The England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) has said COVID-19 testing checkpoints and isolation units could be deployed at grounds under a behind closed doors event model, adding that the “national mood” would also need to be judged before the domestic season could begin play.
The ECB last week agreed that no professional cricket will be played in England and Wales until at least May 28, wiping out the first seven rounds of the County Championship and questioning the status of this year’s 50-over Royal London Cup.
The ECB, which is due to launch its new franchise-based competition, The Hundred, this summer, is currently modelling a range of options to start the season in June, July or August – with an immediate focus on options for cricket in June, including England’s three-Test series against West Indies, and the domestic T20 Blast tournament.
The governing body said close liaison with the government would continue, with discussions on the potential of starting the season behind closed doors and giving fans the opportunity to watch live broadcast action. Speaking to The Guardian newspaper, the ECB’s director of events, Steve Elworthy, has spelled out the challenges the governing body faces to return to action.
“We’re mapping out what international matches would look like behind closed doors,” said Elworthy. “The advice around mass gatherings (before the current period of lockdown) was 500 people or fewer. That was guided by the potential impact on critical services like paramedics and doctors.
“You would likely have to work within that number, which includes teams, match officials, support staff, broadcasters and media, commercial partners, safety and security teams, third-party suppliers, replay screen operators, (the teams that control) the LED boards, ground staff, catering and more.
“Then you have to think about medical provisions, creating a safe and sterile environment around that venue, so that everyone who comes in is clear. So it’s how you test them at the gate, the isolation units that you have to put in. These are all the considerations we are thinking about.”
The ECB’s medical team is said to be working on a protocol for how testing would work, along with temporary isolation booths to be utilised if anyone tests positive for COVID-19. The Guardian said there can be around 1,500 people working on a normal major matchday, but it is believed this can be reduced to around 350 with no spectators at grounds.
Elworthy insists pure economic interest will not dictate the drive to return to action. He said: “One thing you have to consider is the national mood. You might be able to deliver a match but would it be the right thing? Operationally we believe we can deliver anything but we have to have an eye on that. You don’t just operate in a bubble, you need peripheral vision.
“(And) making sure everyone is in a safe environment is front and centre of the discussions. We have had good conversations with the new chief exec of the Professional Cricketers’ Association, Tony Irish, as well as county directors of cricket. Player and official safety and comfort is paramount.”
In his role at the ECB, Elworthy is also overseeing the delivery of The Hundred. The successful launch of the ambitious new competition is crucial for the ECB, leading some to speculate whether a delay to 2021 may be the better option, once the global situation concerning COVID-19 settles down.
Elworthy added: “No one has a crystal ball. We know what the Hundred is intended for and the power of what it can deliver. There will be considerations for all competitions and a process to go through but I would be hesitant to write off anything at this stage.
“We don’t know when we’ll get the green light to get back on and playing. You must make sure you have done all your critical thinking and planning so when you reach that point and know how much season is left, you deliver as much cricket as possible and as coherently as possible.
“One thing you can guarantee is that sport is one of the greatest unifiers. We will come out of this and it will be front and centre of pulling the country together. That’s the power of sport and cricket has a huge role to play in that.”