April 20, 2010

The crisis the IPL needed

The controversy surrounding the league is a chance for the Indian board to set its house in order

It's ironic that the Indian Premier League's most compelling week, cricket-wise, has been overshadowed by events off the field. But it is perhaps appropriate. In the noise and the din that the IPL has generated, cricket has often felt like a sideshow. From the very beginning, the IPL's creators have chosen to measure its success on the yardsticks of money, clout and glitz; and the attendant side-effects are now threatening the future of the league. There is no pleasure in saying it, but there has always been an inevitability about this.

The coming days may tell how deep the malaise runs and how far-reaching its impact will be, but for everyone in a position of power in Indian cricket, this is a moment of truth. That the matter was precipitated by two Twitter-happy protagonists lends it a touch of caricature, but the questions it raises about the governance of cricket by the game's most powerful, and important, organisation, go far beyond Lalit Modi.

The allegations against Modi are serious. They have been made by a stake-holder in the IPL, and on the front page of a leading business newspaper in India; each day the papers carry, in stark detail, fresh allegations of collusion, cover-ups, and underhand patronage.

But no evidence has been offered yet to back these, so that's what they remain, allegations. Government agencies will go about their investigations at a pace of their choosing. And Modi must, as he has threatened, sue to clear his name if he has been wronged. But it is now incumbent on the BCCI to not only investigate the specific allegations but turn the whole affair into a broad self-enquiry. And fast.

The entire system, and not one person, stands complicit if things have gone wrong. Modi's profile, self-created and obsessively nurtured, makes him the most visible target, and his brusque manner has earned him some powerful enemies, but who allowed him to acquire the omnipotence that he has been perceived to have?

In that, this is both a wake-up call and an opportunity. Certainly, the BCCI, and the IPL governing council, have men in their ranks capable of the task. Both Shashank Manohar, the BCCI president, and Arun Jaitley, are lawyers; N Srinivasan, the board's secretary, runs a huge business of his own; in MAK Pataudi, Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri, they have three former cricketers of considerable repute. But will there be the will?

In the best case, the IPL has been a cosy club. In the worst, it is collusion of self-interest. Srinivasan owns a franchise; Gavaskar and Shastri also have commentary contracts with BCCI and the IPL, apart from being influential columnists in newspapers; the chairman of the national selection committee is a brand ambassador for a franchise. And this is merely what is publicly known. Whispers abound about proxy ownerships, offshore deals, relatives and friends. Even more than will, does the governing council have the credibility?

It is likely that an expedient solution will be found. Those familiar with the Indian political system, and indeed any political system, will know the broad contours of this. A politician besieged by a controversy is often banished to temporary obscurity before the inevitable rehabilitation. It is possible that some positions and power equations will change in the IPL. Modi may even lose both his positions, or have his influence curtailed. But all that will be a fudge.

It shouldn't be forgotten that without Modi's enterprise and drive, the IPL wouldn't have come into being. That he was allowed to run it as an oligarchy is a indictment of the system

Nothing will be gained from merely finding a fall guy. If it is considered a good idea to carry on with the IPL, it shouldn't be forgotten that without Modi's enterprise and drive, the tournament wouldn't have come into being. That he was allowed to run an oligarchy is a indictment of the system. That is what the BCCI needs to address.

At one level, they must conduct a thorough, transparent investigation, involving professional agencies if required, which either allows those charged with impropriety or financial misconduct to be punished adequately, or walk away with their heads high. But more importantly, they must seek to establish a system with in-built checks and balances, where deals are struck transparently and accountability is not merely a notion.

Without doubt, the IPL is the single most significant development in the game since World Series Cricket, and the changes it has brought about have been even more seminal. Even the direst IPL sceptics will not deny its sway over a growing number of fans, whose sole interest in cricket centres around the IPL. Sports must take care of their followers, and the IPL has built itself a massive constituency.

But a far more fundamental question confronts the BCCI. It is an age-old question. Does, and should, a sport exist to make money, or should it make money to exist?

For over a decade, India has been a country in a hurry. Economic growth has been robust, and its relative immunity from the global recession proved that it has acquired internal strengths. It is a country bustling with entrepreneurial energy and ambition. In many ways, the IPL is symbolic of India's growth and the desire to stamp its will on the world.

However, to a great extent the IPL has also been overrun by its eagerness to measure up, in financial terms, to sports leagues that have been around for years and have had the opportunity to grow organically. Its value has been driven up by speculation rather than sound business logic. Everything surrounding it has been marked by excesses. And at many levels its growth has seemed both unreal and unsustainable.

