New Delhi: Fans of the Indian Premier League (IPL) can rejoice: The show will go on.
The government on Friday put aside its fears that security forces would be stretched to the limit in May, when they would have to guard both polling stations during national elections and cricket grounds for the popular league. IPL organizers responded with a promise to finalize a new schedule, which would ensure that no match would be played on 16 May—when votes will be counted—or on the day any of the 14 cities where the games are to be played go to the polls.
“We want to assure cricket fans and everyone involved with event that the IPL is on,” IPL commissioner Lalit Modi told reporters in Mumbai on Friday, asserting that there would be proper security for players and spectators. “There’s no reservation about security, we have our security experts in and (are) holding discussions with them.”
Modi’s comments allayed fears that the cricket competition, played in a 20-over format, would have to be postponed because of the general election.
The issue of security at the IPL matches was first raised by Union home minister P. Chidambaram, after the 3 March terror attack in Lahore on a convoy carrying the Sri Lankan cricket team led to the death of six policemen and injured seven Lankan cricketers. He had suggested that the tournament be postponed since it would be difficult to provide security cover to players and spectators. A few state governments echoed his fears.
IPL organizers responded within a day with a new schedule that ensured there would be no overlap between the matches and the elections.
All this changed on Friday.
Chidambaram told reporters in Hyderabad, “Cricket in India is completely safe, but the dates for IPL matches need to be rejigged.”
Allaying fears that the entire tournament would either be delayed or even cancelled, the minister added, “We’ll help in staging the IPL matches, even though redrawing of the scheduling appears unavoidable”.
In response, Modi said, “We’re extremely grateful and thankful to the home minister for his clarification that security will be provided for IPL matches.”
Modi said the IPL governing body would soon make public the revised schedule.
For IPL franchisee holders, the news comes as a relief.
“We are happy the issue has been resolved. Now we can get back to organizing the matches and work with police and local authorities to enure it all goes smoothly,” said Amrit Mathur, chief operating officer of the Delhi Daredevils team.
Added Darshan M., vice-president of commercial operations for Deccan Chargers, the Hyderabad team, “If IPL had been postponed, there would have been a lot to pay, not just for franchises, but more so for partners who have tied up with franchises. There are television shows already on air and merchandise ready to hit the shelves...there are sponsors who are banking on IPL as their summer plan...so this is encouraging news.”
In the aftermath of the debate on security issues, industry experts are now arguing for a substantially improved system that will make international cricketers secure about playing in India.
“BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) needs to use some of its funds to get world-renowned security that will give comfort to international players,” said Jamie Stewart, managing director at Commune Sport and Entertainment, a sports sponsorship and marketing agency that provides services to the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Mumbai Indians. Stewart was also the former ICC global sponsorship manager.
In an email response, Harsha Bhogle, sports commentator, added, “It would (raise concern) among some players and understandably so; especially because of what happened in Mumbai and so it would be up to the IPL to issue guarantees and up to the players to accept or reject them.”
But franchisees are optimistic. “There is no apprehension expressed by international players; in fact, they are looking forward to it. Now that BCCI and the government have resolved the issue, the necessary arrangements should be put into place,” said Delhi Daredevils’ Mathur.
AP contributed to this story.