The Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) has been granted government approval for fan attendance of 20% capacity during the forthcoming 2021 Pakistan Super League (PSL), while plans have been outlined for the development of an “international standard” cricket stadium in Kalam valley.
This year’s edition of the franchise-based Twenty20 tournament is due to be played in Karachi and Lahore from February 20 to March 22. The decision from the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) means that around 7,500 ticketed spectators will be allowed access to Karachi’s National Stadium per match day, with around 5,500 at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium (pictured).
In September, the NCOC gave the green light for sporting activity to resume in Pakistan at grassroots and recreational level, while also stating fans could also attend outdoor sporting events providing safety measures were put in place during COVID-19.
The PCB said the NCOC made its decision following a “detailed and comprehensive briefing” by Board officials, in which they assured that the event organisers and the PCB will strictly follow government COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures, including social distancing.
The ESPNcricinfo website said the PCB had initially applied for 30% attendance, adding this could be achieved following a review of the group stage of the tournament. The news comes as evidence of a further reopening of top-level cricket in Pakistan following the March 2009 attack on Sri Lanka’s team bus that effectively ended international cricket in the country.
The 2009 terrorist attacks in Lahore saw Sri Lanka’s team bus ambushed by gunmen, resulting in several players suffering injuries. From that point, Pakistan was forced to play the majority of its ‘home’ games in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), although an increasing number of internationals and PSL games have been played on home soil in recent years, with South Africa currently touring, albeit with matches played behind closed doors.
PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said in a statement: “This is an endorsement that the PCB is an institution, which is capable of planning and then successfully implementing COVID-19 SOPs during its marquee event being staged in Pakistan for the second successive year.
“Fans are the PCB’s biggest asset and we are delighted that no matter a small number, some will be able to have access to the matches. Their presence will add flavour and excitement to one of the biggest and most challenging leagues in the cricket calendar.
“We understand not everyone will get an opportunity to watch the matches due to the limited number of seats, but these are baby-steps and considering that most sport events are being played in empty stadia, this is a positive achievement and a step in the right direction.
“I am optimistic that if we can maintain strict protocols during the HBL PSL 2021 matches we will have a strong case for more fans in the 2021-22 season in which we have to host high-profile internationals teams such as New Zealand, England and the West Indies as well as quality domestic events, including the National T20 Cup, Quaid-e-Azam Trophy and the Pakistan Cup.”
Meanwhile, the UrduPoint website said the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government has drawn up a project for the development of a 6,000-capacity stadium at Kalam, which is located in the district of Swat.
The project will reportedly take two years to complete, with a price tag of PKR358m (£1.63m/€1.86m/$2.23m). Kalam has become a renowned tourist spot due to its mountains, forests and lakes, with the stadium set to use “artificial wood” rather than concrete for the majority of its construction in order to blend in with its natural environment.
A 120-acre plot of land has been identified for the cricket stadium, while a football ground and new park have also been targeted under a wider development which seeks to promote eco tourism.