The IPL has had a rocking start. Dubai’s busy Sheikh Zayed road is decorated with huge cut-outs of cricketers, games are sold out and there is a mad scramble for tickets. Such is the interest that local radio stations have live commentary (in English, Hindi and Malayalam) with interesting contests, the most popular of which is listeners predicting the dud of the day!
But behind this fun and entertainment, IPL is serious business. And the most important is ensuring there is no controversy, or hint of corruption which scarred the league last year. Sunil Gavaskar, asked by the Supreme Court to head the IPL, set the agenda by making an impassioned appeal to players to uphold the values of cricket. Gavaskar ended his appeal with a stern message that integrity is non-negotiable.
For this, practical steps were announced. The UAE government confirmed they would be extra vigilant considering what happened in the past, and directed the state machinery to do whatever was required to hold a clean IPL.
The ICC’s Anti-Corruption Unit also swung into action. Its officials held separate meetings with all eight teams, briefing them on the likely dangers and player responsibilities. For once, these briefings were crisp and businesslike, very different from the moral science lectures of the past.
One new initiative which demonstrates the serious intent to stamp out wrongdoing is the appointment of Integrity Officers (recently retired police/military personnel) with each team. The purpose, explained an official, is not to snoop on players but to give them confidence that there is someone around with a trained eye to keep a watch and help out when needed.
Besides corruption, security too is an issue. The IPL has assigned this role to South Africa-based Nicholas Steyn Associates (NSA), a trusted name in this business. In the past they have handled Nelson Mandela’s security but now their role has spread to providing personal security for rich business families in Mumbai and managing the red carpet at the Oscars. In the IPL, NSA assigns two full-time pros to each team, who are backed up by city supervisors to coordinate arrangements with local police authorities.
The writer is advisor to the sports ministry.