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Coronavirus threat: IPL 2020 deferred until April 15

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IPL 2020 has been deferred until April 15 following the global concern over the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak. ESPNcricinfo understands that if the situation is safe for the IPL to start in mid-April, the new window for the tournament is likely to be April 16 to June 5.

The decision to postpone the tournament, which was scheduled to start on March 29, was taken by the BCCI top brass led by its president Sourav Ganguly and secretary Jay Shah and top management of the IPL in the wake of the advice given by various arms of the Indian government.

The IPL sent the communication to all eight franchises on Friday, saying it would meet the owners on Saturday in person in Mumbai to further debrief on the matter.

In its statement announcing the decision on Friday afternoon, the BCCI said it was “suspending” the IPL until April 15 as a “precautionary measure” against the coronavirus. “The BCCI is concerned and sensitive about all its stakeholders, and public health in general, and it is taking all necessary steps to ensure that, all people related to IPL including fans have a safe cricketing experience,” the release said. “The BCCI will work closely with the Government of India along with the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and all other relevant Central and State Government departments in this regard.”

The IPL now joins a host of high-profile sporting events including the English Premier League and UEFA Champions League, the NBA and the ATP Tour to have been affected by COVID-19 (novel coronavirus), a respiratory illness that was declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organistion (WHO) this week.

With the outbreak rapidly escalating across the globe the Indian government has placed severe travel restrictions for people traveling in as well out of India. With the coronavirus being highly contagious and spread through contact, the government said sporting organisations would need to adhere to Health Ministry’s guidelines to avoid mass gatherings.

ESPNcricinfo had earlier reported the possibility of the IPL being a severely restricted tournament – with at least some part of it being played to empty stands – because of the pandemic. While the central sports ministry had said it would not stop sporting events from taking place as long as they adhered strictly to government guidelines discouraging mass gatherings, the external affairs (foreign) ministry had said that its advice was to not go ahead with the tournament at this time, but left the decision to the organisers.

In the end the BCCI was left with not much choice and was forced to change its initial stance of business-as usual when Ganguly had said the IPL was on and the board was taking all necessary precautions. However, the pressure on the BCCI was building up as state governments across India including those of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Punjab and Delhi on Friday insisting that they would not allow mass gatherings, something an IPL match would easily attract.

On the eve of the India-South Africa ODI series opener, on March 11, the BCCI shared its first public statement on the coronavirus saying a list of dos-and-don’ts were distributed to all stakeholders including the players who had been asked not to shake hands or use third-party phones to take selfies during interactions with the fans.

Later on Friday, it was confirmed that the final two ODIs of the South Africa series, in Lucknow (March 15) and Kolkata (March 18) would not be played for the same reasons.

Before arriving at the decision to defer the tournament, the IPL is understood to have consulted at least some of the franchises for their views. As far as the franchises were concerned they wanted the tournament to go ahead in whatever form even if behind closed doors. One franchise chief executive said an option that was considered, and, which might still be in play if the tournament starts in April, is to allow no spectators during the first few weeks of the tournament and then upon review resume ticket sales.

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