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IPL remains vulnerable to rot

Opulent opening and closing ceremonies, chopper lifts for franchise owners and celebrity-studded post-match parties became ritual in the IPL. But behind the facade of the happy, healthy tournament, a rot was quietly setting in.

cricket Updated: Apr 06, 2014 09:56 IST
Sai Prasad Mohapatra

It was early 2008. A restless Lalit Modi had just finished a meeting at the BCCI headquarters, a day before the telecast rights for the IPL were to be announced.

"Are you expecting to fetch a deal of $500 million?" he was asked. Pat came the reply, "You must be kidding. I will be sweetly surprised if we can get that."

The next day, the IPL pulled off a financial coup: A $1-billion telecast deal from Sony Entertainment Television India and WSG — $1.3 billion, to be precise. It surprised many, including the man doing the hard-selling, Modi.

Days later, the eight franchisee bid accounted for another $723.59 million. The BCCI was potentially sitting on a $2 billion cash pile. Overnight, the IPL became the darling of the Board, surprising everyone — the market, the administrators, the competition, Zee Entertainment's rebel Indian Cricket League — and leading to a surreal feeling of everyone winning in the race, financially.

Opulent opening and closing ceremonies, chopper lifts for franchise owners and celebrity-studded post-match parties became ritual shows of strength. But behind the facade of the happy, healthy tournament, a rot was quietly setting in.

Money attracts criminality, a truism that the IPL was not immune to. The International Cricket Council's Anti-Corruption and Security Unit turned out to be ill-equipped to handle the threat of betting and fixing, a concern raised back then by ICC ACSU chief Paul Condon.

Even though the ACSU has since been beefed up and other measures put in place, the domestic T20 league remains more vulnerable to the preying eyes of dubious elements, as was proven when a betting scandal broke out last season, implicating Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of then-BCCI president N Srinivasan.

Bookies love the format and have targeted other T20 leagues too. But here, access to the players was easier.

As the tournament seemed to coast along on the effortless weight of its own momentum, glittering with razzmatazz, the bookie syndicate was identifying its targets, befriending unsuspecting players, showering expensive gifts in the name of being fans and admirers, all on the sidelines of glitzy post-match parties that had become ideal hunting grounds.

One of the loopholes in the IPL's structure was the free access granted to the owners, which contrasts sharply with the norms of other leagues, such as the English Premier League. As it turned out, that crucial and potentially corrupting access was granted not just to the owners but also to their friends.

Add to that the lack of transparency in ownership patterns and it was a potent cocktail that turned the league into a prime target.