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  • Writer's pictureArpit Shah

Locating IPL 2020 in UAE - Any Alternatives? A Location Analytics Case Study

Updated: Jul 19, 2022

On 10th August 2020, BCCI received the approval from Indian central government to hold the 13th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in the UAE. Due to the rising number of coronavirus cases, it was deemed too risky to hold the lucrative sporting extravaganza within India.

Why did BCCI choose UAE? Weren't there suitable locations within India which could have been viable?

Since this is a problem statement involving 'location', let us see what map based location analytics can suggest to us. Initially, I'd request you to spare a minute to mentally arrive at potential locations within India or outside which could've been a suitable alternative to the UAE. Compare your deduction with the output mentioned towards the end of this article.

At the outset, I think both of us would concur that shifting the league to a country outside Asia - be it South Africa (like in 2009) or an Australia or England wouldn't have been viable because of the high expenditure involved, quarantine restrictions, logistical challenges and so on. Since there wouldn't have been any crowds (and no ticketing revenues as a result), scheduling this cricketing event in a distant land was always a less practical option.

Within Asia, personally I couldn't see any reason why India shouldn't have been the primary location. After all, we have a multitude of cricket stadiums around the country. Surely, we could find a couple of viable alternatives in less affected areas and hold all the matches there.

Well, as soon as I saw the data, I knew I was under the wrong impression - we have just 23 active international cricketing venues in India (operational, with floodlights, ICC approved i.e. with adequate sporting and residential amenities and so on). Nonetheless, 23 is still a large number (in fact, the largest in the world for any country for cricket) - surely, we could find suitable locations within the country from these options available to us.


Note: The dynamic map based application and the study can be seen using this web-map link - I'd recommend that you explore the web-map as you read this article as there are many facets which would appeal to you more meaningfully as you explore the data for yourself (the images below may not be completely self-explanatory). The added effort, however, is that since there is proprietary spatial analytics involved - you would need to create a free account on the product landing page for you to get viewing access to this study model.


The next question was What parameters will I choose for selecting locations within India? I felt it should be equivalent or better than what UAE is offering to us.

Stadium Locations in UAE

Most importantly, the UAE offers us 3 cricketing venues which are in close proximity to each other. I assume that this is the primary criteria that BCCI used - it would be easier to schedule games and logistics for the eight teams to play everyday from these three closely located venues. Obviously, modern training facilities and availability of suitable accommodation at each of these locations is an added advantage.


UAE 2 Hour Drive Time Calculation - from Sharjah Stadium

Modern location analytics platforms are quite powerful. Rather than plotting the straight line distance between locations, here we use drive time as a measure to calculate distance and eventually time taken to travel from a particular point or between points (Drive time accommodates several options such as existing road network, avg. driving speed of vehicle, time of the day, traffic etc. into its calculations).

In the output above, we can see the maximum area that can be covered from Sharjah stadium if we were to drive in a car for 2 hours non-stop, in any direction. Since Abu Dhabi and Sharjah are located at the two ends, we can observe that all the three venues fall within a 2 hour travel window (no traffic). Road connectivity between these locations appears to be excellent.

I could conclude that these venues in UAE appear to be an attractive proposition - less time involved in travel, less external touch points and hence lesser risk of getting infected (due to direct source to destination travel, on ground), luxury accommodation for the international cricketers - all of these combine to create a strong 'bio-secure bubble' the league is aspiring to create for its stakeholders.


Next, going purely by the 'time taken to travel' parameter, do we have anything viable in India?

Upon loading the stadium data above, it dawns upon me that most of the locations in India (international cricketing venues) are geographically dispersed. Upon doing a similar drive-time analysis as done for UAE, the output is as below -

India 2 Hour Drive Time Calculation - All Venues

The finding was not encouraging - No three locations (international cricketing venues) fall within the 2 hour drive-time window which UAE offers.

At best, there are three pairings of 2 locations - (the obvious one being Mumbai's Wankhede and Brabourne: Delhi & Greater Noida and Lucknow & Kanpur being the other two). The closest three location pairing to the 2 hour UAE window is Mumbai's Wankhede & Brabourne + the MCA Stadium in Pune.

(Apparently, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai has been converted into a football stadium and therefore doesn't feature in the list of active international cricketing venues. If it was still an international cricket venue, then Mumbai (2) + Navi Mumbai would have been the ideal 3 location pairing, purely from the proximity perspective.)


Let's ignore the virus situation for the time being and continue to deal with this problem statement from a location suitability standpoint. If India is not suitable, which other countries can be suitable? Within Asia, Pakistan is not an option - so Bangladesh & Sri Lanka are the two major alternatives left for our consideration. Because both are smaller countries by size, the likelihood of finding 3 locations close to each other increases.

Bangladesh 2 Hour Drive Time Calculation - All Venues

Bangladesh has only 4 international cricket stadiums (with floodlights). Unfortunately, no three locations fall within the two hour window, here as well. Dhaka and Fatullah (being both part of the Dhaka administrative division) are only two in a pair. Chittagong and Sylhet are actually 4-6 hours drive time away from Dhaka. Also, by virtue of being one of the world's most densely populated countries affected by the virus, I can understand why BCCI would have been reluctant to select Bangladesh even if the location considerations met the proximity requirements.


We are left with Sri Lanka. Let us see what it has to offer.

