24 September 2020 06:53 AM

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SREELATA S. YELLAMRAZU | 29 JUNE, 2020

Risk and Conspiracy for Covid-Hit Tennis and Cricket

What might happen to future tournaments of any sports


As cricket and tennis head into resumption in the face of the ongoing pandemic of the coronavirus, the double whammy of ten Pakistan cricketers reportedly having tested positive for the virus and of several tennis players including Novak Djokovic having As cricket and tennis head into resumption in the face of the ongoing pandemic of the coronavirus, the double whammy of ten Pakistan cricketers reportedly having tested positive for the virus and of several tennis players including Novak Djokovic having also tested positive for the virus, has poured cold water on assurances of risk-free, covid-proof sports in the face of the global pandemic.

He may be the world’s no.1 player, not to mention the president of the ATP Players Council. But it has not spared Novak ‘The Joker’ Djokovic from embarrassment as he contracted the coronavirus while playing and partying in his own organized tennis exhibition tournament.

He may be the poster boy for trouble in Pakistan, if the words of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) CEO, Wasim Khan, are anything to go by - he may no longer be on the Pakistan central contracts for the foreseeable future. But Mohammad Hafeez might have lifted the lid of a possible Pandora’s box by refuting the PCB’s claims that he is among the ten cricketers testing positive for the virus ahead of Pakistan’s tour of England.

The intentions might have been in the right place. But the execution leaves much to be desired. The Adria tour exhibition tournament organized by Djokovic, the holder of seventeen Grand Slam titles, has brought unwanted cynosure of eyes to the relatively quite Balkan region after reports filtered in that several tennis players including Djokovic and his wife, Jelena, had tested positive for the coronavirus.

To make matters worse, though the intention of Djokovic might have been to bring some cheer to the region, including his hometown of Belgrade where he is now in home quarantine, it has backfired horribly after videos surfaced of the tennis players dancing and partying in a nightclub in Belgrade with fellow participants, shirtless and frolicking, throwing caution to the window as far as following pandemic protocols of social distancing and wearing masks are concerned.

But while Djokovic has earned himself no fans in his corner of the tennis court, his father, Srdjan Djokovic, has once again courted trouble, this time pointing fingers and putting the blame squarely at the feet of Grigor Dmitrov, the Bulgarian who flew in from the U.S. to participate in the tournament.

Along with Dmitrov and Djokovic, other players who were infected include Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki in the wake of the tournament’s final being called off in Zadar hours before commencement.

That, coming on the back of Srdjan accusing Roger Federer recently of still being on tour while being forty years of age and suggesting that the Swiss tennis ace was insecure about his Grand Slam titles tally – nineteen to Nadal’s eighteen – has not gone down well.

Djokovic’s coach, former Wimbledon champion from Croatia, Goran Ivanisevic, expressed hope that this latest stumble on the part of his ward would see him bow out of the ATP Players Council since he claims that blame is falsely being placed on Djokovic at a time when he was simply trying to ease the tense atmosphere and doing something for people back home.

While there is still time to assess what impact and imposition this will draw on the tennis world as it prepares for the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows, New York in late August and the delayed French Open two weeks thereafter, Pakistan’s problems are more immediate and compounded.

If the news of three Pakistan cricketers – Haider Ali, Haris Rauf and Shadab Khan - returning positive results on Monday was bad enough, by the time the Pakistan Cricket Board made it public that seven more cricketers – Fakhar Zaman, Imran Khan, Kashif Bhatti, Mohammad Hafeez, Mohammad Hasnain, Mohammad Rizwan and Wahab Riaz - and one member of the support staff had also showed positive results on Tuesday, conspiracy and castigations abounded the cricket fraternity.

Wasim Khan, the PCB CEO, looked to address the problem but also, plausibly dug a hole when he mentioned that all the players who had reported positive on the test results were asymptomatic, “The recent positive tests of some of the fittest athletes, who had not shown any symptoms, clearly reflect the danger this virus possesses. As such, and on behalf of the PCB, I once again request the public to strictly adhere to all safety precautions as advised and recommended by the federal and provincial governments to ensure their health and safety as well as of their dear and near ones.”

If the news of the tests conducted in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar were not shocking enough and reason enough to question the policies and practices of players ahead of such an important tour, there was more embarrassment brewing for the PCB as the thirty-nine year old Mohammed Hafeez took to his social media account to inform the public at large that in view of the positive result from the PCB tests, he had decided to get himself and his family tested privately and that the test results indicated he was negative for the coronavirus, putting the spotlight firmly back on the PCB.

