The Indian Premier League, the world’s richest Twenty20 cricket tournament, was suspended on Tuesday and its players sent home as India battles a massive surge in coronavirus cases.
The move, which follows growing controversy over the competition, comes a day after two players — Varun Chakravarthy and Sandeep Warrier — tested positive, forcing a match to be postponed.
“The Indian Premier League Governing Council and Board of Control for Cricket in India in an emergency meeting has unanimously decided to postpone (the) IPL 2021 season, with immediate effect,” a statement from organisers said.
“The BCCI does not want to compromise on the safety of the players, support staff and the other participants involved in organising the IPL,” it added.
India, which has reported more than 20 million cases so far, with just over 222,000 deaths, is also due to host the Twenty20 World Cup in October and November.
The high-paying IPL, which was taking place in biosecure “bubble” conditions, attracts many of the world’s top cricketers, including players from Australia, England and South Africa.
BCCI Vice-President Rajiv Shukla to AFP that the governing body would “make the arrangements” for the IPL’s international players to leave India.
“About the foreign players, as we have said, we will try and ensure all of them get to their homes,” he said.
The IPL has been running since early April, even as India’s health care system has been overwhelmed by a vicious second wave of virus cases.
This prompted criticism from some who said it was inappropriate, given the suffering in the country, while others defended it as a welcome distraction.
Eight teams have been playing behind closed doors in six cities including New Delhi and Mumbai, both badly hit by the pandemic.
“These are difficult times, especially in India and while we have tried to bring in some positivity and cheer, however, it is imperative that the tournament is now suspended and everyone goes back to their families and loved ones in these trying times,” the statement said.
“The BCCI will do everything in its powers to arrange for the secure and safe passage of all the participants in IPL 2021.”
Australian players Adam Zampa, Andrew Tye and Kane Richardson had already left their IPL teams before their country imposed a ban on arrivals from India.
The Australian Cricket Board has said it is in daily contact with the remaining Australian players.
The English Cricket Board has also said it was talking with staff and players in India.
The huge surge in cases has overwhelmed hospitals in major cities and led to severe shortages of oxygen, beds and critical medical supplies.