How’z That?: Playing Popular Games in Empty Stadiums

Cricket and football are two of the most passionate and fascinating sports in the world. We all love those beautiful games and the players connected with them. The ardent supporters would try their best to shirk work to attend matches and the crazier ones would not hesitate to sacrifice their sleep to express support to their teams. The emergence of COVID-19 had changed the whole scenario. There were no matches worth mentioning in any place in the world for more than three months. After a long pause things are limping back to some degree of normalcy.

Football is coming back to Spain with virtual crowds, regular matches and lots of testing being done for protection from coronavirus. The Spanish League was suspended for more than three months due to the pandemic. It will resume this weekend as the second top league to do so in Europe. The Bundesliga is the first league ever to start in the post-pandemic times. The other leagues, such as the Premier League and the Italian League, will start from next week. The league officials estimated the loss of $1.1 million if they do not resume the matches for the pandemic. The Spanish League is starting the match from Friday between Sevilla and Real Betis at 1.30 am IST as the El Garn Derby. The weekend will have a kickstart match by the table leader FC Barcelona versus RCD Mallorca. There will be another match played between the second placed Real Madrid and Eibar on Sunday next. The Sunday match will take place at Real Madrid’s training centre as the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium is under renovation throughout the season. The clubs are expected to have matches on a regular basis till its completion on 19 July, 2020. Supporters from all over the world are anticipating how the ‘new normal’ will affect the players on field.

La Liga is having high hopes to push the restart button as a celebration and it is also planning to pay respect to the victims of coronavirus. Spain has experienced more than 27,000 deaths and is one of the worst-hit countries in the world. The first match on Friday will show the world that the crisis is under control. The federation has decided to put down some rules which should be followed strictly. These will help to keep an eye on coronavirus and restrict it from spreading among the players and the staff.

The new norms are as follows:

  1. Corona test will be performed twenty four hours before the match at home for each player.
  2. Players must wear masks and gloves and have temperature checked before entering the stadium.
  3. Possibility to have a squad of twenty three players.
  4. Players and staff have to change their kits during the half-time break.
  5. Yellow card is to be shown if a player spits on the ground.
  6. Post-game press conference should be done through video conference call.
  7. Five substitutions instead of three in the eleven member-team.
  8. Handshakes are totally prohibited.
  9. Teams travelling by bus will use two buses.
  10.  The security personnel have to check on fans to ensure no large gathering in front of the stadium.
  11.  There will be no supporters in the stadium.
  12.  The players should sit on the alternate seats in the bench.

The VIVO Indian Premier League is one of the most popular and prestigious cricket tournaments in India. This year it was scheduled to start from 29 March to 24 May but it was postponed due to the outbreak of coronavirus. Sourav Ganguly, the President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), announced that the board is exploring all possible actions to restart the league. The matches will happen in empty stadium without any supporters. The board is discussing safety precautions for the players and staff where some of them have to take international flights to be with the teams. It is being speculated that the tournament might be played in the October-November slot if the International Cricket Council (ICC) decides to postpone the T20 World Cup. The board is in the process of developing a COVID-19 SOP (Standard Operation Procedure) for all State Cricket Associations with a few standard guidelines. It is also in the process of discussing domestic cricket tournaments with the state cricket associations. The economic structure of international cricket is likely to change and lower-ranked nations are already facing fund crunch.

The Indian Super League (ISL) final was held in an empty stadium in Goa on 14 March. I-League season was stopped on 15 March, with the Neroca vs Chennai City 2-2 draw becoming the last match of the season. The season was eventually called off with twenty three matches left and Mohun Bagan was crowned champions. India’s remaining World Cup qualifiers have been postponed. Matches against Qatar, Afghanistan and Bangladesh were scheduled for the March-April window and there’s little clarity on when they will be played. The postponement of the U-17 Women’s Football World Cup, 2020, which was to be hosted in India in November, has also caused some concern. Though FIFA has mentioned that new dates will be identified at a more suitable time.

It is obvious that fans and supporters of all kinds of games around the world have to wait patiently for the matches to start again. There is a huge impact on the world sports arena due to the coronavirus. The feel and shrill of collective expressions reverberating the stadiums are being missed by all.