Strict bio-bubbles and daily Covid tests have been done away with for the 2022 Women's World Cup in New Zealand, with the ICC planning to stage the tournament in a "managed environment" instead. The rules have been put in place after considering the fact that all teams and officials in the host country would have undergone Mandatory Isolation Quarantine (MIQ) upon arrival.
"I think the approach is around having a managed environment around the tournament," ICC chief executive Geoff Allardice
explained in a chat with the media. "Testing will be infrequent; it won't be daily testing. It's really about players taking responsibility knowing they are in the country for a month and living away for that period not locked into a very tight bubble. It's not going to be practical; it's certainly not going to allow teams to play their best on the field.
"There are some general guidelines that are required, but we're asking players and teams to just be sensible, stay away from areas that are likely to create transmission. The other thing is, we found out in last few tournaments - like at the Under-19 World Cup [in the Caribbean in January-February] - is even though we had number of positive tests, the number of people displaying symptoms were very low. We want to focus on keeping people safe and healthy. It's a bit of a change from where we may have been six months ago."
Allardice stressed on how tough the logistics of ensuring all teams reach New Zealand - whose borders are only partially open - first and then facilitating adequate preparation time following MIQs have been.
"In November, the New Zealand government increased quarantine period to ten days, so we added extra time for teams to prepare. Then it went back to seven days. So, logistically, it has been challenging with dates and timings," Allardice said. "They are now restrictions on number of people who can attend matches. We're hopeful as the situation unfolds, we might be able to get a higher capacity at venues during the second half of the tournament."
With Covid still a major concern, the ICC has tweaked the playing conditions to ensure that all games go ahead as planned. One of the measures is to allow teams to take the field if they have a minimum of nine fit players available
. Teams have been allowed extra travelling reserves to prevent such a scenario from cropping up.
"We needed to have some contingency plans. I know they have attracted a bit of attention, but in terms of having to think these things through, how you give teams the best chance to prepare knowing what might happen, that's the reason we came up with that protocol"
Geoff Allardice on the tweaked playing conditions
Allardice said learnings from staging the qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe last November, and the men's Under-19 World Cup this year, had been taken into consideration while formulating regulations for this tournament.
"I hope it doesn't apply," he said. "It was something we had to do over the last few months since the Omicron outbreak. In almost all of our tournaments, we have been challenged with number of players being unavailable due to isolation for positive Covid tests. We had quite a close call in the West Indies with the men's Under-19 World Cup, where a number of teams had outbreaks.
"We needed to have some contingency plans. I know they have attracted a bit of attention, but in terms of having to think these things through, how you give teams the best chance to prepare knowing what might happen, that's the reason we came up with that protocol. The bottom line is, we want 11 vs 11. We have squads of 15, all teams are travelling with reserve players as a contingency.
"The announcement or introduction of those protocols was very much given the uncertainty of the event
we were dealing with. We had the Women's World Cup Qualifier in Zimbabwe where one team was marginal in terms of players available for some of the matches. We had the same situation
at the Under-19 World Cup [in the Caribbean]. Fingers crossed we don't have to get anywhere near it. But there may be situations where if a team doesn't have an XI available, we needed protocols to deal with that."