Let them eat runs: The grotesque spectacle of IPL matches in a Delhi devastated by Covid-19
Delhi has been devastated by Covid-19. Patients are going from hospital to hospital in the city, looking for available ICU beds. Their families are scrambling to find oxygen cylinders or vital medicines. Hospitals have themselves been running out of oxygen. And even getting an RT-PCR test could take you days, if you’re able to find a lab ready to collect samples.
Unless you’re a cricketer in the Indian Premier League.
In that case, you get to live life in a ‘bio-bubble’ put together by the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which will ensure that you can ignore entirely the medical disaster zone that is Delhi at the moment.
You will have a “separate IPL check-in counter” at the airport, as you enter the Indian capital, where a record 381 people died on Tuesday and where one in three people being tested turns out to be positive. You will be tested every two days, with presumably immediate results rather than the 4-5 days it seems to be taking most labs in the city.
And, if previous legs of the league are anything to go by, you will most likely have an entire crew of health professionals as well an “ICU-on-wheels ambulance” on stand-by at the Arun Jaitley Stadium in case anything goes wrong, in addition to the diversion of security personnel.
The debate over whether the IPL should continue while India goes through a dire second wave of Covid-19, with more than 300,000 new cases and over 2,500 deaths every day for the last week, may be complicated. Some have asked that the league at least stop ignoring the deaths and misery that are taking place outside the BCCI’s vaunted bio-bubble.
But there should be no question about whether the league should be able to divert even a tiny bit of Delhi’s resources, at a time when the healthcare system in India’s capital has broken down.
Why should testing capacity be reserved for cricketers when it is taking days for ordinary citizens who until recently needed it for admission into the Covid war of a hospital?
Why should ambulances be kept aside for sportsperson when residents of the city are going from hospital to hospital in auto-rickshaws with oxygen cylinders within?
These questions ought to apply to the other cities where the league is slated to go, including Kolkata – where some labs were seeing one in two people test positive – and Bengaluru, which is under lockdown with all of its ICU beds full.
But it seems particularly galling in Delhi, which has been hit by such a massive wave of cases that its healthcare system collapsed and has not been able to recover for weeks now.
This doesn’t mean it is necessarily out of place in the capital.
After all, this is the city where hospital beds have reportedly been kept vacant for VIPs.
This is the city where Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s government thought it appropriate to commandeer a five-star hotel and turn it into a hospital exclusively for the judges and staff of the High Court, before reversing course. This is the city where work on the Rs 20,000-crore Central Vista re-design is declared an essential service and given permission to ferry workers to and from even as everyone else has to lock down.
And this is the city which is under-testing, under-counting its deaths, struggling to provide oxygen to its hospitals, and has not figured an orderly system of triage, more than two weeks after things first fell apart.
It is true that the politics of the BCCI are complex. The organisation is currently piloted to a large extent by the son of BJP leader and Union Home Minister Amit Shah. And governance of Delhi is itself constantly in limbo.
Even so it seems particularly grotesque that in a city run by a party named after the aam admi (the ordinary person), vital resources are going to be sequestered for the highly paid cricketers of the glitzy, bio-bubbled IPL – even as the capital’s healthcare systems continue collapsing around them.
Let them eat runs?