The delayed Women's ODI World Cup will go ahead as scheduled across the original six venues in New Zealand, starting March 4 even as the hosts' bilateral series for the rest of the season have moved to a condensed list of grounds in the wake of a community outbreak of the Omicron variant that put the nation under enhanced Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday.
The affirmation on the World Cup sticking to the original schedule came from Andrea Nelson, the CEO of the event, 35 days out from the start of the tournament. "We did look at multiple contingency plans over the last 12 months as you can well imagine. But the plan is to retain the schedule as it is with the six venues," Nelson said at a virtual media roundtable organised by the ICC on Friday.
"The contingency measures we're putting in place relate to kind of partaking the travel between those venues as much as possible. One of the factors [of hosting a multi-team cricket event] in New Zealand is that our venues are very different to, for example, some of the venues in the subcontinent or the UK. For those that have watched cricket in New Zealand, we've got grass-bank stadiums, [and] smaller stadiums that don't have hotels built into them. So it's a very different environment to how some of it have been staged recently."
The eight-team, 31-match tournament is slated to be played at Mount Maunganui, Dunedin, Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch. Though domestic and bilateral international cricket in the country is now set to be played behind closed doors, the Women's ODI World Cup organising committee is keeping "all options open" for fans.
New Zealand moved into the 'red' setting of a traffic-light system late on Sunday after cases emerged on both North and South Island. Though the measures introduced in its wake don't amount to a lockdown, there is a limit of 100 vaccinated people at any event. The country's border arrangements require all overseas arrivals to stay in the government's Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) facilities for a mandatory ten days, with the World Cup teams all having had their stints approved before a recent pause to the system. India, who arrived in New Zealand on January 26, became the first participating team at the World Cup to enter the MIQ.
"In terms of the delivery of the event for the players, it has not brought about any changes because we had been planning alongside the ICC for the safest possible tournament," Nelson added. "So there are no significant changes to the way we deliver it for the players. Predominantly, the changes are related to the spectators inside the stadium.
"New Zealand has moved to a traffic-light system… And broadly speaking, that puts at the moment attendance [which] can be only in groups of 100. So the work we're undertaking at the moment is how many groups of 100 can we fit within each stadium. And we're working through a bit of detail on all that … But really, the message is: we set out to kind of create a fantastic platform for these athletes to perform on, and we remain fully committed to doing that."
The Women's ODI World Cup was originally scheduled for February-March 2021, but was pushed back a year owing to the pandemic. Asked if she deemed any circumstances at present for the tournament to be postponed a second time, Nelson said all plans were on track: "The first team is on the ground already. The next team arrives next week. Plans have well advanced. There's no information [on a potential postponement] we have at the moment."
On Thursday, the NZC made several changes concerning venues for its upcoming international season to reduce risks of exposure to the Omicron variant. All of India Women's six limited-overs matches were moved to the John Davies Oval in Queenstown. Earlier, McLean Park in Napier was to hold the one-off T20I and the opening ODI, the Saxton Oval in Nelson was slated to stage the second and third ODIs on February 14 and 16, and the final two ODIs were to be played in Queenstown on February 22 and 24.
South Africa men's upcoming visit for two Tests was also limited to Christchurch after they were originally scheduled to play one Test there and the other in Wellington. All three men's T20Is against Australia will now be restricted to Napier, and Netherlands' visit for a men's white-ball tour will be split between Mount Maunganui, which will be hosting the one-off T20I and an ODI, and Hamilton, where the remaining two ODIs will be played.