India’s third T20 match against England in the ongoing T20 series was played behind closed doors at the Narendra Modi Stadium (previously known as the Sardar Patel Stadium) in Motera on Tuesday. This was because the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), after allowing spectators for the first two T20 matches, decided to ban entry of people in view of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in Gujarat.

Across the world, are sports still being played behind closed doors? What are the protocols in place at other stadiums?

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Why has BCCI banned spectators at Narendra Modi stadium for the India-England T20 series? 

The decision was taken in light of the second wave of Covid-19 in India.

Gujarat Cricket Association (GCA) vice-president Dhanraj Nathwani said via a press release that “the matches will be played closed door and not allow the spectators in the ground during T20 Internationals to be played between India and England at Ahmedabad”.

Stating that the BCCI had taken the decision after holding talks with GCA, the apex cricket body said it “will continue to comply with all the regulations put in place to curb the spread of the Covid-19 virus and will always put the health and safety of its fans and stakeholders at the top”.

Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani lauded the decision as a “prudent step” which would strengthen the fight against Covid-19.

With Pune also witnessing a Covid-19 spike, BCCI has stated that the three ODIs which will be played there, will also be off limits to spectators.

Virat Kohli reacts during the third Twenty20 cricket match between India and England at Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

What was the response to allowing fans back into stadiums after the lockdown?

The second Test against England at the MA Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai was the first time since the lockdown that India allowed fans back in to watch a cricket match. To ensure that social distancing norms were observed, only 50 per cent of the seats at the stadium were allowed to be occupied.

However, since fans were allowed back in, there have been violations of Covid protocols on multiple occasions, with most spectators not wearing masks and flouting social distancing norms.

During the Day/Night Test at the Narendra Modi Stadium, the players’ bio-bubble was breached after a fan evaded security and ran onto the field to meet Virat Kohli.

The Road Safety World Series, which is being played at Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh International Cricket Stadium in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur between teams comprising retired legends, has also come drawn criticism with violations of Covid protocols by spectators being widely reported.

Chhattisgarh BJP spokesperson Anurag Singhdeo had attacked the Congress government for “remaining silent” on the violations during the matches. “Thousands of people in excitement of watching matches were neither concerned about social distancing nor wearing masks,” he said.

The local administration later stated that nobody without masks would be allowed to enter the stadium.

Are other stadiums in India allowing spectators inside?

For the ODI series that the Indian women’s cricket team is playing against South Africa, and the T20 series against the same opponent before that, the Uttar Pradesh Cricket Association (UPCA) had allowed only 10 per cent capacity at the Ekana International Stadium in Lucknow.

UPCA had held talks with the BCCI before the series about filling half the seats at the stadium, which has a capacity of 50,000, but the surge in Covid cases made them decide against it.

However, domestic cricket tournaments have been played behind close doors till now, with no fans being allowed to attend matches of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

The ISSF World Cup for rifle, pistol and shotgun events, which will be held at the Dr Karni Singh Shooting Range in Delhi from March 18, will also not allow spectators to attend.

The entire season of the Indian Super League (ISL) was played behind closed doors at three venues — Fatorda Stadium, GMC Stadium Bambolim and Tilak Maidan — in Goa. The league spent around Rs 17 crore on Covid management this year, conducting nearly 70,000 RT-PCR tests and creating 18 bio-bubbles for the tournament.

BCCI president Sourav Ganguly said ISL set a benchmark for other organisers who want to hold sports tournaments during the pandemic.

India vs England series, India England series spectators, Sports without spectators, Tokyo Olympics spectators, Indian Express A man dressed as a ghost stands in an empty stand prior to a Europa League match in Linz, Austria. (AP Photo: Kerstin Joensson)

What protocols do stadiums across the world have to tackle the Covid-19 crisis?

Most international cricket matches in recent times, such as the Afghanistan versus Zimbabwe Test series at Abu Dhabi, and the Sri Lanka versus West Indies series in Antigua, have been played behind closed doors.

On March 4, the Pakistan Super League was suspended after several players and officials tested positive.

Last month, a match between Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz at the Australian Open was stopped and fans were asked to leave after a lockdown was announced by the state of Victoria. The Grand Slam tournament continued without spectators for the next five days before allowing people back in.

The season-opening Grand Prix at the Bahrain International Circuit, which will be held later this month, will only allow spectators who can furnish documents to prove they have been vaccinated against Covid-19 or have recovered from it.

The Kharlampiev Memorial Sambo World Cup, which will be held at the Small Sports Arena of the Luzhniki Stadium complex in Moscow later this month, will allow 50 per cent of the stadium capacity to be filled.

Most international football tournaments, such as the Champions League or the Europa League matches, are being held behind closed doors. Even the individual top division football leagues, such as Bundesliga in Germany and Premier League in England, are not allowing spectators to attend the matches.

India vs England series, India England series spectators, Sports without spectators, Tokyo Olympics spectators, Indian Express Horses make their way to the gallops past empty viewing stands, ahead of day one of the Cheltenham Festival, at Cheltenham, England, which starts on Tuesday March 16, 2021. (David Davies/Pool via AP)

The UK government has, however, said that as a part of its plan to ease lockdown measures, crowds of up to 10,000 could be allowed in football stadiums from May 17.

In Russia, Zenit St Petersburg is offering free Sputnik V vaccines to all its fans attending home matches at the Gazprom Arena.

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What will be the Covid safety measures at IPL, Euro 2020 and Tokyo Olympics?

With an eye on the Covid situation, BCCI has suspended all age-group competitions like the Vinoo Mankad Trophy. The IPL will be held behind closed doors this year.

UEFA’s Covid chief Daniel Koch has said that the Euro 2020 tournament will go ahead and a decision will be taken in April on whether or not fans will be allowed.

Tokyo Olympics organisers have hinted that foreign fans will not be allowed to attend the Games this year. The organisers have planned to isolate the athletes in a bio-bubble inside the Olympic Village.

Unveiling the Covid-19 countermeasures for the torch relay recently, organisers said that participants have to wear masks, practise social distancing and not cheer out loud. They have also indicated that sections of the torch relay could be scaled down if spectators along the route flout Covid protocols.

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