Those who thought that India had turned a new leaf and stories of sleaze and corruption were things of the past must be stunned by the latest revelations that are threatening to expose the underbelly of Indian cricket.
Brand IPL is now being tarnished by those very people who were earlier painting it as the greatest thing to have happened to world cricket and the media is rife with stories of nepotism and corruption in its ownership patterns. It is not that the cricketing fraternity was unaware of these stories, but so seductive was this mix of glamour and money that they obviously chose to ignore them.
We live in the age of “nautanki” and soap operas and nothing is true unless validated by TV. Once Lalit Modi decided to go after Shashi Tharoor, the “reel” world has never been the same again. Income tax raids, euphemistically called surveys, on the IPL headquarters and its “invincible” boss — who one must admire for having lost none of his arrogance despite allegations — and a very influential, erudite Central minister being accused of gross impropriety have upstaged the cricketing action in the middle.
The “million dollar baby” is now drawing TRP ratings away from “live” cricketing action and even helping news channels compete with the very brand that so far has launched a billion ads. In this Modi vs Tharoor face off, which is now becoming more of a BJP vs Congress fight, one is afraid that the real corruption in Indian cricket, especially in the IPL, may again not become the central issue.
As much as transparency is the issue, there is one very serious concern which is even now being overlooked and that is the players being used as pawns in this money-making game. They are being made to play non-stop for nearly two months for privately owned teams and are being “forced” to perform off-field activities almost every night which may leave them exhausted by the time they leave for the T-20 World Cup.
Of even greater concern is the fact that these IPL Parties, where models, celebrities and those with tickets (Rs 40,000 each) have a “great” time, may leave a young aspiring, impressionable future star vulnerable to all sorts of temptations, not all good for either him or the future of Indian cricket.
We must not forget that the fair name of world cricket was smeared only a decade back by the spectre of match-fixing, where some of the top names in international cricket were found guilty of having sold the game. For us in India, all this was doubly embarrassing as the betting syndicate and the bookmakers were from our soil. In this age of IPL and privately owned teams whose main motive is to make money and use the power of cricket to increase their clout, shouldn’t the Indian Board take care that the players are protected from influences that might leave them vulnerable to temptations which could damage world and Indian cricket irreparably?
Before knives are thrown at me, let me make it clear that I am not accusing anyone. Let me quote what Paul Condon, the director of ICC’s anti-corruption unit, had to say in 2008: “The IPL brings with it the biggest threat in terms of corruption in the game since the days of cricket in Sharjah.” Today when we are being made aware that there could be dubious funding involved in the IPL, shouldn’t we take this statement seriously?