No panic, business as usual, but a tinge of caution with a wait-and-watch approach. That's how franchises are dealing with the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) threat surrounding the Indian Premier League set to begin later this month.
Even as BCCI President Sourav Ganguly stressed that the tournament is very much 'on', the franchises are gearing up with all precautions in place. The actual tournament is three weeks away, but many of the franchises have begun their pre-season camps at their respective bases. While the players are training for the action on the field, the medical teams and the administrators are putting things in place to counter the latest virus which has affected all walks of life around the world.
The camps are largely attended by Indian players at the moment, with the foreigners set to arrive from the third week. International cricket has not been hindered yet, with West Indies completing a tour of Sri Lanka, England flying to Sri Lanka and Australia playing in South Africa before taking on New Zealand home and then away.
There have been concerns about the safety of players and other stakeholders, with Indian government reporting around 30 confirmed cases this week. However, all signs are that cricket won't be affected; South Africa have already given a go-ahead to their tour of India for three ODIs just before the IPL. The franchises expect no hindrances for the IPL too.
"The BCCI has clearly said the IPL will go on, cricket tours are going on as usual around the world, so this is nothing different," a franchise official told Cricketnext. "We've not got specific instructions from BCCI or the health ministry yet. If and when we get them, we'll implement the same. There has been no concern from any of our players and it's very much status quo as of now, nothing changes. No foreign player has raised any concern about traveling to India, they are set to come in from the third week of March and that has not changed."
The most high-profile pre-season camp at the moment is that of Chennai Super Kings, with captain MS Dhoni getting back to action after a lengthy break. Dhoni joined the team in Chennai on March 1 and has been a regular the evening sessions at the MA Chidambaram stadium, along with the likes of Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu, Piyush Chawla, M Vijay, Karn Sharma among others.
People around the country have been advised to avoid public gatherings, but nothing has stopped CSK's fans from thronging the stadium to witness the practise sessions, which are thrown open to the public. The interest has increased ever since Dhoni's arrival.
Madhu Thottappillil, the CSK team doctor, gave an insight into how the team is preparing to counter the coronavirus threat, stressing on the importance of a 'commonsense approach'.
"We are on top of things. We are also like everybody else, we're watching things unfold," he told Cricketnext. "We are following the absolute commonsense approach. We ask them to follow basic sanitary habits. We provide and ask them to use good quality hand sanitizers regularly. At all entries and exit, we have given medical grade hand-rubs. Purely medical grade, hospital grade sanitizers. It's nothing new, so I think we're okay.
"Frankly we're not in any sort of panic. Players also aren't extremely concerned. Once in a while some player will come and ask whether there is any concern, we tell them this is what it is. We tell them to avoid public, public places, close interactions like handshakes with people you don't know. Normally they would go to a mall or something like that, but now we are consciously trying to avoid all that.
"Generally our environment is a fairly close one. There's only a certain set of people who come in close contact with the players. So we make sure that nobody with any symptoms of flu or anything else come near the players. We haven't had a situation where people from the outside with cold or running nose etc have come in close contact with the players from the beginning of the camp.
"The only access point is at the hotel or during breakfast etc. We have kept the players informed about interaction with crowds or public places. They are fairly educated on the good habits at this point of time. At the same time, we are not creating panic among the players. We are not saying they should wear masks and things like that, because right now data doesn't prove anything on whether wearing masks will protect you from this virus. Basically what they say is that if your symptomatic, you wear masks to avoid sneezing in public places."
தோனி மீது ஒரு ரசிகர் வைத்திருக்கும் அளவு கடந்த பாசம், அவரின் சந்தோஷத்தில் வெளிப்படுகிறது 🎥 சென்னையில் நேற்று வலைப்பயிற்சியின் போது!#⃣ "The Super Kings Show"⏲6 PM📺 ஸ்டார் ஸ்போர்ட்ஸ் 1 தமிழ்📅 மார்ச் 8 pic.twitter.com/lqUtfAHxM6— Star Sports Tamil (@StarSportsTamil) March 5, 2020
Dr. Madhu said teams are used to handling emergencies given their robust medical support system.
"Every year, there is some sort of a virus outbreak... typhoid, cholera, chicken pox, and we'll be managing it. It could be something like conjunctivitis; it's there every season and the transmission is very similar to this (coronavirus).
"About the safety of the fans and public... it's for the BCCI to work out. The tournament is three-four weeks away, so we don't know how it's going to play out. What effect the heat has, whether it will taper down. We don't know. At this point, we don't see any need to panic. We are taking one day at a time. My concern is the players and their families.
"We are vigilant and sensible. This is a new threat and we'll take it one step at a time.
"Other than that we have contingency plans, like every year. CSK is the only franchise that has traveled with a doctor from year one. We have a very robust medical support wherever we go."
CSK is one of the franchises which travel with a large family set-up through the IPL, with players and support staff traveling around with their wives and children. Dr. Madhu said none of them - local or foreign - has raised a concern at this stage, but stressed they would follow the guidelines set by the government if it comes to that stage.
"Right now nobody has raised a concern yet. We may get there at some point, and we'll give them an honest assessment then. And that will be born out of directions by our health ministry of the government health department. They'll lay out a protocol and we'll go by that. At no point will we put anybody at risk," he said.
"There's no protocol shared yet, but it may come at some point. We have not had that kind of an epicentre in Chennai. It's still manageable and the government is behind it. The health department also has a system in place and it's fairly trustable.
"The government may mandate something else next week, we'll go by the advice of the government. There's no panic, nothing has changed other than the fact that we have enforced things like handwashing and cordoning people from access to players. Right now it's business as usual for us."
The coronavirus outbreak has severely impacted the global sporting schedules with Italy banning fans from venues till April. Olympic test events have been postponed or cancelled in Japan, and there are growing concerns about the fate of the Tokyo Olympics in July-August as well.
The virus has affected cricket too, with the Everest Premier League in Nepal and the ICC World Cup Challenge League in Malaysia being postponed.