Lessons for the Olympics from mass outbreak of virus in international cricket: The Statesman

NEW DELHI (THE STATESMAN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – With a seventh member of the 53-man Pakistan cricket squad touring New Zealand testing positive for coronavirus on Saturday (Nov 28), the challenge of organising international sporting events in these difficult times has become even more palpable.

While the Indian Premier League was conducted relatively smoothly in the United Arab Emirates, and the Indian cricket team’s tour of Australia has so far passed off without a hitch, except for the travails suffered by the visitors on a placid Canberra pitch, Pakistan’s tour has been jinxed from the start.

The country’s Cricket Board has been put on the defensive and has now admitted that there might have some “minor breaches” by members of the squad. How minor those breaches were is not known, but should there be more afflictions, the tour itself may be in jeopardy.

New Zealand has battled the epidemic with significant success, having contained the case load to just over 2,000 and the deaths to 25.

Indeed, the nation’s success has earned plaudits for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and had secured for her party a record win in recent elections.

Not surprisingly, authorities are worried about the outbreak in the Pakistani camp and have promptly revoked permission granted earlier for the cricketers to train together in managed isolation.

Of special concern to the Kiwis are reports of breaches in bio-security rules by members of the squad, specially in mingling closely while checking into an isolation facility. In defence of its players, a red-faced Pakistan Cricket Board has been forced to say they deserved a bit of flexibility after a 22-hour-long journey and should not be judged too harshly.

While international sporting events are back on the calendar, and even team sports are being staged, there have only been stray cases of players and officials testing positive for the virus.

This may be the first mass outbreak within members of a team and a careful evaluation of what happened and what went wrong is essential for those planning to host other international sporting events.

Certainly, the Tokyo Olympics, rescheduled to next year, will if held without an effective vaccination programme in place, pose a significant challenge to organisers.

Policing high-spirited sports persons is never the easiest of tasks and if one squad can find the going as tough as the Pakistanis appear to have, the arrival of several score contingents – many of them far larger than the squad from the sub-continent – is bound to test the endurance and skill of Tokyo’s organisers.

Pakistan is due to play two Tests and three T-20 games beginning 18 December, while a Pakistan ‘A’ team is touring concurrently. Cricket fans must hope that the tour passes off without further alarm.

The Statesman is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.

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