The hullabaloo raised over the Indian Premier League (IPL) scandal is to be expected, but certain questions raised by cricket buffs ever since cricket was twisted into these high voltage Twenty20 games remain unanswered. Each day, new names and new links of the sleaze underlying the IPL teams, the individuals and the game itself, are revealed as television anchors churn out a slew of exclamation marks, almost hysterical at every revelation. The latest link connects the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to the sleaze, which are sufficient to make the exclamation marks jump up and down on television screens.
There was something wrong when ‘privatisation’ hit cricket to the point where cricketers were sold to the highest bidders and persons with little knowledge, or for that matter, even interest in cricket, made mind-blowing bids for cricket teams and emerged as their proud owners. In fact, the owners — many being movie stars and celebrities in their own right — dominated the sport, with several younger and relatively new cricketers being pushed to the sidelines insofar as the world of publicity was concerned. The media could not get over the list of celebrities that had taken over the sport and the IPL soon became a household name with sports lovers, giving way to Bollywood fans. In fact, to the casual observer, there was less of cricket and more of women, money, fashion and parties and all the rest that goes with it.
The cricketers were introduced to a new lifestyle that clearly took them to levels they did not know existed. Most of them from humble backgrounds took to the IPL and what it stood for like pigeons to water and all would have been well except that proximity to money fuelled at least two of those seven deadly sins: greed and lust. And here we are, with daily stories about the antics of those supposedly playing cricket, our noses wrinkled up in disdain, our eyebrows raised in dismay, our voices laced with disbelief: “how can they do this, how can they sell us and our country out”. We all act as if we had not heard it before, but just after the spot-fixing story broke, this columnist pulled out past clippings of news surrounding the IPL and it was all there. Women, money, parties, politics, nastiness, along with fixing matches for a sum that has hit the IPL a little harder this time around. In other words, the soup was being cooked, only the last ingredient has now been added. And this was so potent that the pressure cooker has burst, staining all those involved in the league.
Memory is short, but new records are being set today with many having conveniently forgotten that the BCCI had taken control of the IPL in India. Big ticket deals were struck, money started pouring in with the BCCI worthies too star and money-struck to restore some level of decorum and decency. All the names associated with the cricketing world would make sad comments about rave parties, or sexual escapades, knowing fully well that they would do nothing to check the dirt that had attached itself to the IPL.
The financiers and the ruthless bookies played the cricketers like a song. Cricket was dressed up to resemble a Bollywood set with the players being treated as successful actors. The IPL was no longer just cricket; it was entertainment with Bollywood stars, models, music, drugs, parties all rolled into one. And no one, repeat no one, seemed to want to do anything about this.
Serious cricketers, long retired, were critical as were many sports writers. But such is the atmosphere of wealth in Delhi, that they were dismissed by the majority — including media houses as their owners/editors were part of the select glittering classes — as being too cynical, or just losers who were critical because they could not get the spoils. The result is that good advice from cricket commentators were ignored and those who dared agree with them dubbed ‘old-fashioned’. The sport is evolving, was the argument, and people have the patience only to sit through the IPL’sTwenty20s.
The crassness surrounding the IPL has finally exploded, and at the moment, everyone is rushing for cover. The Delhi police claims that it has uncovered only part of the grime and this has certainly acted as a dampener. It remains to be seen whether the investigation will be fair and free, and whether all involved (including the politicians) will be held accountable. Somehow, in Delhi, investigations die out after the first flush of success and publicity, as vested interests and linkages come into play to ensure that just the tip of the iceberg is revealed. A second round of deals are then struck at levels not visible to the naked eye and the story disappears as suddenly as it had emerged. The media, of course, does not believe in follow-ups, and all in the spotlight today know that it is just a question of hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass.
This is because there is no interest in ensuring that the system is institutionalised to a point where scamsters are not able to avoid the law. And not just this, that along with the police and legal work, the system is made accountable and a cleansing operation takes place so that such scams do not occur again. The BCCI, which seems to be compromised too, will have to critically examine the IPL, tear down the edifice of glitz and restore cricket as a respectable sport. It is a tall order and it does seem that after its first meeting following the spot-fixing details coming to light, the BCCI does not seem to be particularly interested in taking drastic action to stem the rot. Homilies cannot be a substitute for action, and at the moment, there seems to be no indication that anyone in authority is actually interested in restoring cricket as a sport and not as a money, women, drugs spinner that it seems to have become.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2013.