Cape Town — It’s gonna be a nerve-wracking few days for South African cricket.
Before the Board of Control for Cricket in India makes a decision about whether to send the India men’s team here for a much anticipated and financially critical tour, everybody will be monitoring the work of the world’s leading scientists who are doing further research into the newly identified Covid-19 variant, Omicron. The Indian team is due to arrive here on December 8.
However the BCCI will await guidance from the Indian government before sending the players to the country.
In the broader social and global context, cricket is a minor role-player. But as is the case for the hospitality and tourism industries, to name but two, for the thousands of people dependent on the sport for a living in South Africa, it is absolutely critical that the India series — comprising three Tests, three One-Day and four T20 Internationals takes place this summer.
It’s worth explaining for those cynics out there who might bemoan why cricket being played is so important, that it’s not just the players losing out if the tour is cancelled. Cricket’s echo-system includes grounds staff, hospitality vendors, security officials, media, and hotels and airlines, who transport the teams. The trickle down effect of no Indian tour will be catastrophic.
Cricket SA announced losses of R221-million at its AGM last month. Much of those losses stemmed from the England limited overs tour being cut short, and were worsened when Australia indefinitely postponed its Test series here in March.
India’s tour is crucial in shoring up those coffers. The BCCI’s caution is of course understandable. It can even be said to be a sober response, compared to what we’ve seen from the rest of the western world. The United States’ secretary of state, Andrew Blinken explaining the US government’s “deep appreciation,” for the SA government and scientists transparency, sounds rather cheap when that country imposes a travel ban on flights out of South Africa and seven other nations in the region.
The new variant is currently being assessed and studied, and in the next week more information will be known about it. Being cautious is understandable, but just banning travel is simply irrational. Given the countries which have been banned, broader issues around vaccine availability, the waiving of patent rights to allow countries to produce vaccines and European countries which have experienced enormous increases in Covid-19 patients in the last month, one must view the travel bans as racist.
All of that is beyond Cricket SA’s control. All that organisation can do is wait and hope. However, in addition, there is proof that it can provide to the BCCI that it is capable of hosting tours in a bio-secure environment as it did on more than one occasion last summer.
It is far from ideal and far from what CSA had hoped for given it had planned for small crowds for the matches. But if it ensures the tour goes ahead, then so be it and hopefully the BCCI will open to sending their team in those circumstances.
What CSA and the sport in this country can ill afford is for there to be no tour at all, the ramifications are too dreadful to contemplate. For now, everyone awaits word from the scientists.