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IPL, caught at silly point!

The Indian Premier League (IPL) typically represents media frenzy, glamour and excessive of vices that supersede the sporting domain of the event. It is packaged in a way that even people who might not be hardcore cricket fans are glued to their television sets allured by the clamour of celebrities, glamour and the hysteria that goes with it. The money-spinning potboiler that the IPL is, it undoubtedly speaks of a very efficient business model with all the right proportions of the marketing mix. But with the largesse comes the cost. And the cost is the game of cricket itself. The unearthing of betting scandals, players’ complicity in spot-fixing, underworld kingpins’ involvement and monetary misappropriation are all turning the premise of what was supposed to be a perfectly innocent game – the game of the gentlemen.

The IPL model follows (or at least was supposed to follow) the EPL, NBA and NFL models. They are all professional sporting events with billions of dollars involved in them. However, the critical point to note here is that they are not primarily business models converted to sporting events. But precisely the opposite! The EPL and NBA are inter-club tournaments where the clubs represent sporting tradition and loads of sporting pedigree. The IPL, on the other hand, has become something more than a cricket tournament, but something less than a major world league; and no more bears the inherent spirit associated with the game.

From the very onset, the event has been mired in a spate of scams and controversies. Obviously, the lack of a free-market structure has given the IPL and its stakeholders all possible avenues to distort the sporting model. What else can better describe this than the ownership pattern of the league? There has always been a link between IPL and Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) with respect to ownership and management. In the beginning, Lalit Modi served as the chairman and commissioner of IPL and the vice president of BCCI. Similarly, N Srinivasan, who is the president of BCCI now, concurrently is the owner of Chennai Super Kings as well. Such ownership not only questions the verity and transparency of the system but also allows the promoters to misuse official power and positions. And with recent reports confirming that Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is being questioned by the police for his alleged spot-fixing role and his deep connection with the now arrested Vindoo Dara Singh, another alleged spot-fixer, this complicity of BCCI in IPL mismanagement has come completely out in the open.

Interestingly, if one were to recall past cases, barring Hansie Cronje, all other players complicit in spot fixing were and are from the sub-continent. Mohammad Azharuddin, Salim Malik, Manoj Prabhakar and Ijaz Ahmed are cases in point. What one has to realise is that the intensity of betting in India far exceeds of that in Europe or North America, not because those countries are full of noble souls but because of a much better tackling of the phenomena by authorities. In EPL and NBA, for example, there are specialised cells of betting managers whose job is to keep track of the players, referees and umpires with data and analysis to insulate the games from betting operators. Moreover, the law enforcement agencies in these countries are more efficient and credible and any hint of money-laundering is addressed with immediate action.

In the US, corruption in sports is curtailed by their two decades’ old law that ensures ‘competitive integrity’ and prevents sports related crime. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) not only bans’ sports gambling but also keeps the integrity of sports quite high. France has amended their criminal code to include spot-fixing as a form of criminal corruption; so has Sweden, while Greece has introduced new statutes where the convicted offenders in match fixing may get upto 10 years of incarceration. Australia has recently incepted a specialised ‘National Integrity of Sport Unit’ to monitor activities of stakeholders and ‘to protect the integrity of sport in Australia from threats of doping, match-fixing and other forms of corruption’.

However, in IPL, neither do we have specialised mechanism for controlling betting and fixing within the game nor do designated public authorities have decent track records. Even the National Sports Development (NSD) Bill proposed in India for greater accountability and transparency in sports, has been rejected by the cabinet. This Bill’s rejection provides another leeway and latitude to slanted players and their betting masters.

Undoubtedly, all this would make it impossible for IPL to join the leagues of elite games like NBA or EPL, especially in terms of credibility, inspiration, elitism and social accountability. Thus, India, not only for IPL, but also for all the sporting events, needs a dedicated and centralised body for monitoring sports activity in tandem with local investigative agencies, independent and anonymous law enforcing units and also with international investigative bodies. Till then, every time a player scratches his head or tucks his towel, the viewer sitting back home would presume the match to be fixed and manipulated.

The author is a management guru and director of IIPM Think Tank.
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