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SLC hopeful LPL can start on August 28 despite Covid-19 hurdles

With the R Premadasa Stadium under renovation, the LPL is expected to take place entirely outside Colombo Nicholas Brookes

Sri Lanka Cricket remains optimistic the Lankan Premier League (LPL) can begin on August 28, although government health approvals are yet to come through less than three weeks out from the scheduled start.

SLC has now found an organiser for the tournament, however, signing a five-year deal with the Dubai-based Innovative Production Group (IPG), a company that has previously been involved in Pakistan Super League production and broadcasts. As per the terms of the deal, it is now down to IPG to find franchisees for the five proposed LPL teams, as well as secure sponsors, and conduct an LPL draft. According to officials 70 overseas players have expressed a strong interest in playing.

The major concern, however, is the quarantine period overseas players will be required to undergo upon arrival in Sri Lanka. Teams are not due to be finalised until next week, which means players are unlikely to arrive more than 10 days out from the scheduled start. At present, new arrivals on the island are expected to spend at least seven days in quarantine (they have the option of doing so at specially designated luxury hotels), which means players would have only a few days' preparation with their teams, at most.

"We are ready to start on the 28th, but there are some areas where we will have to be in line with the health authorities," SLC vice-president Ravin Wickramaratne told ESPNcricinfo. "By the 13th they will give us the guidelines as to what to do with the players. We had a couple of meetings with the health authorities, who have come up with health guidelines for tourists. They'd have to be in quarantine for seven days, but then their movements are restricted. We are trying to see whether foreign players can be excepted. We are not the experts, so we will wait for their guidance."

Also posing a significant challenge is the scarcity of international flights into Colombo. Right now, tourism has ground to a halt, and repatriation flights account for the majority of arrivals.

"The other concern is some of the players coming from Australia, South Africa and England," Wickramaratne said. "I think in England airports are operational, but other countries - their airports are closed. That's what we will have to look into, whether we get those players to a central point and then charter them here. But we are still waiting for IPG to inform us who are the players, and where they are coming from."

While government approval is being awaited, talks are understood to be ongoing between IPG and potential franchisees. IPG hopes to have awarded franchise rights by the end of the week, with the company apparently holding discussions with franchise owners from established leagues such as the IPL and PSL.

According to Wickramaratne, all franchisees who come on board will also be vetted by the ICC's Anti-Corruption Unit before the tournament can take place. In 2012, SLC had hosted a franchise-based T20 tournament that was dogged by corruption allegations, with Lasith Malinga even reporting a suspicious approach from a figure aligned with his then franchise.

Although originally SLC had announced that the tournament would be played in its four day-night venues, Wickramaratne has confirmed that the R Premadasa Stadium in Colombo is currently out of commission due to ongoing renovation work. The tournament will instead only be played in Hambantota, Pallekele and Dambulla, which means Sri Lanka's most populous city will not see any of the action.