The Indian Premier League has been suspended after several players and staff tested positive for Covid-19, effectively bringing the world’s biggest cricket league to a premature end.
Organisers had been criticised for allowing matches to continue despite the country’s health crisis, and were accused of diverting resources from fighting the pandemic as infections surged.
The IPL has held 29 games without spectators since April 9, despite India being engulfed by a second Covid wave that has pushed the health service to breaking point.
Players and staff were confined to a rigorous “biosecurity” bubble designed to keep out infections. But after a number of players and staff tested positive this week, the IPL’s governing council announced after an emergency meeting on Tuesday that the league would be suspended with immediate effect.
“These are difficult times, especially in India,” the authorities said in a statement. “While we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times.”
The IPL faced particular criticism for playing matches in New Delhi, the Indian capital, and Ahmedabad in western India. Both cities have been among the hardest hit by Covid and were suffering from severe shortages of medical supplies, while players within the IPL “bubble” enjoyed access to tests and other emergency treatment.
India reported more than 350,000 Covid-19 infections on Tuesday, along with 3,400 deaths. The surge in cases has sparked a humanitarian crisis, overwhelming hospitals and cremation and burial grounds.
The league confirmed on Monday that two players for the Kolkata Knight Riders franchise, Varun Chakaravarthy and Sandeep Warrier, tested positive for the virus.
Local media reported that several players and staff at other teams had also come down with Covid-19.
A number of other players, including three Australians, had already quit the league over concerns about the second wave and the flight bans imposed on India.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India, the game’s governing body, said it did not want to “compromise” the safety of players and staff by continuing to play.
“The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021,” the regulator said.
Launched in 2008, the IPL attracted global attention for its fast, short-format Twenty20 cricket and its suspension will have business, and political, repercussions.
It has proved one of the most lucrative events of the Indian business calendar, bringing funds flowing into the sport.
Its popularity and the salaries on offer have attracted advertisers, broadcasters and the sport’s best players. Consultants at Duff and Phelps have estimated that the IPL’s brand value at almost $7bn.
India’s cricketing authorities also have close ties with politicians, who have long used the sport to boost their popularity. BCCI secretary Jay Shah is the son of Amit Shah, the home minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s right-hand man. The world’s largest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad, where IPL matches were being held, was recently renamed after Modi.
Last year’s league, won by Mukesh Ambani’s Mumbai Indians franchise, was held in the United Arab Emirates after being delayed twice because of the pandemic. A record audience watched the tournament, which is screened by Star, a broadcaster owned by Walt Disney.