Cricket in the time of terror
Organisers of two major sporting events in India are currently having to live up to the standards expected of them. It is a by-product of building a reputation, for that then becomes the benchmark. Accordingly the IPL is grappling with a variety of issues, from threats of disruption to threats to life. In its first two years, the IPL set standards of excellence in organisation and now it must match those or risk creating disillusionment.
At the other end, the organisers of the Commonwealth Games set the performance bar as low as possible; so low in fact that it is difficult to slip under it. But since reputations must be defended, they periodically accomplish even this daunting task. In the melee that will inevitably result, hopefully they will get by, but they are testing the just-in-time principle that is so dear to management gurus.
Sadly, however, India, and people dealing with India, must realise that we live increasingly in an environment of uncertainty. The English Premier League knows when Manchester United will play Chelsea in the 2010-11 season. They don't realise how blessed they are to be able to do that. Twenty-two days before the IPL opener there could still be changes to the schedule as political turmoil and the inevitable whiff of terrorism come calling. It is an unhappy situation and it calls for different approaches.
That is why we in India must not just budget for chaos but learn to revel in it. As the air grows more sinister, as forces of evil group together in the name of religion and freedom, we have to think on our feet. It is an unhappy but inevitable way of life, and that is why the IPL needs to have, not just a Plan B but a Plan C and a Plan D. And that is where in their little existence - remember the IPL is still but a baby - they have been so good. You might get the feeling that they are autocratic, audacious, even arrogant, but sometimes you need to drive your way through chaos; you cannot get stuck in it.
It might be Telangana today, Shiv Sena yesterday and tomorrow, but those are minor impediments. They might throw stones, disrupt traffic; at worst, dig up a pitch. Their danger does not extend too much further because all they seek is political mileage (as an aside, it must be a strange situation where disruption is seen as a way to earn mileage). But they will not maim or kill innocent people, they will not use rocket launchers or set off bombs. The danger to the IPL does not come from them. You have to plan for them, walk a tightrope, even give them the nuisance value they crave, but the enemy is elsewhere. If part of the organisation of a major event involves protecting lives, the world is grim. And yet the IPL and the Commonwealth Games must survive in this atmosphere (though the organisers of the Games create their own chaos rather than wait for someone else to deliver it).
In spite of it all, sport needs to exist, to flourish because it is one of the few things that brings a smile through honest efforts; whether it is football in Africa, cricket in Afghanistan. Or indeed, the IPL in India, which needs to succeed because a consumer-centric, privately driven enterprise has to be seen to be working. It is no different from the English premiership, and yet, strangely, in spite of its dubious owners, the EPL is applauded and the IPL thumbed down. Eventually the EPL delivers great entertainment, even if John Terry is in the news more for what he did with his former colleague's former partner than for his prowess in Chelsea's defence.
The IPL seeks to entertain, too, and that is why it needs to be strong. Cricket must evolve and the IPL, and the Indian consumer, is at the heart of this evolution. I must admit there are aspects to the IPL I disagree with. The commercial intrusion through "strategy" breaks and different nomenclature for boundaries for example. But eventually it brings a smile. I hope it is not disrupted. I hope no sport is disrupted, for there is no greater feel-good factor in the world we are in, and are heading into.
Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer