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In a different league

The BCCI is now big enough to take on the Indian State. But has it bitten off more than it can chew? Pradeep Magazine elaborates.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2009 21:46 IST

The clout and power of the Indian cricket establishment is well-known the world over. In the last decade or so, it has become the nerve centre of world cricket and has not been afraid to unleash its might whenever anyone has dared to raise a voice against it. Much to the delight of millions of Indian fans, the world can no longer trifle with their team, and for any injustice — perceived or real — retribution is swift.

Its power flows not from the barrel of the gun but from the financial muscle it has acquired by the imaginative marketing of a sport that has an unprecedented following in the country.

It is not its financial strength alone that is the envy of the world. Of late, the Indian cricket team itself is going from strength to strength and is on the verge of becoming the best in the world. Much of this credit has to go to those who run the show and it won’t be a misnomer to say that cricket in India is shining today. Nobody dare mess with it.

Not even the Indian State.

In its manipulative handling of the long-drawn drama that preceded the shifting of the venue of the Indian Premier League (IPL) outside the country, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) has demonstrated that it is not afraid to even take on the might of the Indian State. It first tried to win over as many states as possible in its effort to get over security issues in order to satisfy the legitimate security concerns of the Home Minister.

It used the media to great advantage by drumming day in and day out that if India can’t host the IPL, the world will equate it with Pakistan and India will be seen as a weak State. In most television debates, the hosting of the IPL became a symbol of India’s national pride.

To unnerve the ruling party, even the political card was used. It is being said that only the Congress-ruled states had a problem with security and the BJP-ruled states had no problem with hosting the event at all. Pressure from the corporates, who stand to lose their money and brand equity, was also applied to lean on the government. But P. Chidambaram must be admired for not succumbing to these ‘cunning tactics’ of the cricket establishment.

Should there be any doubt in anyone’s mind that holding free and fair general elections is a gigantic task even during normal circumstances?

In the present atmosphere, where the threat from terrorist organisations is real, it would have been a nightmare for any state to provide security at a major cricket tournament and to international and domestic cricketers, and hold elections as well. Chidambaram even went to the extent of appealing to the ‘patriotic sentiments’ of the IPL organisers in trying to make everyone understand that elections have to be the first priority for a nation and not glitzy entertainment, no matter how popular it may be.

One has to admire the gumption of the BCCI and more so of IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi. When everyone thought Modi had failed, he came up with a solution that may have taken everyone by surprise but no one should have a problem with.

Let us not get into the semantics of IPL’s nomenclature. Yes, it is the Indian Premier League and we have been repeatedly told it is a ‘domestic’ tournament. But, as the officials themselves put it during the press conference on Sunday, this does not prevent them from hosting it in a foreign country. It’s just that circumstances do not allow them to host it at home this year.

It is the BCCI’s call and that of the franchisees if they are willing to suffer losses and play matches outside their own terrain. After all, they do feel that not hosting the tournament this year could well mean curtains for the IPL.

It’s amazing that when the world is reeling under the impact of a financial meltdown, Indian businessmen are willing to stake so much on cricket. But it is again their call — as long as they don’t take financial help from the government to protect their losses but stick to this latest extravagant use of cricket to promote their brands. As long as the Indian taxpayer’s not being asked to pay for promoting their business, it’s literally their business.

But let us also not get taken in by all this clever talk about the BCCI doing all this for India and its fans. It’s not okay to say, as the BCCI president did, “Sorry fans in India” and that the government is to be blamed for the event being taken abroad. The simple truth is that there were no dates available to host the IPL other than now and the Indian cricket board, reveling in its power in the world of cricket, did not want to cancel the event. For them it is pure commerce and let us not get fooled by jargon that is best left to politicians.

In cricket, the BCCI wields a hegemonic power akin to the United States in geo-politics. Like America, the Board is also seen as a bully. It tramples on anyone who challenges its might — be it the Zee channel-run India Cricket League (ICL), the International Cricket Council (ICC), players or the cricket boards of different countries.

Now that the BCCI has checkmated the Indian State, it better get the IPL on course in a foreign country. One failure or a wrong move could lead to disaster.

The question is: has the board bitten off more than it can chew this time?

(Pradeep Magazine is Advisor Sports, Hindustan Times)