LONDON: The mayor of London wants to bring Indian Premier League cricket matches to the British capital.
Mayor Sadiq Khan said he is working with London-based cricket team Surrey about the feasibility of getting IPL franchises to play in London, saying the city has benefitted from having NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball teams come across the Atlantic for games in recent years.
“I want us to be the undisputed sports capital of the world,” Khan, who is seeking re-election next month for a second term as mayor, said at a children’s cricket training session in southwest London on Friday.
The NFL (since 2007) and NBA (since 2013) have played games annually in London, while the NHL staged two games in the city in 2007. In 2019, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox played two games in London the first MLB games ever to take place in Europe. Khan played a role in those negotiations.
Khan, an avid cricket fan, now wants to see India’s top players come over.
“The idea of only seeing [Virat] Kohli or [Rohit] Sharma or [Jasprit] Bumrah when the Indian team comes is heartbreaking,” he said. I want [M.S.] Dhoni in London with Chennai. That’s why I am really keen on working with Surrey and others to get IPL to London.”
Following its inception in 2008, the IPL has achieved stratospheric growth, developing into one of the world’s most lucrative annual sporting properties, pulling in millions of viewers each season.
Pressed on a timescale, Khan said there was no reason that friendlies could not take place later this year, saying his IPL vision extended beyond London.
“The first step will be the exhibition games. And they have to be Covid-safe, of course,” he said.
“At the moment, I’m speaking to Surrey,” added Khan, who once had a trial for the club as a 15-year-old.
“But I’d love to see these games not just at Lord’s but Headingley, Edgbaston, Old Trafford and other stadiums. London is the shop window to our nation. You only get a national recovery with a London recovery.”
Khan said playing IPL matches in London could help persuade the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to relax its policy prohibiting star players from taking part in overseas leagues and pave the way for their involvement in the ECB’s new Hundred tournament.
“When you speak to the ECB [England and Wales Cricket Board], they would love for Indian players to be playing in the Hundred,” said Khan.
“I don’t want London just to be a place where Indians invest and shoot Bollywood movies, I want the IPL here as well.
“One of things we have to do is explain to IPL the benefits other sports have got from coming to London,” Khan said when asked about the prospect of hosting IPL games in British springtime. “These are the same conversations we were having with the MLB commissioner, the American Football commissioner.
“If the idea of having 90,000 fans at Wembley to watch Anthony Joshua versus Wladimir Klitschko [in a world heavyweight boxing fight in 2017] was quite scary, we pulled it off. I’m sure we can pull cricket off as well. That’s why we’ve got to be ambitious.
“The other thing is that India is a massive investor in our city. We are the number one city in Europe that India invests in, we’re number two in the world after Dubai.
“Indians love cricket, we love cricket, we love Indians. We want this to be a bridge between India and London and Surrey deserve huge credit in being pioneers and with their vision to get IPL here.”
There is no indication that the BCCI has plans to take IPL matches out of the country and even in a post-Covid world the logistics of such a move could prove difficult.
The IPL has been held outside India before — in 2009 it was staged in South Africa due to security issues and last year it was played in the United Arab Emirates because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 14th edition of the cash-rich T20 league kicks off later on Friday with Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore facing Rohit’s Mumbai Indians.
Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2021