Seen in that light, this is crisis that the IPL needed. How well it is used will decide its future.

Sambit Bal is the editor of Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on April 23, 2010, 0:26 GMT

    Don't kill the hen, if hen gives you golden egg. Beware hen can become tsunami and will drown many vultures and leeches with her. When the flood of tsunami comes only poor gets affected. Modi might be hen, you decide who the vultures and leeches are. There is more TRP of IPL ownership controversy than IPL itself. What a troll by media. Media has never learned then.

  • Harish on April 23, 2010, 0:06 GMT

    Its a shame that Tharoor and Modi are nailed and that Pawar and Patel are let off. Just proves that a witchhunt orchestrated by the Centre and abetted by the media is going on.

  • Sundeep on April 22, 2010, 22:37 GMT

    Great article. This episode will be viewed as a vantage point in the history of the game of cricket. This can be used to clean up the system and push it forward. And I think IPL has emerged as one of the barometers of Indian economy - the sheer consumption it generates makes it worthwhile for the country.

  • ash on April 22, 2010, 22:34 GMT

    Well said, "For over a decade, India has been a country in a hurry." Despite being of Indian origin, my experience has been that the current generation Indians (who are successful) are by nature arrogant and overrated. Indeed as the author says, "In many ways, the IPL is symbolic of India's growth"; I will like to add that its rise and fall is a harbinger of India's economic growth. The country and its people must first imbibe basic values like transparency, honesty and integrity before long term growth and success are truly possible.

  • True on April 22, 2010, 21:18 GMT

    Good article! I personally feel that Modi must be punished if he finds guilty. He unnecessarily tried to pinpoint other team's faults and the double edged sword finally turned to him. Also, I don't believe that Modi made IPL successful. People in India make the cricket matches successful!

    Bottom Line: For any event to be successful, there must be a passionate audience!

  • Mainuddin on April 22, 2010, 15:32 GMT

    If BCCI removes Lalit Modi from his post, I will never watch a single IPL match again. Modi has taken IPL to enormous heights, and as soon as he leaves, IPL will become nothing more than a Ranji Trophy run by BCCI.

  • krishnaKarthik on April 22, 2010, 14:35 GMT

    In that this controversy highlights the misdeeds in the Indian cricketing system itself, of which the IPL is a byproduct, this is a much needed wake-up call. But instead of being the cleansing influence, in all likelihood, this controversy too, will be "contained", so that the damage will be limited, and things will continue to go on as usual. And thus the story goes....

  • bharat on April 22, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    A vehicle to mix glamour with sport the IPL has has taken cricket to levels that only five years ago was unimaginable. However what no one realised is the immense damage that it would the sport in the long run. Those who think that the IPL is a breeding ground for the next generation of cricketers is sadly mistaken. Anything that is driven and owned privately has one and one motive only and that is profit in any way possible, this today is the sad state of the IPL. Those who watch the premier league are fearfull that it will kill itseld with the over exagerated wages played to the players this is going to be the same case with the IPL. Common sense is one attribute that the BCCI has been short on for a long time but privatising cricket in the form of owner franchises is one mistake they are going to regret big time!! If this is what they wanted to do then why didnt they turn the current Ranji teams into a domestic 20-20 league by allowing those teams to hire players? The reason money!

  • ranganathan on April 22, 2010, 11:07 GMT

    When the First IPL game took off and when Laliit Modi was talking through his hat, heady and brash with his statements after the success as though he was the owner of Cricket and he was the ultimate , I strongly predicted that this fellow will fall very soon and that has happened now. Disgrace to Modi and he deserves this.

    Though IPL is interesting it has definitely damaged Cricket by diluting it with money and glamour. Controlled and well governed body above Politics is the need of the hour.

  • Sanjeev on April 22, 2010, 9:49 GMT

    We finally see a rational and logical look at the ongoing scenario. What the bloodthirsty Indian media fails to see is that this is something that goes beyond Lalit Modi and the BCCI. The IPL all said and done has been fantastic for world cricket and nobody apart from Lalit Modi could have pushed it up to the dizzying heights it has reached today. What remains to be seen is if now, with the changes that seem imminent, are the BCCI and government 'vultures' simply waiting for it to fall apart so that they can rush in to pick up the peices or would they be looking at putting in place a more transparent, common man friendly system to ensure that what is fast growing into an excellent breeding ground for fresh talent is sustained?

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