When the Indian Premier League (IPL) was last held in the UAE six years ago, it was a landmark not just in terms of the biggest cricket league in the world making its maiden voyage to the desert.
It was a watershed moment as fans wanted more than just a slice of the world’s richest and most popular franchise league. It was a frenzy to say the least as close to 300,000 fans packed the Zayed Cricket Stadium in Abu Dhabi, the Dubai International Cricket Stadium and the Sharjah Cricket Stadium.
Tickets which ranged from Dh 20 for one match and Dh 30 for double-headers in Abu Dhabi, Dh 30 (one match) and Dh 50 for double headers in Dubai, and Dh 30 (one match) and Dh 40 for double headers in Sharjah, disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Platinum tickets were priced at Dh 200 (one match) and Dh 250 (double headers) and those too were lapped up in a jiffy. The response was resounding as 82 percent of fans bought tickets.
And the television viewership was even more mind-boggling with the tournament opener between the Mumbai Indians and the Kolkata Knight Riders witnessing a bigger audience than the opening game the year before.
With the IPL making a return to the country, this year should have been the same, if not more, with fans eagerly waiting with bated breath to see the galaxy of superstars at home, and in the flesh.
But that unfortunately won’t be possible, at least, for the time being. With the Covid-19 pandemic still lurking, the initial plan is for the tournament to be played behind closed doors and in empty cricketing arenas, just as it has been in football, Formula One, golf, tennis and other sports, the world over.
But things could possibly change over the course of the competition with the Emirates Cricket Board hoping for a limited number of fans in the stands.
“As hosts, the Emirates Cricket Board will work closely with the authorities to seek approval on what protocols need to be followed, this includes fan attendance, we will then discuss with the BCCI to assess their spectator requirements,” Mubashshir Usmani, general secretary of the ECB, had told the Khaleej Times in an interview last month.
“We want our Asian diaspora, as well as the other expat and Emirati sports-loving fans (in the UAE) to be able to watch the action from the stands,” he had added.
The ECB is in constant touch with the Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah Sports Councils, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah Tourism Bodies, Police and the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention.
Sourav Ganguly, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), said as much at the beginning of this month.
“Because of Covid and the infection, you don’t want people to be too close to each other, but very soon you will see there will be 30% people in the ground with social distancing,” Ganguly said.
“They will be properly tested and allowed to enter the ground. But I think that is going to happen over a period of time,” the former Indian captain had added.
It is a fluid situation and for now though, fans can catch the action on BeIN Sport, which will telecast the matches live.0