Trinbago Knight Riders fans

ORGANISATIONAL HEADACHE: Trinbago Knight Riders fans cheer during the CPL match against St Lucia Zouks at Queen’s Park Oval on September 08, 2019 in Port of Spain. Social distancing rules could eliminate spectators if CPL 2020 does come off. 

Caribbean Premier League organisers have alluded to novel social distancing measures which could be implemented to ensure the popular Twenty20 tournament comes off as planned, but say they will only proceed with its staging once it was “safe to do so”.

Pointing to Kensington Oval in Barbados, chief operations officer Pete Russell said the venue was one where the measures could be “viable” but said there had been no firm decision made as the region continued to battle the outbreak of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

However, there is a possibility the eighth edition of the tournament could be played without international players and only a few stadiums used as venues to mitigate against widespread contact.

“That’s what people are going to have to look at: how would a stadium look if you were to follow all the guidelines on social distancing,” Russell told Cricinfo.

“Of course, it’s doable. For instance, in Barbados, we would probably be able to do a social-distancing stadium, and it could be at 25 per cent capacity—there’s a lot of organisation that goes into that, but it’s viable.

“The player side is the important bit. It could be that CPL is played without international players this year, and there’s enough Caribbean talent to play without if we have to. That’s not our preferred option, but it’s doable.”

He added: “And then obviously you have to go through the whole medical process. Would you quarantine players, or put them all in the same hotel? How would that all work?

“Even if we don’t necessarily use [these plans] this year, it’s vitally important that we’ve done them. That’s my biggest focus at the minute.”

The pandemic has disrupted cricket globally and in the Caribbean, Cricket West Indies was forced to abort the domestic first class championship after the eighth round and also scrap or postpone other tournaments.

Currently, the CPL is scheduled from August 19 to September 26 and organisers remain hopeful it can be staged as planned.

Russell said if they were able to push ahead with the tournament, it would be a significant achievement for the region, especially in the wake of the cancellations.

“It’s good that the Caribbean has locked down early, and it hasn’t been hit in the same way as the UK, for example,” he explained.

“We’re looking at different permutations in terms of what could or couldn’t happen, but the lucky thing is that we’ve got a bit of time—we don’t have to force a decision.

“I don’t think there’s any question that we’ll be able to play it. We’re only going to play if it’s safe to do so, but we’ve been approached by a lot of the countries who want it to happen. The reason [for that] is that it’s a big sporting event, and it could act as a sign or a marker that the Caribbean is open for business again.”

Russell said franchise owners were keen on pressing ahead with the tournament and even if it could not be staged during the current window, December remained an option.

“We know that in the West Indies, what’s good about CPL is that we’re employing cricketers and locals, while not many of them are getting paid at the minute. We’re an important part of that economic ecosystem, as much as we are about playing cricket.

“I wouldn’t put money on it but we could be the first cricket back if September is our window. If we don’t play in September, then we can play probably in December. Talking to all the owners, they definitely want to do it, and for players it’s important by that stage that they’re getting some income,’ he said.

“Our intention is definitely to play, but we would only ever do it if everything is right from a safety perspective.”

The English-speaking Caribbean has reported hundreds of COVID-19 infections, with the territories which usually host CPL games among the most affected.

Jamaica, for instance, has recorded 143 cases and five deaths while Trinidad and Tobago has recorded 114 cases along with eight deaths.

Barbados, where the champion Barbados Tridents franchise is based, has reported 75 cases and five deaths.

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