Australian and other overseas cricketers who have been participating in the Indian Premier League (IPL) are scrambling for ways to leave India as it faces the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreak.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will help move Australia’s entire IPL “cohort” to the Maldives or Sri Lanka ahead of the weekend, Cricket Australia (CA) announced on Wednesday.
India’s governing body for cricket has been working to repatriate all the players, support staff, umpires and commentators as quickly and safely as possible, CA’s interim chief executive Nick Hockley told reporters during a press conference in Sydney.
“So what we’re working to do and what the BCCI are working to do, and they’ve been incredibly cooperative, is working to move the entire cohort out of India,” Hockley said.
He added that players would wait outside India for approval to head home, as Australia has banned travelers who have been in the country within the past two weeks.
In Australia, anyone who has been in India 14 days prior to Monday is now blocked from entering the country, including Australian citizens, under the country’s Biosecurity Act.
Australia Prime Minister Scott Morrison denied that the ban on arrivals is racist and played down the chance of jail time for those caught breaking the rules.
On Monday, around 9,000 Australians in India were registered with the government as wanting to return to Australia.
Former Australian cricketer Michael Slater, who has been working as a commentator covering the IPL, has been vocal in his criticism of the Australian government.
“If our Government cared for the safety of Aussies they would allow us to get home,” tweeted Slater on Monday. “It’s a disgrace!! Blood on your hands PM. How dare you treat us like this. How about you sort out the quarantine system. I had government permission to work on the IPL but I now have government neglect.
“And for those who think this is a money exercise,” added Slater in another Twitter post. “Well, forget it. This is what I do for a living and I have not made a penny having left early. So please stop the abuse and think of the thousands dying in India each day. It’s called empathy. If only our government had some!” he added.
India has accounted for 25% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths reported in the past week, according to the World Health Organization.
“In good spirits”
A handful of IPL participants have recently tested positive for Covid-19, including Chennai Super Kings’ Australian batting coach Mike Hussey and two non-playing members of the team.
Australian Cricketers’ Association (ACA) chief executive Todd Greenberg said that as far as he knows, Hussey was the only Australian in the IPL to contract the virus.
“We’ve spoken to Mike today. He’s okay, he’s in good spirits”, said Greenberg, who added that Hussey has relatively mild symptoms, and will be in isolation in his hotel room for at least 10 days in India.
There are over 50 foreign players, including 14 Australians, currently stuck in India, according to Reuters.
Hussey’s diagnosis comes despite the IPL’s strict bio-bubble arrangement, where teams moved across the country for games and on occasion, wore head-to-toe PPE for internal flights.
Prior to the IPL’s suspension, Australians Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson cut short their IPL stints to return home last week.
“We’re all hoping the situation improves”
As the number of Covid-19 cases in India surpassed 20 million on Monday, Hockley urged the cricketing community to rally and support the country.
“We’re all hoping the situation improves,” he said on Wednesday.
Ahead of the press conference a number of Australian cricketers including Pat Cummins and Brett Lee donated money towards medical supplies in India. Likewise, CA partnered with the ACA to raise much needed funds for UNICEF Australia’s India Covid-19 Crisis Appeal.
“We were all deeply moved by the sentiments expressed and donations given by Pat Cummins and Brett Lee over the past week,” said Hockley in a statement.
“Australians and Indians share a special bond and, for many, our mutual love of cricket is central to that friendship,” Hockley added.
Welcoming the partnership with Australian cricket, UNICEF Australia chief executive Tony Stuart said he was moved by the cricketing community’s response to the crisis.
“We thank Australian Cricket for acting now as it is leadership like this which will help beat COVID for all,” Stuart added.
During the press conference on Wednesday, Hockley said the International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking at contingency options for the T20 World Cup, which India is set to host in October this year.
He added that the BCCI has also pledged to arrange a charter plane to bring Australian cricketers home, refusing to speculate if the league could resume this year.
“I think it’s premature to speculate on that,” Hockley said.
“At the moment, the BCCI are very focused on getting all the players, not just the Australians, home safe,” Hockley added.
“The public will see our best Australian cricketers as almost superheroes … but they are human beings,” Greenberg added in agreement.