Ed Smith
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Former England, Kent and Middlesex batsman; writer for the New Statesman

What the IPL can learn from Champions League football

One of these tournaments is rich, revered and rigorous in its demand for high standards. It's not the cricket one

Ed Smith

May 29, 2013

Comments: 75 | Text size: A | A

Arjen Robben lifts the trophy after Bayern's victory, Bayern Munich v Borussia Dortmund, Champions League final, Wembley, May 25, 2012
Every good footballer wants a Champions League title in his resume. That can't be said about cricketers and the IPL © VI-Images via Getty Images
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Simple question: which game is more likely to be fixed, the football Champions League final, or an IPL match?

I've asked many sports fans that question. Every one has answered without hesitation: the IPL match. It would be deeply shocking if the Champions League final were fixed. And yet most cricket insiders reacted without any surprise at all to the arrest of three Rajasthan players. Disentangling the differences between modern football's showcase event and today's richest cricket league will tell us why the IPL has been so vulnerable to corruption.

When writing about corruption in the IPL, it is easy accidentally to offend people on several levels. So we should guard against the lazy assumption that all Twenty20 is rotten, especially as the current case against three Rajasthan players has yet to be heard. Secondly, we should always remember that corruption in cricket is not limited to one geographical zone. After all, the young English fast bowler Mervyn Westfield was convicted of conspiring to underperform in a county match.

Having (hopefully) avoided those familiar traps, let me now take a risk all of my own making. My argument will probably offend cricket fans of many different persuasions, ranging from conservatives who hate Twenty20 to modernisers who can't get enough of cricket's new-found razzmatazz.

Here is my controversial thesis: to avoid further corruption, cricket must learn to be more like football. Cricket fans often look down on football as brash and populist. But the evolution of modern football has a great deal to teach cricket. Why?

In football, players care most about the most lucrative leagues; in cricket, players care more about international cricket, but earn infinitely more in the IPL.

In football, celebrity does not allow players to cling on well past their best; in the IPL, a big name still buys you a role in the show.

In football, money mirrors quality; in cricket, financial incentives and sporting prestige are poorly correlated.

The real problem with the IPL is a fatal combination of two deficits. First, the discrepancy between the money players can earn over a few weeks of providing entertainment in the IPL and the income they earn over a year of hard struggle in the international calendar. Secondly, the gap in seriousness between top flight international cricket and the circus of various T20 leagues. It is not "money" that is the problem. It is money divorced from seriousness. Football is serious business. Is Twenty20 a serious business? The jury is still out.

When Arjen Robben scored the winner for Bayern Munich in the Champions League final, he described the experience as the pinnacle of world football. Bearing in mind that Robben has also played in a World Cup final, Robben's reaction is telling testimony of the shifting balance of power within football. In terms of sporting quality and prestige, club football may well have supplanted international competition.

 
 
It is not "money" that is the problem. It is money divorced from seriousness. Football is serious business. Is Twenty20 a serious business?
 

If you are a great footballer, you earn a good portion of your reputation in the Champions League. The league has no tolerance for ageing superstars who are past their best; no one gets on the pitch on reputation alone. Fans don't cheer for famous players deep into their declining years; they applaud winners. If you want to be regarded among the best, you have to cut it in Europe.

And yet the Champions League is a business that makes big money for clubs, players and broadcasters. But in doing so, it has also raised the standard and standing of football. It is not a cynical money-making device that exploits football of questionable quality as a circus act. It is a superb league that also, as a happy by-product, makes money for everyone involved.

The exponential growth of football as a business has been reflected in its quality as a sport. The on-field spectacle is better now than it ever has been before. The vast rewards on offer in the Champions League have not poisoned it or made it vulnerable to corruption - quite the reverse. The Champions League is a case of professional evolution working out to the advantage of the whole game.

Keep the example of the Champions League in your mind as we turn towards the IPL. Did anyone on the pitch in the IPL final believe that that it was cricket's ultimate prize? Did any player think he was competing for the most precious trophy in the game has to offer? Alternatively, did they view it as a final performance of a long theatrical tour? And how many of the IPL's older stars calculate that no one will remember anything about this epilogue to their careers, that their reputations are already secure thanks to their efforts in international cricket? Vast income without accompanying reputational risk is a lethal combination.

Many shrewd judges have explored vulnerability of the IPL to match-fixing. Ed Hawkins, author of Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy has pointed out that the structure of the competition - a yearly auction, high player mobility, a lack of player loyalty to franchises - reinforces the idea that it is primarily a money-making vehicle, a cash cow in which every man is for himself. Secondly, during the first two seasons, there was no oversight of the IPL by the ICC's anti-corruption unit.

It is less often pointed out that culture is at least as important as regulation. Expecting regulators and police to solve cricket's problems absolves the game's practitioners of responsibility. Players and administrators also have to guard the sport's integrity.

In the 18th century, the precursors of the London Stock Exchange were the informal exchanges in coffee shops. They developed their own systems of rules and enforcement. Those who didn't settle their accounts were "named and shamed" by their peers and labelled "lame duck".

