Many decades ago, my little brother and i used to spend our evenings in neighbourhood parks, where we played only one game: cricket. We watched every Test match on TV. We idolised the players and tore up sports magazines to put our heroes’ pictures in our room walls. We used to scavenge used soft-drink bottle caps for months to win a silly flipper book which, when flipped, animated a player’s stroke play. We weren’t alone, almost every kid in class behaved the same way. Not much has changed since. Indians are still hooked to their favourite game, which is both a passion and addiction.
A couple of centuries ago, the British entered China with a unique strategy. They had the population hooked to opium. The British had a monopoly on the drug, which they grew in India. The Chinese population couldn’t have enough of it. That single monopoly was enough to change the entire geopolitics of the area. This dodgy trade eventually led to several wars. Of course, cricket isn’t exactly opium. Opium was actually bad for people and turned the population unproductive. Cricket doesn’t have the same negative effects.
The IPL was, after all, the new hit drug. A quick fix of sixes and other sexy things, without the boring bits that made up the actual game. In fact, India didn’t even have to win against another country to get high on this one. Indians lapped it up, advertisers supported it and the party was on.
ut then came the big money, then the powerful people and then the murkiness. The party could have continued, if they followed the first rule of running a cartel: keep a low profile. However, just like Denzel Washington in American Gangster, who wore a flashy fur coat that did him in, a few brash tweets happened. What followed was the explosion called the IPL controversy, which frankly is far more interesting than watching those silly quickie matches whose outcome depends more on randomness than the actual talent of players. IPL already had mixed cricket and Bollywood, now it had politics too. What more could Indians ask for from India’s biggest reality show? Too bad the IPL didn’t sell the controversy rights beforehand. It would have been a better source of income than the ‘chat up the cheerleader’ helpline (no kidding, there is such a service).
While this is interesting drama, there is no denying the pressing need to clean up BCCI. For even though the game is a national passion, it doesn’t have to be operated like a drug cartel. BCCI has repeatedly shied away from disclosure, citing itself as a private entity. However, it isn’t completely private either, especially since it has monopoly rights over something consumed by a large number of people. It earns from franchise owners and television networks. They in turn recover their money from advertisers, who ultimately pass on advertising costs to consumers, built into the price of products. Thus, the consumers, or the Indian people, pay for BCCI. And since it is a monopoly, we have every right to question their finances. How does BCCI price its rights? Where is BCCI money going? That is the real issue, and the current controversy is a chance to tackle it head on.
Before the limelight shifts to another drama, the media and lawmakers have a chance to go after this completely feudal and archaic way of managing something as pure and simple as sport. Individuals are less important than changing the way things work. What needs to be at the forefront is sport are we using the money to help develop it in the country?
We don’t have to turn Indian cricket into a non-commercial NGO, for that is doomed to fail. It is fine to commercially harness the game. However, if you are exploiting a national passion, getting funded by Indian people, it only makes sense that the money is accounted for and utilised for the best benefits of sport in the country.
For if there is less opaqueness, there won’t be any need to make influential calls or petty things like personality clashes affecting the outcome of any bidding process. If we know where the money is going, there is less chance of murkiness entering the picture. Accountability does not mean excessive regulation or a lack of autonomy. It simply means proper audited accounts, disclosures, corporate governance practices, norms to regulate the monopoly and even specific data on the improvement in sporting standards achieved in the country.
If a young Indian child grows up seeing cricket as yet another example of India’s rich and powerful treating the country as their fiefdom, it won’t be a good thing. Let’s clean up the mess and treat cricket as it is supposed to be a good sport.