Nail-biting action off the field does not seem to have deterred cricket fans from their infatuation with the Indian Premier League (IPL). The IPL is an idea whose time has come although its managers appear hell-bent on wrecking it. Accusations of sweetheart deals have cost Shashi Tharoor his job and IPL tsar Lalit Modi finds himself in the unwelcome gaze of the taxman. Any tournament would have buckled under such pressure in its third year of existence, but India’s obsession with cricket keeps the IPL going. Which is why it is imperative all IPL stakeholders put out a gentleman’s version of the game, not thinly-veiled casino cricket.
Foremost, the IPL and its parent , the Board of Control for Cricket in India, need to introspect on the rules of the tournament they have laid out. If there is scope — as has been alleged — of conflicts of interest in club ownership and match outcomes, they are exposing the tournament to a lethal loss of credibility. More due diligence is needed on the money chasing the city-specific franchises, if need be with assistance from state apparatus that is equipped to unearth round-tripping and laundered money. Critically, all deals struck by the IPL’s managers must satisfy the public scrutiny associated with a concentrated media event. If the IPL cannot shake off the taint of dirty money and dirty tricks, it risks losing the substantial legitimate business interest that is invested in the game.
Also, clean money has an interest in keeping the funny variety out. Corporate interest in cricket before the IPL was restricted to advertising and sponsorship. The IPL offered India Inc the next level of engagement through club ownership. Shadowy owners and unsavoury sleeping partners take some shine off the owners’ club. India Inc too needs to keep an eye out for who is trying to gatecrash its cricketing party.
One IPL club owner has made a voluntary disclosure about shareholdings to the Bombay Stock Exchange after the Kochi incident. Another club is reportedly considering a public float of its shares. Both these moves are welcome and can help weed out slush money in the IPL franchises. Finally, the government must realise that club sports usually accompany regulated betting. With a ban in place that is impossible to enforce, India forces gambling on sports into dark pools of untraceable money. The IPL offers a good opportunity to reassess the nation’s attitude towards a sporting flutter.