

It was reported the England Cricket Board had already been under some pressure to bring back British players as coronavirus cases continued to increase in record-breaking numbers in India.

England’s 11-strong IPL contingent is led by the limited-overs captain, Eoin Morgan, with Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Jonny Bairstow, Jason Roy, Dawid Malan, Sam Billings, Chris Woakes, Chris Jordan, and Tom and Sam Curran all involved. They all now face 10 days of hotel quarantine on their return home as India is now on the UK’s “red list” for international travel.

IPL players had been kept in “biosecure bubbles”, where they were tested regularly and travelled in private planes between matches in Delhi and Ahmedabad which had no spectators. But the league had been heavily criticised for continuing as normal while India was in the midst of one of the world’s deadliest coronavirus surges, with hundreds of thousands of new cases and deaths being registered every day.

The league was also accused of taking up funds and valuable logistical, testing and medical resources – currently in short supply in India – to protect the players and continue play.

There had already been concerns by people inside the IPL “biobubbles” that they were worryingly porous compared to the restrictions put in place last year when the league went ahead in the UAE.

The Indian cricket commentator Sharda Ugra said there there had been a “growing anger” in India that “the IPL could steamroller on, just pretending that there wasn’t great depth of misery and suffering that was taking place around us”.

Sharda said: “There was a complete disconnect between what was happening inside the IPL and going out on their world feed, and what was happening outside the stadiums across India. There was no acknowledgement of the growing numbers of dead; India hasn’t lost so many people since independence and yet there was huge dissonance from the IPL.”

The silence from the Indian cricketers and the BCCI on India’s unfolding Covid-19 tragedy was also drawn into stark contrast by Australian players who donated towards the relief effort and criticised the decision to continue.

Andrew Tye, one of the Australian players who flew back early, told Australian media last month: “Looking at it from an Indian view, how are these companies and franchises, and the government, spending so much money on the IPL when there are people not being able to get accepted into hospital?”

The IPL is a huge money-spinner and generates millions in revenue through sponsorship and advertising. It also has very close links to the ruling government as the BCCI secretary is Jay Shah, the son of the home minister Amit Shah who is considered the second most powerful man in India.

Ayomide Oyewole

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