Coronavirus test checkpoints and isolation units could become characteristic on land across the country this summer, while English cricket explores the possibility of organizing important matches behind closed doors.
At present there will no longer be a professional cricket in the UK before May 28, and England and the Wales Cricket Board are drafting possible programs while waiting for the government to give the green light to sporting events. However, there is no guarantee that crowds will be allowed to land when this happens. When it announced last week’s delay, the ECB revealed that it was examining “the start of the season behind closed doors” and “giving sports fans the opportunity to watch live broadcasts”.
Steve Elworthy, the director of last year’s World Cup tournament who has since become the ECB’s event director, is in charge of exploring the logistics of this and outlined the challenge. “We are mapping out what international matches would be like behind closed doors,” says Elworthy.
“The advice on mass meetings [before the current period of lockdown] it was 500 people or less. This was driven by the potential impact on critical services such as paramedics and doctors.
“You should probably be working with that number, which includes teams, match officials, support staff, broadcasters and media, business partners, security and security teams, third-party vendors, screen operators, [the teams that control] LED cards, ground staff, catering and more.
“So you have to think about the medical arrangements, creating a safe and sterile environment around that place, so that everyone who enters is clear. So that’s how you test them at the gate, the isolation units you need to insert. These are all the considerations we are thinking about. “
The ECB medical team is developing a protocol for the operation of the tests, as well as any isolation booths for temporary use, while all positive tests for Covid-19 are waiting to leave the ground. There may be around 1,500 people working on a normal main game day, but it is believed that this number of employees can be reduced to around 350 without spectators, aided by the reduction in stewards and catering.
However, the Elworthy events team must also consider transportation and accommodation logistics for players, staff and officials to ensure that the desired “sterile” bubble is not just upon arrival at the stadium. While operating manuals for staging domestic cricket behind closed doors will also be produced, internationals have the added complication of the trip for the touring teams. Much depends on the resumption of flights and the lifting of travel restrictions, such as quarantine periods.
This year there are four series of visitors scheduled in the men’s game – West Indies, Australia, Pakistan and Ireland – each with programming problems to consider in case the games need to be moved, while British women will host South Africa and ‘India.
“Now we are thinking about all these things, about the risks posed and it is getting bigger and bigger,” says Elworthy. “But if this is the situation we will face, we will absolutely hand over to each of them to make sure that happens.”
The ECB, at the beginning of a new agreement on the rights of 1.1 billion pounds and with the liquidity reserves significantly decreased, is clearly desperate for a cricket for its partners and television sponsors, but Elworthy insists that the decision to stage games will not be blinded by economic need.
“One thing you need to consider is the national mood. You may be able to deliver a batch, but would that be the right thing? Operationally we believe we can offer anything, but we have to keep an eye on it. You don’t just have to operate in a bubble, you need peripheral vision.
“[And] making sure everyone is in a safe environment is at the center and center of discussion. We had good conversations with the Professional Cricketers’ Association’s new chief executive, Tony Irish, and with the county directors of cricket. Official and player safety and comfort are paramount. “
Veteran of six world tournaments dating back to the 2007 World T20 in South Africa and awarded with an MBE in 2018, Elworthy says that the current situation is “without a shadow of a doubt” the most demanding he has had to face, also because the beginning of the date and the duration of the 2020 season remain unknown.
His team has not been totally blinded, at least, to the argument of a global pandemic that arose during the emergency planning for the men’s World Cup last year – “the issue of bird flu emerged, for example” – although terrorism was considered the biggest threat to the tournament at the time.
Unlike a global event that has a rigid window in the international calendar, a summer at home at least offers room for flexibility (except for a completely canceled season). There are, however, four national races to be organized: the County Championship, the T20 Blast, the One-Day Cup and the Hundred.
One or more may be forced to remain dormant for a year, as the ECB prioritizes the money-turning white ball formats, but the feasibility of the Hundreds’ inaugural season is about more than its ability to generate money. With the aim of injecting new momentum into the sport, competition with 100 balls could be even better served by a 12-month delay, given the potential restrictions of the crowd and the loss of overseas stars.
Elworthy, who will oversee his delivery, is not blind to the challenges here, but is reluctant to be drawn to his immediate future. “Nobody has a crystal ball. We know what the Hundred is intended for and the power of what it can offer. There will be considerations for all competitions and a process to follow but I would be hesitant to cancel anything at this stage.
“We don’t know when we will have the green light to resume playing. You have to make sure you’ve done all your critical thinking and planning so that when you reach that point and know how much season is left, you provide as much cricket as possible and as consistently as possible. .
“One thing you can guarantee is that sport is one of the greatest unifiers. We will get out of it and it will be the center and center to bring the country together. This is the power of sport and cricket has a huge role to play in this. “