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Relax! Australia’s cricket stars are back – but it’s not a double standard, right?

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Reuters</span>
Photograph: Reuters

Everybody relax – our male cricket stars are back from India. Or in fact from the Maldives, where they’d been whisked to safety from the pandemic that has been devastating millions in India who weren’t lucky enough to be whisked to the Maldives.

The players flew into Sydney airport on Monday aboard a flight chartered by the Indian cricket authorities, who seem far more effective at repatriating Australians than our own government. And they’re now in comfy hotel quarantine in Sydney, as opposed to being isolated in Howard Springs, a place where there’s no hope of getting a decent laksa on Deliveroo.

This isn’t a double standard, though, and that’s the official position of the Australian government. The PM himself was eager to make it clear to reporters that [the cricketers] “haven’t been given any [special dispensation]”, because the “NSW government is happy for them to come in over the cap”.

Related: Australia’s stranded cricketers touch down in Sydney two weeks after IPL suspended

Over the cap – so, literally by special dispensation, then. Although it is a pleasant surprise to see this government going soft on queue jumpers.

Or was the PM instead trying to argue that our cricketers had received super-duper-special dispensation with a cherry on top? He was certainly keen to take credit for this piece of immigration wizardry, saying that the cap exemption was “something we insisted upon, and [NSW was] happy to agree with that”. The Morrison government had hitherto not dazzled observers with its enthusiasm for repatriating Australians from India, given that until just hours beforehand it was a criminal offence.

To be fair to the players, though, they must have had a terrible shock, what with the sudden cancellation of the Indian Premier League just a few weeks after it became patently obvious to everybody, even Piers Morgan, that it should be cancelled. And nobody can begrudge any Australian citizen their safe return – it’s a fundamental human right, like ignoring Piers Morgan.

Nine thousand other Australians in India wanted to come home once the new strain emerged and the case count skyrocketed but weren’t lucky enough to be cricketers. And some of them urgently needed to – Australia’s high commissioner, Barry O’Farrell, said 900 of the 9,000 Australians waiting to return were classified as “vulnerable” by Dfat due to financial distress or health problems. Only a handful got to board the first Qantas flight home. Why are the rest less deserving of safety than our healthy, wealthy cricketers?

Surely these extremely fit, young men could have spent a while longer in their luxury hotels, while the most vulnerable people got to chillax in the Maldives then board their chartered flight? If Steve Smith had given his seat to an immunocompromised grandmother, we would all have agreed to make him the next captain, and never mentioned the sandpaper thing again.

Instead, the BCCI, the game’s governing body in India, kept its promise to keep everyone safe, and Cricket Australia held a press conference to say that “their welfare is our absolute No 1 priority” even though the players weren’t representing their country while playing in the Indian Premier League. Multiple Australian governments made sure the 38 players were waved through, and it’s rare for them to agree on anything.

Related: Remaining IPL games cannot be played in India, says BCCI

Full credit to the BCCI for keeping its word – if only the Modi government were so determined to protect everyone under its care. But given the restrictions placed on Australians, the treatment of our cricketers feels fairly nauseating.

If these players want to represent their country, well, we’re now running it like a pernickety boarding school, where anyone who wants to leave needs formal permission, and probably won’t get it. The most Australian thing our players could do right now is stay here and make anyone who wants to play them go through hotel quarantine.

Still, they’re home now, and no doubt everyone involved has learnt their lesson – no more unnecessary trips to risky countries just to play cricket, OK?

Not quite. On the very day that they returned, Cricket Australia announced its squad will play in the West Indies in July. They’ll be visiting Barbados and St Lucia, places where the US Centers for Disease Control says there’s a “high” and “very high” level of Covid-19 respectively, and it advises people to avoid all travel.

But these aren’t just “people”, they’re Australian cricketers. Regular public health rules don’t apply – they can flit across closed borders with the ease of Tony Abbott dashing off to London for some trade adviser job.

So let’s hope Cricket Australia’s got more accommodation booked in the Maldives for the next tour. Perhaps the Indians could organise another plane? Our players won’t be getting any better treatment from our governments than they got this time, though. And honestly, how could they?

• Dom Knight is a writer, broadcaster and co-founder of the Chaser