The most effective policing comes from within the culture. Ask yourself: if a footballer threw a Champions League final, do you think his team-mates would put up with him the following season? When you can say the same about the IPL, the league will be clean.

Ed Smith's book, Luck - A Fresh Look at Fortune, is out in paperback now. He tweets here

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Posted by jay57870 on (June 1, 2013, 12:25 GMT)

"The Beautiful Game" is not so beautiful! Football's top governing body - FIFA - is plagued by corruption scandals: bid-rigging of World Cup contracts, vote-rigging, bribery & more! Corruption in club football too is ugly. Italy's biggest clubs - including Juventus (its oldest & most successful) - were implicated in the 2006 "Calciopoli" scandal. Like Europol, Italian police uncovered a network of team officials & referees involved in match-rigging. Disgraced Juventus was stripped of 2 league titles, demoted & barred from 2006-7 CL. Beauty is only skin-deep! Really football & cricket are like apples & oranges. A young IPL is going through growing pains. Spot-fixing is dreadful like acne, but treatable. To make a mountain out of a mole-hill is "lazy" writing! Like beauty, "culture" too is in the eyes of the beholder. If LSE can call out its "lame ducks", IPL can do better with due process for its "ugly ducklings"! The beauty contest final winner: IPL & cricket! It's no contest, Ed!

Posted by jay57870 on (June 1, 2013, 4:08 GMT)

Ed - Can IPL learn from Champions League football? Seriously? Recently Europol uncovered a huge match-fixing syndicate after 18 months of investigation. Per BBC Sports, it covered 680 matches worldwide of which 380 were in Europe. Shockingly the suspected matches included 2 CL ties, World Cup & European Championship qualifiers & several top European League matches. Reportedly it included a CL fixture (no pun intended) in England between Liverpool & Debrecen of Hungary. The probe revealed widespread corruption among players, referees, team officials & criminals in 15 countries: The biggest match-fixing scam ever! Why, football has "shrewd judges" too! The Oxford-educated Canadian journalist & consultant - Dr Declan Hill - is a world-renowned expert in match-fixing & corruption in international sports. His investigative reporting was used in the Europol probe. His book "The Fix: Soccer and Organized Crime" tells it all: Check it out, your pro-football views might change, Ed!

Posted by Harmony111 on (May 30, 2013, 19:45 GMT)

Wow the author here compares a 6-7 year old league with a league that is decades old? Moreover, the IPL is just a domestic league while the Champions League is where League champions form all Europe compete. How could the author miss this simple point? I am not exactly a football follower so may be wrong in what I say for CL. County Cricket has been here since god knows when but who cares for it? Yet the author wants IPL to boot strap itself to the top shelf.

Another thing is, be it Intl Football or EPL or CL, the format of football remains the same. The rules remain the same too. Cricket has 3 formats and IPL follows the newest and the shortest one. Thus how can he compare IPL/Cricket to CL?

Finally, can there be a thing like spot fixing in football? I guess no. Corruption in cricket arose due to the very nature of the game along with the greed of some.

Posted by Harmony111 on (May 30, 2013, 19:38 GMT)

Wow the author here compares a 6-7 year old league with a league that is decades old? Moreover, the IPL is just a domestic league while the Champions League is where League champions form all Europe compete. How could the author miss this simple point? I am not exactly a football follower so may be wrong in what I say for CL. County Cricket has been here since god knows when but who cares for it? Yet the author wants IPL to boot strap itself to the top shelf.

Another thing is, be it Intl Football or EPL or CL, the format of football remains the same. The rules remain the same too. Cricket has 3 formats and IPL follows the newest and the shortest one. Thus how can he compare IPL/Cricket to CL?

Finally, can there be a thing like spot fixing in football? I guess no. Corruption in cricket arose due to the very nature of the game along with the greed of some.

Posted by   on (May 30, 2013, 15:25 GMT)

Leave along European football league, I think its unfair to compare a 6 year old competition with more than 100 years of test cricket itself. Champion's league is most sought after title, because fans consider it so. Cricket fans at the moment think of Test championship and ODI WC to be greater achievement. It wont stay like this for long. A new generation of fans is taking over, which will follow their IPL teams and care for who plays in it. The big stars played their part and lent credibility to IPL in its initial years. They are going to fade away in coming years. My 8 year old never really cared for them and wont miss them. I might stop watching IPL, but IPL wont miss me either. If this league is managed right, it will have enough fan following in years to come to make this a coveted title. That's when it will become serious cricket. Just give it some time. As for fixing, it has nothing to do with IPL. Its a problem that has to be tackled in every sport, not just cricket.

Posted by Daredevils on (May 30, 2013, 14:55 GMT)

Also, it seems your post has been written keeping in mind that the readers are not familiar with UCL or dont follow it. UCL does feature players on their reputation who are way past their prime. Case in point, David Beckham. He is obviously not the force he was once, but still played in the UCL this season, purely for brand purposes. The thing is, be it cricketers or footballers, they are the same breed. All love the last hurrah, so cricticizing only cricket for that is unfair I think.

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