It is amazing to me that the Indian Premier League (IPL), which climaxes on Sunday night, is still around, leave alone a smash hit. A more corrupt, incestuous and crony-driven sports league is difficult to imagine. One doesn’t even have to demonstrate these accusations, merely turn over what is already on record.
So where to begin to understand it? Let’s start with its founder. Still absconding, refusing to return to India (his life is under threat, he says) and face the law on questions of corruption and team ownership. Of all the stories on Lalit Modi, however, the most interesting was one reported in The Indian Express. He wrote to the then minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor asking him to reject a visa extension to a fetching 23-year-old South African model, and keep her out of India. Tharoor told him to stuff it, but why was Modi upset with her? He wouldn’t comment and I wish he had returned to answer that.
Pettiness of this scale in great men is always fascinating. Before fleeing, Modi forced Sony to pay $80 million (around Rs.440 crore) as a “facilitation fee” (can’t they come up with less obvious names?) from a firm of which his boss Sharad Pawar’s son-in-law owned a piece. What happened to that one? We have put it behind us. Another scam is always prepared to take centre stage at the IPL.
A firm that Pawar invested in later tried to buy a team, without disclosing his interest as The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) chief. When it was discovered, he said the bid happened without his knowledge. Of course. Why should his minions bother King Pawar over a thousand crores? This sort of a story is normal in the IPL and there’s always excitement elsewhere in the circus. Two of its teams, Deccan Chargers and Kochi Tuskers, are gone.
Two other teams, Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab, faced charges of violating foreign exchange regulations and misinformation on who owned what. Punjab went to court, which asked the parties to settle, and settle they did. Settle is what the BCCI does best.
Rajasthan was fined Rs.100 crore in February. Such behaviour in IPL teams appears to be the norm. Espncricinfo reported that the enforcement directorate “has issued almost 24 show cause notices, amounting to Rs.2,000 crore, under FEMA (Foreign Exchange Management Act) against various IPL franchises and the BCCI.”
Now, one team is owned by India’s most mercenary political family, the Karunanidhi-Marans. I am waiting for news from that side. The Karunanidhi-Marans never disappoint. The poor franchisees are, of course, at the mercy of the real villain, the BCCI, according to the Competition Commission of India (CCI), which remarked that their contracts were entirely one-sided.
Meanwhile, the current BCCI boss N. Srinivasan also owns a team in a tournament he is supposed to be supervising neutrally. He bends the rules to favour his Chennai Super Kings, according to the other teams, who whine to the press but are too cowed to say it publicly. In 2010, he arm-twisted Rajasthan from taking Andrew Flintoff, a player he wanted. PTI reported this email from Modi to Srinivasan: “What a nightmare to convince them not to terminate (Sohail) Tanvir and also not to take Flintoff. Warne went off the handle. But have managed it by using stick and carrot strategy. Thus they have USD 1.875mn. Much love Lalit”.
PTI added: “This is not the first time that Srinivasan has found himself in a controversy. A few days back, the BCCI secretary was accused of ‘fixing’ umpires for Chennai Super Kings matches during the IPL.”
This year, the BCCI chief agreed to having Sri Lanka’s players banned from his city rather than lose home-ground revenue. In February, the BCCI was fined Rs.52 crore for being guilty of abuse and rigging in the award of franchises. They had rigged the award of television rights too, and “the first meeting of tender committee was postponed from 11am to 1pm in order to facilitate and allow WSG and Sony to form a consortium,” says the CCI.
Why aren’t our cricketers talking about this corruption? There’s good reason. Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, India’s most senior commentators, are each paid Rs.3.6 crore a year by the BCCI. This is not the money they get for commentary by Sony. That is extra.
The IPL panders to the bigotry and extreme prejudice of Indians. Professional sportsmen are banned and boycotted for no reason other than their nationality. First Pakistani and now Lankan. Cheerleaders are picked for their race. No blacks are on display and I blame the racist crowds for that.
The cricket is also corrupt. Last season, five IPL players were suspended for fixing matches after a sting operation. This year, S. Sreesanth and two others went after another fixing scandal. Why should they be left out when the organizers, team owners, commentators, broadcasters and all the rest are doing it?
India’s third-rate advertising industry has ruined for spectators what remained of the cricket with its intrusive, kindergarten-quality work.
I don’t want to ruin the experience for those who will tune in on Sunday and actually find entertainment in this sad and sorry mess. But come on.
Aakar Patel is a writer and a columnist.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns