London Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to bring the glitzy Indian Premier League to the British capital as he seeks to establish the city as the “undisputed sporting capital” of the world.
The 14th edition of the Twenty20 cricket tournament starts behind closed doors on Friday, with champions Mumbai Indians facing India captain Virat Kohli’s Royal Challengers Bangalore.
Khan hopes future IPL matches could be played at London grounds such as Lord’s and the Oval, the headquarters of county side Surrey.
“The IPL is a fantastic league but I’m desperate not just to see Kohli and others here when India come (to England) as they are this year but to see the likes of (MS) Dhoni, (Rohit) Sharma and (Jasprit) Bumrah come here on a regular basis,” Khan said at a children’s cricket training session in southwest London on Friday.
London has successfully staged a number of NFL, MLB and NBA events in the past and, with the backing of Surrey, Khan, who is running for re-election next month, wants to add the IPL to that list.
“I’ve said for some time that I would love London to keep its place as the sporting capital of the world,” he said. “I want this to be the undisputed sporting capital of the world.
“We’ve had Major League Baseball, NFL for 10 years, you saw the impact of Joshua v Klitschko,” added the mayor, citing the knock-on economic benefit to hotels, restaurants and bars of major sporting events.
“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.”
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.”
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.