The ICC will host its first World Cup since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when the 2021 men's T20 World Cup begins from October 17. The 16-team tournament will be played in the UAE and Oman, countries with some of the highest proportion of population vaccinated against Covid-19. In fact, the UAE, which will host some of the first-round games and then the entire Super 12s and the knockouts, is top of the list of countries with the highest percentage of vaccinated population - with 94% receiving at least one jab.
But as Alex Marshall, the head of integrity and biosafety at the ICC, says, hosting a multi-team event across four venues in two countries is a "complex" issue with multiple moving parts and several safeguards needed to keep all participants safe both physically and mentally.
Following are some of the key questions Marshall answered during a media briefing on Thursday.
What happens if there is a positive/asymptomatic case in the bubble?
If someone tests positive, even if they are asymptomatic, that person will need to isolate for ten days.
What happens with the close and casual contacts?
A close contact is defined as someone who is not wearing a mask and is less than two metres from the individual for at least 15 minutes and 48 hours prior to test/symptoms. The close contacts, Marshall said, would need to isolate for six days.
For casual contacts - those who are within physical contact but have their faces covered - there will be a 24-hour period where they are tested and accordingly released.
What happens if an opposition team does not want to or is anxious about taking the field due to positive case/s in the rival camp or due to some other concern related to Covid-19?
Such a scenario would be dealt with by the Biosafety Scientific Advisory Group (BSAG). The BSAG would be headed by an independent chair in Dr Gurjit B. Also part of the expert panel are: Dr Abhijit Salvi (event chief medical officer), Dr Peter Harcourt (chair, ICC medical advisory committee), and Dr Dave Musker (ICC Covid compliance officer).
It would be BSAG's responsibility to address all concerns of the participants and explain the level of risk/s, if any. "We know from other sports, the Olympics in Tokyo is a good example, they had no cases of competitors outdoors taking part in sport passing on Covid-19. So playing outdoors on a cricket field against another team will be very low risk to other players," Marshall said.
The BSAG will provide support and expert advice to the ICC in the planning and delivery of a safe event. During the event, they will meet on a daily basis to ensure all Covid-19 matters are dealt with appropriately utilising expert scientific and medical advice. They will assess and recommend to the Covid Response Group on any material changes in the regulatory environment or the status of the pandemic and their impact on the event.
What happens if a player needs to leave the bubble to go to the hospital for scans/treatment?
Dedicated biosecure hospitals and detailed protocols are in place to protect the player as well as the integrity of the bubble.
What will the sanction be in case of a bubble breach?
There is no clear guideline yet, but Marshall said it would be something the team management must take "very seriously".
"We do not want to see any breaches," he said. "We do not think there will be. We think people understand how important this is, but we also expect team managements and their squads strictly adhere and ensure to the rules. If people understand the rules and maintaining discipline is the answer to this problem means we won't have issues that disrupt the tournament or their own enjoyment of it."
Will families be allowed in the tournament bubble?
"Small number of families", Marshall said, would be allowed to stay with the players. But they would need to follow the same protocols to operate in the bubble. "Being able to see close families can be a very important factor in reducing stress and making a more enjoyable environment for people," Marshall said. "We have seen this in other events as well, for example the IPL."
Will there be counsellors to manage mental-health issues?
The ICC will have a psychologist present at all times through the tournament.
Do crowds need to be doubly vaccinated?
Marshall pointed out that fans would have to follow the local government's rules concerning vaccination to attend public events like a cricket match. In Oman and Abu Dhabi, fans need to be doubly vaccinated to be at the stadium, but not in Dubai and Sharjah.
Will fans need to wear masks?
Can the fans interact with players?
Marshall said the players would be "kept separate" and would not be "mixing directly, physically" with the fans.