CPL submits proposal to stage tournament in Trinidad

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The Caribbean Premier League (CPL) organisers have submitted a proposal to Keith Rowley, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, to stage the entirety of this year’s tournament in the country, starting in mid-August.

Last week, Rowley told the local press that he was waiting for a formal approach from the CPL, but said his government was “cautiously optimistic” about hosting the tournament, subject to clearance from the country’s health authorities.

As part of the proposal, the CPL has said it would want to host the entire tournament, comprising 34 matches, at Trinidad’s two main grounds, the Queen’s Park Oval and the Brian Lara Academy. Games might be played back-to-back on the same day at 10am and 6pm local time, meaning the tournament would be played over 25 days rather than last year’s 39. The tournament had initially been due to take place between August 19 and September 26.

Tournament officials hope that overseas players will be willing to participate, with the first round of international signings due to be announced next week, and remain optimistic that some fans will be able to attend games while adhering to social-distancing protocols.

Pete Russell, CPL’s chief operating officer, has said that officials will hold a virtual meeting with cabinet ministers on Thursday, June 4, in order to talk through details such as possible quarantine periods upon arrival in Trinidad, health protocols, and any assurances that need to be given.

“We’re ready to play,” Russell told ESPNcricinfo. “If you get the second wave that everyone hopes won’t come, we’d be back to square one, but the only other thing that will derail us is the government not allowing us to play for safety reasons. It’s just a case of getting the green light from them.”

The cricketing part of the Caribbean has avoided the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with death tolls remaining low after governments imposed strict lockdowns before the virus could spread. The region’s relative success in managing the pandemic has raised hopes that the CPL might be able to proceed, and the tournament has appointed a medical board of four doctors who are putting health protocols in place. The Caribbean has already hosted competitive cricket in the form of the Vincy T10 Premier League at the Arnos Vale Sporting Complex, where there were sanitising stations on and off the field.

Under current plans, all six CPL teams would stay in the same hotel in Trinidad, with each team being cordoned off and treated as a single household. Within that household of around 25, teams would be broken down into ‘clusters’ of four or five, within which social distancing could be relaxed. Players and support staff would also be subject to daily temperature checks, as well as viral and antibody tests both in the days before they would fly to Trinidad and on arrival.

While organisers had initially discussed the possibility of hosting games at Kensington Oval in Barbados, Trinidad is currently “Plan A” on account of the fact it has two international-standard grounds, which would reduce the prospect of pitches becoming worn and slow by the end of the tournament. Playing games in the morning will also be an attractive commercial proposition: the CPL’s business model relies heavily on India for broadcast revenue and sponsorship, and a 10am start time in Trinidad (7.30pm IST) would suit that market. The second game would be played at some point in the evening, with 6pm the provisional local start time.

However, the government approval remains the main stumbling block. “We don’t have a proper handle yet but we are cautiously optimistic if the CPL authorities would like to host the tournament in Trinidad,” Rowley had said last week.

Rowley said that once the proposal was submitted, the country’s chief medical’s officer would need to give his approval, with public safety the top priority. “We have to be careful… but we want to look at [staging the CPL] positively and we will,” he said.

Russell admitted that the tournament will make a financial loss this year, but said that all six franchises had confirmed they wanted to take part after being given the option not to. “They want continuity, and they want their teams to be represented,” he said. “Our thought was that if we had the option to play, we should; it’s good for the Caribbean.

“The Caribbean relies on tourism, that’s its bread and butter. So it needs to show the rest of the world that it’s open, and beaming live cricket around the world is a very good way of doing that.”

While plans to allow fans into grounds remain at an early stage, the tournament’s organisers have developed various contingency plans for behind-closed-doors cricket. These include the possibility of having socially-distanced cheerleaders, LED screens with videos of fans, and playing stadium sounds on the global TV feeds even if no fans are physically present.

With Cricket West Indies announcing last week that players across the region would be asked to take a temporary 50% pay cut, Russell said that the CPL felt a “sense of responsibility” to get players earning again following the lockdown.

“These guys’ livelihoods have been decimated through no fault of their own,” he said. “CPL isn’t just about the guys who have their IPL riches, but it’s about the journeymen, and the up-and-coming players who want to make a name for themselves. It’s very important for the whole cricketing ecosystem in the Caribbean that we get it on and these guys can earn money.” (ESPNCricinfo)

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