Indian Premier League April 16, 2008

Crass discrimination

The IPL's severe restrictions on Cricinfo will not prevent the website from covering the tournament to the best of its ability

The IPL's outrageous regulations are a brazen assault on the concept of freedom of the press by a sports body apparently drunk on its sense of power © AFP

Our worst fears have come to pass. Cricinfo, and all other cricket websites, who serve millions of cricket fans, have been subjected to a crassly discriminatory set of regulations by the Indian Premier League that seek to severely undermine our ability to cover the event. Cricinfo's journalists have been barred from entering the press box, and it has been made clear that agencies will not be able to sell us match pictures.

It is not merely a denial of our basic rights as a media organisation and with nearly ten million readers, we can lay claim to be the world's largest cricket media organisation. It is a denial of the rights of every cricket fan, each one of you who follows cricket on Cricinfo. It is also a brazen assault on the concept of freedom of the press by a sports body apparently drunk on its sense of power.

The IPL's attitude towards the media has been insolent from the outset. They began with the premise that they owned every photograph taken by press photographers and agencies at their matches, and by demanding that news organisations hand such photographs over to the IPL for perpetual use, free of cost. They also decreed how photographs ought to be used, how many could be used, and who could use them.

Inevitably, their bluff was called. Faced with a media boycott, the IPL was forced into withdrawing, one by one, its obnoxious clauses. Lalit Modi, to whom must go the credit of conceiving the IPL, and with it these outrageous regulations, had apparently not reckoned with the clout of newspapers. But websites remain a soft target. There are only a few of us dedicated to cricket, and we don't feature on the political map.

The reason advanced to keep us out couldn't be more spurious - and potentially more dangerous. It has been argued that "standalone cricket portals" will not be entertained at the ground and be allowed to use agency pictures because the IPL has sold its web rights. What next? Newspaper rights? News agency rights? Photo rights? Surely, freedom of the press can't be a partial and expedient device. Speciously, websites run by newspapers, and general-interest websites have been exempted. Only we, the ones who spend all their energy and resources in covering cricket, have been isolated and targeted.

Our commitment to cover cricket is absolute, as is our obligation to you. We will try to bring you every game with the same rigour and depth you have come to expect from us

It has been argued that what we do conflict with the IPL's commercial interests. In other words, as long as we are around, as long as cricket fans see us as the most comprehensive and credible source for news, views and scores for cricket, the BCCI's ambitions for its own website are unlikely to be fulfilled. They are missing something important here: Independence and credibility are vital ingredients for any media organisation. A cricket board can not be expected to rise above its own interests.

Of course, we have commercial interests. We provide a free service to cricket fans, but like all media organisations we accept advertisements. However, covering cricket is more than just a business proposition for us. Cricinfo was founded on passion and that spirit remains untouched. To us, covering cricket is much more than a business, it's an obligation to the game and to the millions of readers who rely on us. We cover cricket in Kenya and Bermuda; and in India, we go considerable lengths to cover domestic cricket, that impoverished and uncared-for cousin, with no expectation of returns other than the satisfaction of having served cricket. This, of course, might be beyond the comprehension of those who cannot see the game beyond the rights it offers.

Sport and the media have always enjoyed a mutually profitable relationship. Media promotes sport, sport helps sell papers, boost viewership and page-views. Neither can prosper in denial. The IPL's misbegotten agenda of restricting the rights of the media was born out of short-sightedness and arrogance. It is a relief that wiser counsel has prevailed in most matters.

We will live with the restrictions. You may keep us out of cricket grounds, but you can't take cricket out of us. Boycotting the IPL is not an option for us. Our commitment to cover cricket is absolute, as is our obligation to you. We are not blind to the significance of the IPL, which could be a seminal event in cricket, for better or worse. We will try to bring you every game with the same rigour and depth you have come to expect from us. Please bear with us if some matters like photographs are beyond us.

No one is bigger than the game. Administrators will come and go, but as long as cricket is around, Cricinfo will be here to cover it. That's a promise.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • AJITH on April 19, 2008, 10:11 GMT

    I dont know why Lalit Modi, is being given the credit for conceiving the IPL. If ICL hadnt started, I am sure Modi wouldnt have the faintest idea about starting this piece of crap.

