This year however there clearly seems to have been multiple lapses on various fronts.
Below is a detailed understanding of the important points mentioned in the SOP from an operational point of view, the lapses and how things could’ve been done better.
The viewpoints have emerged after TOI spoke at length with the league’s multiple stakeholders this week and noted their perspectives. The portions marked in bold denote verbatim text from the SOP distributed by the BCCI to franchises, broadcasters, state associations, on-ground staff and others.
Excerpts from the SOP…
The Bio-Secure Environment measures will be in place throughout IPL 2021 season and cover the following environments:
– Hotels were booked in a random manner, at quite a distance from the playing venues. In one particular instance, a franchise stayed in a hotel located inside a mall. In another instance, a franchise that checked out of a hotel and returned there after 12 days, did not keep the hotel reserved for themselves, thus risking a bubble-breach.
• Training sessions
– No team can undergo a training session without adequate ground staff, needed to water and roll the practice pitches and keep the outfield in proper shape. The ground staff in cities like Mumbai and Delhi were not put inside the same bubble as other BCCI officials. In Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi, several members of the ground-staff kept testing positive over the last one month.
– Matches were scheduled at multiple locations, despite there being no chance of allowing spectators. Multiple stakeholders in the BCCI suggested to the BCCI to keep the league restricted to either one city or shift it to the UAE once again. The requests were declined. The BCCI insisted that multiple cities were being finalised so as to ensure no team plays a game at their home stadium so as to avoid home advantage. However, in a tournament like the IPL, home crowds alone constitute home advantage. And with crowds missing, there was going to be no “home” advantage anyway.
– From the start of the IPL to now, the majority of the positive cases have emerged during or after travel – from one city to another. In the UAE, last year, the franchises did not have to travel by air, thus avoiding the risks of entering and exiting flight terminals.
The BCCI SOP further says – regarding the above-mentioned BIO-SECURE ENVIRONMENT – Within the above-mentioned domains, different zones will be created to separate the franchise team members, match officials, match management teams, broadcast teams, ground staff, hotel staff, venue operations teams, transportation staff and security personnel and any other personnel on specific duties. Individuals will remain in their allotted zones at all times.
However, nothing has been said about the ground staff, who first tested positive in Mumbai and now in Delhi.
The SOP further reads – Inside the Bio-Secure Environment, there would be specific risk mitigation processes to screen entry, minimise spread of infection and strategies to manage COVID-19 cases within the Bio-Secure Environments. Within the Bio-Secure Environment, 12 Bio-Secure Bubbles (Bubble) will be created as mentioned below:
> Franchise teams and support staff – 8 Bubbles
> Match Officials & Match Management Team – 2 Bubbles
> Broadcast Commentators and crew – 2 Bubbles. The participants within these Bubbles are critical for the tournament and will have to follow stringent testing and social distancing protocols.
Unlike the 2020 edition in the UAE, where BCCI hired the services of UK-based technology and safety company Restrata to build a central bio-secure bubble, this year, the board went ahead and just put a hospital and a testing laboratory in place. No one in the ecosystem was explained in specific detail the reason for doing so.
4.1 Risk Mitigation Strategies: This section details the risk mitigation processes for conducting practice sessions and matches where the priority will be safety of all participants. The following sections will be addressed:
• General risk mitigation principles
• Zone specific risk mitigation principles
• Specific group risk mitigation principles
i. Franchise teams, including family members, ii. Match Officials & Match Management teams, iii. Other staff in the Bubbles
– The franchises created their own bio-bubbles for players and their family members. The ‘other staff’ mentioned by the BCCI does not include ground staff.
a. Bubble specific vehicle drivers
– Additional vehicle drivers, in case of emergencies if the drivers in use tested positive, were not put in the bio-bubble.
b. Anti-Corruption Officials
c. Hotel staff servicing the individuals within the Bubbles
– In the case of certain franchises, especially at the start of the tournament, the hotel staff wasn’t sent into a mandatory 14-day quarantine before the players and their families began checking in.
– Again, certain franchises travelled with their own set of cooks and serving staff while others depended on hotel staff altogether. With constant changing of hotels, there was no specific effort made by the BCCI’s medical officer to check if the hotel staff had undergone a 14-day quarantine, even as certain franchises took it upon themselves to get this done.
e. Bubble integrity managers
– In the last edition in 2020, this responsibility was also that of individuals who were part of the central bubble built by Restrata. FOBs (device worn on the wrist for GPS tracking) were allotted by the BCCI to franchises but those in the know say “it hasn’t worked as well as it did last year and the reports that come from there are also not complete”.
f. Net bowlers
g. Anti-Doping Officials
h. Any other staff on specific duties iv. Commentators and broadcast crew
– The broadcasters, who booked an entire five-star hotel in suburban Mumbai, created their own bubble for the crew and commentators. In case the crew had to travel, they had no choice but to fly commercial, putting individuals at risk.
• Match day protocols
The following general risk mitigation principles must occur prior to entry into the Bio-Secure Environments:
A) An education programme for all that must include:
> Common signs and symptoms of COVID-19 > Precautionary measures to avoid contracting the disease > Protocol to follow, if someone develops symptoms
– There was no education programme set up, except the handing over of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that led to initial confusion. For instance, in the case of a seven-day window for isolation, checking into the bio-bubble was considered Day One, whereas the general rule for quarantine states that Day One of isolation begins the following day after the check-in.
The following must also be explained to all individuals who are required to be in the respective Bio-Secure Environment:
> Hotel protocols
– Barring the coordination in booking of hotels, and that too in case of certain franchises, protocols at hotel premises was the responsibility of the franchises alone. While some franchises booked an entire wing of a hotel and managed it on a lock & key basis, some others were part of hotels that allowed other guests too.
> Transportation protocols
– Tarmac-to-tarmac flights were not arranged that led to the initial outbreak of the virus among franchises. One franchise in particular said it suspected a certain member had caught the virus while in transit at Mumbai’s private terminal.
> Contact tracing decision tree and its protocols
– The contact tracing decision tree was the sole responsibility of BCCI’s medical officer and Apollo Hospitals, that has been brought on board for this season. However, given the way franchises are unhappy with the way the FOB functioning has been this time, those in the know say manual ‘contact tracing’ always posed its share of risks. “The FOB is a very sub- standard product this time. It is supposed to be worn on the wrist. It has Bluetooth and you need to have an app on the phone, register this FOB on the phone app and you need to keep the app on at all times. In UAE, there were receivers in the hotel premises to track GPS data. This time, they asked us to keep the mobile application in active mode 24×7 for the FOB to function. How was that even possible?” franchises ask.
In the case of one particular team that requested data from the company that manages the FOBs, the company sent the data of the city and hotel where the franchise was staying 48 hours ago before moving to another city. “They didn’t even know that the team had travelled to another city and checked into another hotel. It was that bad”, says a franchise official.
The BCCI will have to look into the lapses that emerged in organising this year’s tournament on multiple fronts, that has finally led to a suspension of the league for now.