Sri Lanka 2 Hour Drive Time Calculation - from Colombo Stadium

Close! Although not exactly within 2 hours, the trio of Colombo, Pallekelle and Dambulla (with Colombo and Dambulla being farthest apart) seem to be the most appealing alternative to UAE (Sri Lanka, like Bangladesh, has only 4 operational international cricketing venues with floodlights at the moment).


With location analytics platforms such as these, one has the benefit of clubbing and analyzing non-spatial data in a mapping context provided that we are able to 'link' it to a geographic feature. While coronavirus cases are, by itself, not spatial data - we can link the virus cases dataset to locations where they are arising from, thereby making the dataset 'geo-analyze-able' in a way.

So I proceeded to gather the total coronavirus cases (cumulative) as of today - 20th September 2020 - for all the cricketing venues and linked it to the location dataset of the stadiums. While I wasn't able to find city wise cases data, I have taken the administrative region wise total virus cases dataset and divided it by the population of that region to derive a percentage (normalized) for comparison (For India, the administrative boundary is a State, for UAE it is an Emirate, for Sri Lanka it is a Province and for Bangladesh it is a Division).

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to access the virus data, administrative region wise for UAE and Sri Lanka. As a result, I have taken the total cases for that country and multiplied it with the percentage of population of that particular administrative region. For example, if UAE has 200 coronavirus cases and Sharjah Emirate within has 20% of total UAE population, then I have assumed that Sharjah has 40 cases of virus (20% multiplied by 200). While this method is flawed, for the current study purposes it appeared to be the next best alternative to me. Fortunately, the total number of cases for these countries were low and therefore, the chances of high variance / misrepresentation are reduced considerably.

Coronavirus Total Cases (Cumulative) as a % of Population, Administrative Region wise, for all venues

The output took me by surprise, as it may have for you.

While the total cases in UAE is relatively less (85,000), when compared to the total population the percentage of cases are actually high (between 0.74% and 0.99% - it falls in the second worst class range among the five class ranges which comprises all Asian venues used in our study). The whole of east India and Bangladesh fares better than UAE, much to my surprise (One can argue about testing statistics, under-reporting etc.).

Unfortunately for India, the venues most suitable in terms of location i.e. the Maharashtra belt fares worse than UAE.

The trio of Dehradun, Dharamshala and Mohali looks an appealing alternative to me. However, I also understand that the Himalayan foothills would be a difficult terrain to navigate, especially at night once the matches conclude, with the winter season just around the corner (The 3 stadiums in Uttar Pradesh are even better placed, but perhaps not the best location to host due to high population density in UP).

Hence, I could conclude that, from a location proximity and from a virus standpoint, there doesn't seem to be any attractive venues within either India or Bangladesh.


Sri Lanka Virus Cases

Which leaves us with the island nation Sri Lanka. With total (cumulative cases) in the entire country at 3287 as of today, active cases at just 186, cases to population % being the lowest for all the Asian locations at 0.02%, pristine environment, suitable accommodation, pleasant weather during this time of the year (maybe rainy, however), proximity from Indian mainland and a INR / LKR rate of 1 / 2.52 (expenses play a vital role), the trio of Dambulla, Pallekelle and Colombo seems equally viable as UAE (if not, better).

Interesting Fact: Sri Lanka actually even offered to host the IPL way back in April. So what could have gone against it?

Charges of Corruption against the Sri Lankan Cricket Board and Security Threat (and the apparent lack of these two factors in UAE) seem to me the reasons why the BCCI preferred UAE as the host.

Combined view (Proximity + Virus) - Asian Stadium Locations under consideration


There is still scope for plenty of (unending) analysis. We can refine the study output with more parameters like active cases, projected rise in cases, location and quality of hotels available in the vicinity (ICC mandates a minimum of 4 star accommodation for international matches), location wise expenses, predicted weather comparison etc. to arrive at a better decision. The tools are there to make an optimal choice.

For this article purposes (purely academic and informative in nature), we'll leave it here, though.

One learning I personally derived was the benefit of having sporting venues located in close proximity to each other. After all, it would help in organizing large competitions / world tournaments without all the long distance travelling and associated hassles. No wonder, Olympic villages are built to facilitate the namesake tournament of the highest magnitude. While each state in India may build one or two cricket stadiums to satisfy domestic audiences, logistically it is a nightmare (+ added costs) for athletes, telecast professionals and the likes.

Update: 23rd Dec 2020 - Refer to this article highlighting the benefits of having a 'compact' sporting tournament.

The idea was to take a problem statement which was appealing in nature and work towards a solution using location analytics. I hope you found reading this to be enjoyable and informative. Do check out the map based platform and study the output for yourself - It is relatively simple to navigate and use, although some of the advanced filters and views may need some playing around with. Have fun and feel free to share your comments.

Are you impressed by the technology potential? Would you like to see how it can be used to good effect at your organization? Do you have a problem statement in mind?

Intelloc Mapping Services | Mapmyops is engaged in selling solutions which capture geodata (Drones & Survey Services), process geodata (Imagery & Location Analytics), and package geodata (Map-based Applications). Together, these help organizations to benefit from Geo-Intelligence which aids in operations planning & improvement.

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Much Thanks to ESPNCricinfo, John Hopkins Virus Dashboard, Wikipedia & Esri's Living Atlas for the datasets. Study has been done on Esri's ArcGIS Online Location Analytics Platform.

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