The Supreme Court on Thursday (12th March) refused to accord urgent hearing on a petition seeking postponement of the Indian Premier League-2020 amid the coronavirus scare.
A vacation bench of justices U U Lalit and Aniruddha Bose told the petitioner that he could mention the matter for urgent listing before the regular bench on March 16, when the apex court will re-open after the Holi break.
"This is not a matter which cannot await till re-opening of the court. You can mention it before the regular court on March 16," the bench told advocate Mohan Babu Agarwal, who has filed the petition.
Agarwal told the bench that the Indian Premier League (IPL)-2020 is scheduled to start from March 29 and would continue for almost two months, but no safety measures have been declared to prevent the spread of coronavirus during the matches, which are likely to witness over 40,000 spectators in each match.
"We are sitting in a vacation bench. We will hear those matters which cannot wait. All IPL matches will not start on March 29. You can mention it on March 16," the bench said.
The number of coronavirus patients in India has risen to 73 with 13 fresh cases, the Union health ministry said on Thursday.
Agarwal told the apex court that during the IPL, players, commentators and broadcasters from foreign countries which are hit by coronavirus would come to India and there is a possibility of spread of the virus during large gatherings in such matches.
"This IPL is just a domestic professional tournament with no contribution to ICC records and is a private tournament and the risk in the times of Covid-19 (coronavirus) is quite high due to huge crowd gathering including players, staff, cheerleaders etc," the plea said.
"They (BCCI and other concerned authorities) should explain how they are going to deal with the recent threat of Covid-19 and is it not the right time to either postpone or defer the same to future date as the threat is apparent in all probabilities looking into the present scenario," it said, while referring to number of coronavirus cases in several countries and deaths caused due to it.
The plea has arrayed the Centre, ministries of health and law, Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), IPL administration and IPL teams as parties in the matter.
It has sought a direction to the Centre to take "effective, strong and war footing steps" to curb the outbreak of coronavirus.
The plea has also sought a direction to "either stop, postpone or defer for future dates all such huge programs like IPL etc, avoiding large public gathering for the time being till it (coronavirus) is being controlled".
While seeking a direction to scrap IPL matches, the plea has sought "appropriate action" against BCCI, IPL administration and teams participating in the tournament for allegedly "violating the law and undermining the government directives on large public gatherings looking to the recent threat of Covid-19 outbreak in the interest of justice".
It said the eight teams, which will participate in IPL, will have up to 200 players, including 50-60 foreign cricketers, and 120 support staff who would be directly involved in the matches and there is also a threat as "autograph seekers come in direct contact and close proximity with players".
The plea claimed that Japan, which will host 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, has said that the games could be held later in the year and might not start on July 24 as planned due to coronavirus.
It said that worldwide, several sporting events have been postponed amid the spread of coronavirus.
IPL behind close doors? Ministry tells NSFs, including BCCI, to shut out crowds due to COVID-19
The BCCI kept mum but the Sports Ministry dropped hints that the IPL could be held in empty stadiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic even as foreign players were ruled out of the glitzy event till April 15 following government-imposed travel restrictions.
IPL in empty stadiums would be up for discussion at the event's Governing Council meeting on Saturday and the BCCI has decided to adopt a wait and watch policy till then. The T20 tournament is due to start on March 29 in Mumbai.
However, the Sports ministry has asked all national federations, including the cricket board, to follow the Health Ministry's advisory and avoid large gatherings in sports events.
"...ensure that no public gathering takes place in any sporting event. In the event the sporting event cannot be avoided, the same could be done wihout allowing gathering of people, including spectators," read an order from the Sports ministry.
Sports Secretary Radhey Shyam Julaniya reiterated the ministry's position while talking to PTI.
"We have asked all the NSFs, including the BCCI, to follow the Health Ministry's latest advisory, which says public gatherings should be avoided in all events, including sporting activities," Julaniya said.
The government on Wednesday suspended all visas, barring a few categories like diplomatic and employment, in an attempt to prevent the spread of coronavirus as cases across India rose to more than 60.
No foreign player will be available in the league due to the restrictions.
A closed-door IPL seems like a real possibility now but even a postponement cannot be ruled out given that the 60-odd overseas recruits won't be available to ply their trade, at least in the intial stages of the event starting March 29 in Mumbai.
"The foreign players who play in the IPL come under the Business Visa category. As per the government's directive, they can't come till April 15," a BCCI source told PTI on conditions of anonymity.
The Maharashtra and Karnataka governments are already wary of organising the home games of Mumbai Indians and the Royal Challengers Bangalore.
The outbreak, declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Wednesday, has led to more than 4,000 deaths globally.
Earlier, the shooting World Cup and the Indian Open golf tournament were postponed while badminton's India Open will be played without any spectators.
The coronavirus outbreak has also led to speculation over the fate of the Tokyo Olympics this year.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, has insisted that the Games will be held as scheduled in July-August.