Organisers of this year’s International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s T20 World Cup have revealed the tournament could be moved to the United Arab Emirates with hosts India gripped by a deadly surge of COVID-19 infections.
India is scheduled to hold the World Cup from October 18 to November 15, but contingency plans are being drawn up in response to the coronavirus pandemic, which is having a devastating impact on the host nation.
Hospital and crematoriums are being overwhelmed in India as coronavirus cases and deaths reach record levels.
India reported almost 380,000 new infections and more than 3,600 deaths yesterday as the country struggles to contain COVID-19.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) is still holding out hope of staging the World Cup as planned but confirmed the UAE will step in as hosts should the COVID-19 situation fail to improve.
"It’s too early to say what will happen," said Dhiraj Malhotra, general manager for the BCCI and tournament director of the World Cup.
"But the contingency plan is that it would go to UAE with the hosting rights staying with BCCI."
Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Dharamsala, Ahmedabad and Lucknow are set to host World Cup matches in India.
According to the Hindustan Times, staging the tournament in India without spectators is the preferred option for organisers.
Earlier this month, ICC acting chief executive Geoff Allardice said there was no need to activate contingency plans at this stage, but confirmed a plan 'B' had been drawn up to ensure the tournament can be held.
"We are certainly proceeding on the assumption that the event is going ahead as planned," Allardice said.
"Yes, we have [back-up plans].
"But at this stage we haven't activated those plans, because we are preparing to go ahead with the event in India as scheduled.
"We're working with the BCCI and different elements of that event at the moment, but we do have back-up plans that can be activated when the time's right.
"We're not anywhere near that timeline yet.
"We've certainly got a number of months to be able to see how the situation is and how cricket events are being run."
The seventh edition of the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup was originally scheduled to be held in Australia from October to November 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be moved to 2022 - after the 2021 edition in India.
A total of 16 nations are set to compete in the event this year, with the West Indies aiming to defend the title.
The UAE stepped in to stage the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year in response to the global health crisis.
Australian players Andrew Tye, Adam Zampa and Kane Richardson have withdrawn from this season’s IPL, which is being staged in a bio-secure bubble in India.
"We’ve been in a few [bubbles] now, and I feel like this is probably the most vulnerable," Zampa told the Sunday Morning Herald.
"I just feel like because it’s India, we’re always being told about the hygiene over here and being extra careful.
"I just felt like it was the most vulnerable.
"The IPL that was held in Dubai six months ago didn’t feel that way at all.
"I felt like that was extremely safe.
"Personally, I feel like that would have been a better option originally for this IPL but there’s a lot of political stuff that goes into it.
"Obviously, there’s the T20 World Cup that’s meant to be happening here later this year.
"That’s probably going to be the next discussion in the cricket world."