IPL: India Problem League
PAISA PHEK TAMASHA DEKH!
By Poonam I Kaushish
New Delhi, May 22 : From India Paisa Limited to India Problem League, the IPL has traversed a roller coaster of three Cs —- Cash, Cricket and Controversies since it started in 2008. A fizzy cocktail of Bollywood sirens and superstars, business magnates and beautiful women, airline tycoons, glitterati and chatteratti, razzmatazz entertainment topped by skimpily clad cheerleaders, after match parties et al. Clearly, instant cricket never had it so good and IPL never fails to deliver and how!
It certainly did last week when its fifth season kicked up a storm a day of ugly charges and counter charges. First a sting operation on spot-fixing leading to suspension of five players, followed by a scuffle between Shah Rukh Khan and Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) officials resulting in him being banned from Wankhede stadium for 5 years culminating in an Australian Royal Challengers Bangalore player’s arrest for molestation.
Welcome to the Great Indian Bazaar of Indian cricket. Of big bucks, million dollar boys, heavy betting and match fixing. A gambling game of industrialists and a shameless, obscene demonstration of money-power. A mammoth corporate conglomerate which lacks transparency and is all about wielding power and money. Generating excitement of a different kind. Of millions made and millions lost by a spin of the ball. A full-fledged industry and trade with a turn-over running into hundreds of crores of rupees.
Add to this whispers of money laundering, foreign exchange violations, D company money, exposing cricket’s filthy underbelly. Kicking off another controversy whereby the clamour for IPL’s ‘closure’ is getting louder, led by our netagan.
Raising a moot point: Is this what cricket is all about? Is the IPL a product of this age and time? When money becomes the driving force of the sixes, bumper, silly mid-off, first slip, LBW, googly et al. Will it only create a super-elite category of overpaid, arrogant superstars at the cost of domestic cricket? Will the new cricket corporate czars have any emotional attachment to the sport?
Importantly, will substance become the first casualty of the hoopla and hype? Will club identities come to replace national loyalties? After all, whoever pays the bucks gets the loyalty. Is this what the future holds? Will it clean-bowl the gentleman’s game? Today it is cricket, tomorrow hockey, football, tennis and so on. Will it stump sports for ever?
True, it provides three hours of excitement and entertainment to millions of cricket enthusiasts. There was a demand for an instant form of cricket instead of the 5-day Test matches and the IPL capitalised on this passion. Besides, is a great cultural-ethnic leveller wherein divisive issues like language, religion, or nationality have little influence on how cricket fans enjoy the game. Hotels, restaurants, gift stores, and other small businesses too have benefitted from increased spending from visitors and the IPL.
Tragically, the heady mix of glitz and glamour plus an insatiable craving for instant riches, bulging bank accounts, bankruptcy of scruples, shady whispers of underworld funds and omnipresent fixers have slowly but surely taken control of the wheels of the IPL juggernaut.
Undeniably, today the IPL underscores that cricket has less to do with sport and turned into a game of power and paisa. The decline of standards in sports is in direct proportion to the increase in the players’ affluence. When a game is no longer a game but a commercial deal, why crib against those who handle one piece of business and take steps to ensure its gains. Plainly, a sport becomes corrupt when money is involved.
Think. The nine franchisees of the IPL forked out a combined Rs 8000-plus crore first to buy the team franchises. Then, they spent a whopping Rs.200 crore on purchasing players at the auction. Before this, the telecast rights were sold for a huge Rs.3,672 crore for 10 years and the title sponsorship for another Rs 200 crore for a five-year period.
The kitty of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI} is virtually the same as the budget allocation of a Union Ministry. Given the fact that cricket is a national past-time no other sport invites sponsorships, telecasting rights and money as much as cricket does. It is also a fact that wherever there is money and power our netas will not be far behind. The bottom line? Dil maange more. Howzatt? Crazy kiya reh!
More scandalous is that the Government for inexplicable reasons has given IPL tax exemption. The IPL brand in less than three years is estimated today at a whopping $4.13 billion, how? Never mind, that the true blue-blooded sportsmen are horrified by this brazen gambling and commercialization at its crassest best.
Add to this, the entry of paid sponsors has added an ugly dimension to an already murky arena. Sportsmen are branded according their network, and launched in the sports arena as “companies” which market different products each according to their brand appeal and market acceptability. Accounting for over Rs 1000 crore of advertising annually. The bigger the event the more the money for our cricketers. Besides, this IPL reinforces the reality that celebrity endorsements of sports is a double-edged weapon, stardom, big bucks and better life style.
Clearly, everything is not above board with the IPL. It has become a byword for cronyism and big money. At its heart it is about making money, not sporting excellence. It is incumbent on the fat political cats in the exclusive cozy, closed Board of Control for Cricket of India (BCCI) club to clear the air in the next IPL governing council meeting.
Correctives need to be put in place urgently before the IPL and the BCCI’s credibility is ruined. This would go a long way in making the operations of the IPL transparent. If the BCCI drags its feet, the Government must inquire into the financial dealings of the IPL. Undoubtedly, the latest episodes go much beyond cricket. Notwithstanding, falling TRP ratings, advertisers drifting to more ‘lucrative’ programmes topped by flagging spectators.
In sum, it is high time to stem the rot and set our cricket house in order. Let’s face it, rescuing the gentleman’s game from the grip of our netagan, stars and businessman, deceit and money will not only be an uphill task but a lot of sweat and tears. It is not a question of one brawl, match-fixing or molestation but many many more.
We need to remember that a sport is by necessity a public activity, one that must be transparently conducted and be accountable. The fear of the fall of our icons should not make us turn a blind eye to what India desperately needs: healthy sport. Not clean bowled by no rules, no boundaries and cronyism. Paisa phek tamasha dekh! —- INFA
(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)