Explainer: Why might the T20 World Cup be moved to the UAE?
India is scheduled to host the event, starting in October, but a decision will be made this month on whether to move it out of the country
The ICC board have instructed their management to focus on preparing to deliver the 2021 Twenty20 World Cup in the UAE.
This country has long been on standby for such an outcome, pending the Covid crisis in India.
India is scheduled to host the event, starting in October, but a decision will be made this month on whether to move it out of the country.
The tournament has been postponed once, with the coronavirus meaning it could not be played last year in Australia, the original hosting-rights holders.
India more or less severed ties with UAE cricket between 2000 and 2018, with their national team playing just a brief one-day international series in 2005 to launch Zayed Cricket Stadium during that time.
Now, though, the two cricket boards have an increasingly fruitful special relationship.
That started when the Board of Control for Cricket in India switched the 2018 Asia Cup to Dubai and Abu Dhabi – essentially to accommodate fixtures against Pakistan. It took root further during the successful staging of the 2020 IPL season in the Emirates.
During that tournament, the BCCI and Emirates Cricket Board signed a hosting agreement to formalise the relationship between the two countries.
It meant the prospect of India staging more cricket in the UAE was heightened.
So when the health situation in India worsened in recent months, it increased the likelihood of switching matches to these shores.
First, that took the form of the remainder of the suspended 2021 IPL season, which will restart in the UAE in September. And now it seems probable that a similar fate will happen with the T20 global showpiece.
How do India retain hosting rights?
In confirming that they are pressing ahead with plans to switch to the UAE, the ICC said “the BCCI will remain the hosts of the event regardless of where the event is played”.
That might seem odd: if matches are in the UAE, surely they are the hosts?
However, it means that India will retain control of staging the matches and, crucially, revenue from it.
Each individual match at the T20 World Cup is said to be worth up to around $300,000 to the hosting board.
As such it was never going to be likely India would cede that income – although there will have to be at least some sort of revenue sharing, meaning ECB will still likely profit to some extent.
Will there be crowds?
It is safe to assume the ICC will want fans to be in attendance at the World Cup, and that does seem possible if the event is staged in the UAE.
The Pakistan Super League will proceed behind closed doors this month. That is understandable, given the extremely short timeframe the organisers had to plan the switch from Karachi to Abu Dhabi.
With so many other logistical issues that needed addressing first, it made sense that the extra burden of supporter attendance was left out of the proposal for staging the PSL.
However, major sport in the UAE is starting to welcome back spectators. Football’s President’s Cup final was played in front of a limited crowd in Al Ain last month.
And fans will be permitted to attend football World Cup qualifiers this month, up to a 30 per cent capacity, and provided they are full vaccinated and have a negative PCR test from within 48 hours.
What will the calendar look like?
The groundsmen of the UAE will have their work cut out over the next few months.
First the PSL is set to be played to a conclusion in Abu Dhabi this month.
That will see 20 T20 matches played at the Zayed Cricket Stadium over the space of around 17 days.
If the IPL and World Cup come here from September, that will account for more than 70 matches.
UAE have a proven track record for delivering a high volume of matches across their three established venues in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and Dubai.
So staging those matches would certainly be doable. Preliminary round matches involving the likes of Scotland, Netherlands, Papua New Guinea, Ireland, Namibia and Oman would be well suited to the grounds at the ICC Academy in Dubai, and on the outer fields in Abu Dhabi.
However, the ICC have said they are looking at an extra option to ease the load.
Where else in the region?
The ICC said they are pressing ahead with planning for the event in UAE, “with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East”.
India had proposed nine venues for the T20 World Cup, which seems unworkable given the Covid-related problems that travel created during the IPL.
Cross-border, quarantine-free travel could be problematic if the ICC are considering other options in the region.
In an ideal situation, Oman Cricket Academy in Al Amerat, just outside Muscat, would appear to fit the ICC’s criteria.
The scenic venue has superb playing and practice facilities, and has staged ODI and T20I cricket, although it has no permanent spectator facilities.
Qatar has a 13,000-seater cricket stadium. Saudi Arabia has one cricket oval of note, and plans to develop the sport, but would be unlikely to be considered.
Updated: June 2, 2021 10:51 PM