    Sambit, why is is ICL is not being given main page coverage but IPL is? I was struggling to find out what was happening in the ICL!

  • Chiranjeevi on April 18, 2008, 21:58 GMT

    Dear Mr. Bal, I would have agreed with every sentence in your article and concurred with the same if not for the existence - or non-existence, now, on your main web page - of an entity called the 'Indian Cricket League'. Till yesterday, there was at least a link to news about this League on the left hand column of the main web page on your website, but now, even that's gone! What's happening here?! Ok, the ICL has been ostracized by BCCI and their friends... but what has happened to you guys?! To say that I have been highly disappointed by Cricinfo, a website that's the homepage on all my computers & phone, would be an understatement! Clearly, you guys at Cricinfo are not angels any more and can't claim that you are doing ample - forget about equal(!) - justice to the rebel league as an independent media organization, or whatever you claim yourself to be. Then why whine about how Mr. Modi runs his business?! Please get your perspective right before pointing fingers at others.

  • Ravi on April 18, 2008, 11:55 GMT

    Sambit, I posted an action plan based on some good ideas gleaned from mine and everyone else's comments here. All subject to legality of course so that no one gets into trouble. Any reason why you decided to hold that one back? Looks to me like you're complaining about suppression of free media one hand and suppressing free speech on the other. Am I missing something?

  • Chris on April 18, 2008, 5:32 GMT

    I think the saying goes, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Whilst the majority of observers agree World Series Cricket was good for cricket overall, one gets a sense that what we are seeing here will benefit no one but the BCCI.

    No matter what country we come from, cricketinfo represents a common ground all can meet and share freely opinions and thoughts on this beautiful game. Surely even an organisation that has shown such integrity,fairness and moral standing over the last 6 months, the BCCI, would not take this away from us??

  • A on April 18, 2008, 3:59 GMT

    Arrogance at its best. No, I am not taking of BCCI but of Sambit Bal.

    Totally fallacious arguments that have no basis at all.

    By the same arguments above - all of us fervent cricket lovers should be allowed to watch the game in the stadium for free because ... we have a large family of cricket lovers at home and they really depend on us to tell them every detail of the game.

    Cricinfo had a choice to bid and win the internet rights but chose not do so and now wants to get the same rights as the winner. The reason - because more people come to this website.

    The days of socialism are long gone. Get used to some competition.

  • Harikrishnan on April 18, 2008, 3:23 GMT

    As SreenathJ indicated, why is the ICL not covered on Does ICL have media restrictions in place which enables to restrict online presence of ICL? Does ESPN being the parent of and Zee Sports being the parent of ICL have anything to do with the coverage (or lack of it) on ICL?

  • Imran on April 18, 2008, 2:56 GMT

    Re: It probably doesn't matter though. Come Cinderella Hour [8pm in this case], the game of cricket will change forever.

    Dileep Premachandran is associate editor of Cricinfo, and Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo in Bangalore


    And that folks sums it up. Even cricinfo has fallen for this "cinderalla".

    How pathetic.

  • Pravin on April 17, 2008, 15:09 GMT

    Those like us who have been following cricinfo for many years now can feel the anguish you must be feeling. And the quality of coverage by Cricinfo can't be matched by any other site or newspaper ever. I dont think even if you guys report off the TV Telecast, it will be diminished any bit. Cricinfos analysis and comprehensive reports cannot be replicated.

  • Crookedknight on April 17, 2008, 14:15 GMT

    I congratulate many readers here for questioning Cricinfo's morals. What an article, Sambit!! Could have been a speech by JFK! But, you need to work equally hard on answering the readers here about your (non)coverage of ICL. I was one of those who wanted to read about these games.

  • Dave on April 17, 2008, 13:56 GMT

    As compared with other single-sport websites I frequent, I have found cricinfo's coverage to be balanced and authoritative (though not as easy to navigate).

    It's some years now since I subscribed to any newspaper. Following web-based coverage just fits more easily with my lifestyle.

    It's a shame that IPL look set to restrict the coverage which cricinfo can offer, and I hold that as a black mark against an organisation which has set up an interesting-looking competition.

    I shall still follow the initial competition on TV. I hope, however, that IPL realise very soon that allowing cricinfo the same access as is allowed to more traditional news organisations can only benefit IPL, and the people who love cricket.

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