English cricket chiefs have shelved plans to relax Covid-19 protocols around The Hundred, its new domestic competition, amid rising cases.
The challenges facing sport were highlighted this week when England’s entire one-day squad was forced into isolation following an outbreak on the eve of their series with Pakistan.
That came after the strict Covid rules of last year, including dining in shifts, one-way systems in hotels and solo travel, were eased this summer.
“Thankfully we’ve always had pretty strict protocols in place; that was always our intention,” Sanjay Patel, managing director of The Hundred, told City A.M.
“We were thinking about how we loosen those protocols as the tournament progressed if the country was going to open up, but I think, where we are right now, we’re going to keep those strict protocols in place.”
Covid cases in the UK currently number more than 28,000 a day – figures not seen since December – although deaths remain low due to the vaccine rollout.
The Hundred was meant to launch last year but was delayed by the pandemic, the latest wave of which has also led to several international stars withdrawing.
The England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) accepts that its new 100-ball men’s and women’s competitions are likely to suffer further setbacks once it begins on 21 July.
“It’s very difficult to control this virus within society,” Patel added today at the Kia Oval, speaking at an event to highlight The Hundred’s aim of fostering gender parity.
“We’ll do everything we can to make sure we mitigate against any risks, but we do anticipate that there’s going to be a bit of disruption.
“I think anybody running a tournament right now has got to accept that. When those things happen we’ll react accordingly.”
Hundred ticket sales hit by Covid hesitancy
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that social distancing rules will be lifted from 19 July.
People who have received two doses of vaccine may no longer have to isolate after contact with a Covid sufferer from 16 August.
The ECB hopes The Hundred will attract a new family audience to cricket. Tickets remain widely available, however, due in part to uncertainty over the relaxation of restrictions, which have seen spectators locked out of live sport until recently.
“The recent government announcement has helped. We still need that to be fully confirmed on 12 July,” Patel said.
“The problem with that is, while that is great news and will give us momentum, it doesn’t make up for the fact that it has been a difficult period and I think people will still be a bit hesitant to come back to big events.
“That said we’re absolutely delighted with where we are on ticket sales right now, and I anticipate we’ll get beyond our original predictions.”