Scrambling to meet their policy requirement of two more test results and a negative outcome before they could let the Pakistan cricketers board the chartered flight to the United Kingdom and in danger of missing that date in the event of the second test, the PCB were left red faced not only by Hafeez’s action but also, of the public notification which case doubt on the PCB.

Hafeez posted this on his social media page along with a scanned copy of the report that showed that the virus was undetected although it could not be ruled out which is one of the tricky concerns in handling this virus on a global level, “After testing positive [for] COVID-19 according to PCB testing report yesterday, as a second opinion and for satisfaction, I personally went to get tested again along with my family and here I along with my all family members are reported negative.”

With many within the cricket fraternity quick to voice the query about the propensity of so many players testing positive and also, of the probability of all of them being asymptomatic, criticism poured in about the lack of precautions taken ahead of the tour as also, the conspiracy that the Pakistan Cricket Board was either acting in its own interests or those of the players centrally contracted by shielding them from the tour.

Pakistan was amongst the first teams to give their nod to recommitting to honouring the tour of England, going as far as committing to testing for players in England upon arrival, a two week mandatory quarantine as imposed by the UK government and also, putting players virtually in a three month bubble in a supposed ‘bio secure’ environment in which cricket is expected to be played. Having already been debilitated and suffering from the decade long isolation from hosting cricket at home in the wake of the shadow of terrorism, Pakistan can ill afford more alienating factors, not to mention lose money from bilateral commitments, particularly given their tetchy cold war with India as far as cricket is concerned.

The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) have been equally in a bind when it comes to their own coffers. Already having suffered heavily with a delayed domestic cricket season, and on the edge with regard to government permissions since returning from the cancelled tour of Sri Lanka, England’s cricket has been in turmoil.

To put it mildly, the ECB are not in a position to dictate terms of Pakistan even if the conspiracy theories hold true. Even if Pakistan did end up sending a second string squad whose numbers were raised to cover for injuries and virus, the ECB would be only too grateful to have cricket on its turf and cash in its pockets. Claiming that as much as 300 million dollars were at stake and that the grassroot cricket was most at peril, the ECB will have to put their personal views aside.

The PCB have meanwhile tried to distance themselves from Hafeez’s take on the issue by throwing shade on the cricketer’s reputation and also, claiming that their testing methods were foolproof and accurate. Claiming that Hafeez had to “abide by the rules and regulations” despite not having a central contract and that this was not his first transgression, Wasim Khan did admit that Hafeez’s antics did cause the board “a lot of problems.”

Similarly support against Djokovic has been mounting in the span of less than a week, with some contending that the owner of seventeen Grand Slam titles, while deserving credit for bring tennis back to the courts after a three month hiatus, needs to be made aware of the consequences of his actions for recklessly endangering himself and others in the process by not taking advantage of the precautionary measures put in the place on a global scale to reduce the impact of the pandemic.

The fallout has been impactful on both fronts, bringing Pakistan no respite as the infamous decade old spot fixing during the Lord’s Test by three Pakistan cricketers brought back harsh memories of one of the darkest times for Pakistan and for the sport.

Djokovic’s latest escapade and his father’s aggravating remarks on more than one occasion are only likely to make him more alone on the circuit. It has given the likes of other troublemaking players an opportunity to take a swipe at the no.1 tennis player in the world.

Nicholas Kyrgios, the Australian tennis player who often makes the headlines for the wrong reasons, was just one of the few who jumped at the opportunity not only to highlight the perils and concerns of playing in a pandemic scenario but also, to draw more flak Djokovic’s way.

This is what Nick wrote on the 22nd of June, when the tournament was called off in a succession of Tweets:

“Dmitrov got Covid-19 are (Dominic) Thiem, Novak and (Alexander) Zverev also getting tested?”

“Boneheaded decision to go ahead with the ‘exhibition’ speedy recovery fellas, but that’s what happens when you disregard all protocols. THIS IS NOT A JOKE.” This was in reply to Borna Coric’s announcement that he too had tested positive after that tournament truncation.

“Congratulations. Such leadership.” This was in reply to Ivanisevic announcing the cancellation of the final of the Adria Tour in Zadar.

But it was this one that got the attention:

“Prayers up to all the players that have contracted Covid-19. Don’t @ me for anything I’ve done that has been ‘irresponsible’ or classified as ‘stupidity’ – this takes the cake.

Let Kyrgios have this one; the world seems to concur while simultaneously baffled if the Adria tour outcome is just a preliminary shape and omen of what might happen to future tournaments of any sports if a single sportsperson were to turn positive while the game was on.
 

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