May 28, 2013

A league in need of cleansing

If the IPL is to rescue its integrity, the BCCI must first rescue itself

Normally, as players disperse and confetti is swept away, the end of every IPL season is marked by self-congratulatory backslapping among organisers, administrators, broadcasters and media-planners. "Great numbers, guys, such a great vibe, see you next year." Franchises begin internal reviews, sorting out accounts, handing out dues, collecting dosh from sponsors, and generally approach closure.

In 2010, something else happened. Lalit Modi, the godfather of the IPL, was excised from the BCCI and those linked to the IPL's waterfall of moving wealth were raided. Investigators from the departments of Income Tax, Service Tax and Enforcement Directorate began turning up in the offices of franchises, demanding documents, accessing computers, following the money and looking for proof of any and all violations of the law. It left the franchises distinctly rattled.

Three years later, the last ten days of IPL 2013 has raised heat, dust and a right royal stink.

In 2010, it was those with financial fingers in the IPL's ever-enlarging pie that were stirred and shaken. In 2013, it is the league's brassy image that is dented. Outsiders are looking at what was sold to them as 24-karat 'property' and finding the gilt flaking off.

The IPL has always been sold to its audience as a marriage of cricket and entertainment; except in 2013, there came an accidental advisory - that there was a chance that parts of the "cricketainment" could actually be pre-scripted.

The advisory warned us that the authenticity of the IPL's cricket as sport could be called to question. This because there was growing evidence that the boundaries between sport and WWE-style entertainment had, on at least one occasion, been blurred beyond belief.

Three players were arrested and produced before a court like hoodlums, faces covered by black masks. A man who went within days from franchise owner/team principal to 'honorary official' to 'enthusiast', was summoned by police and charged with 12 violations of three separate laws. In all 22 people as of now have been arrested around India in connection with betting, cricket and the IPL.

To its much-celebrated spice rack of cricket, entertainment, business, glamour and profit, IPL2013 has added other darker seasonings - crime, corruption, and wrongdoing.

Ever since its inception, the notion of something lurking around the margins of the IPL has existed not only because it has followed a fast, loose and flexible rulebook. It is not as though the betting mafia was standing still before the IPL. But what the IPL did was let into Indian cricket, along with corporate India and Bollywood stars, a large cast of carpetbaggers in double roles.

Season Six has introduced into our imagination the many species that could evolve and survive largely within the IPL. Like the former cricketer-turned-bookie or the player-for-profit whose career ambitions in the sport are centered around visibility and opportunity around the IPL alone, rather than cracking, at the very least, the first-class game. Then there are sociable middleman between bookies and players, the agent who could bring everyone together, and perhaps the most damning of all, the insider informant.

But the arrest of Gurunath Meiyappan, inextricably linked with Chennai Super Kings, has turned the tale of the "three rotten eggs" - "the dirty cricketers" - into minor pickings. His arrest showed us that there could exist an even more rancid layer, protected it seemed until now by "all access" passes and allowed to at least exist by a negligent Governing Council.

It was not sting operations by TV news channels 'maybe with a view on their ratings' that led the players and enthusiasts into police lock-ups and Tihar Jail. It was the police who pinned them there and continue looking for the carpetbaggers. One franchise official said this week, "Just like there may be more players caught dealing with bookies, more than one franchise official could be betting too."

What should worry Indian cricket is not only that pieces of the IPL's dirty laundry that are being hung out to dry one at a time or the possibly scary size of the eventual load. What should also make Indian cricket fret is the attempt by the BCCI president, the IPL chairman and high-ranking officials to each put an individual spin on the growing pile of dirty linen. It was only, after all, a tiny pair of socks/it's not that unclean/ that's someone else's dirty laundry/nothing a new washing machine can't fix.

The Gurunath Meiyappan case has been treated by the BCCI's highest officials - and not merely Meiyappan's father-in-law - with kid gloves. Lawyers can argue over which among several rules may have been broken. Gurunath has been accused of violating the IPL's code of conduct which, had he been less influential, would have left any other franchise team, if not terminated, at least suspended. There is an ICC code that forbids directors like N Srinivasan from having anyone in his immediate family in the betting business.

For the moment everything is cast aside in a sustained, high-volume bark of, "you are hounding me. I have done nothing wrong." But as much as Srinivasan's clinging to office is loathsome, the turning away by Rajiv Shukla, Arun Jaitley and their political accomplices is a gross dereliction of duty. The BCCI's cross-party political cabal has, in this case, served only itself and its self-interest.

It meant that IPL 2013 was left to play out in a bizarre parallel universe, without recognition or acknowledgement of the credibility-crisis that had broken out within and around it. As the cabal dithered Indian cricket, once again, to resorted to its ugliest type. Regardless of wealth and influence, it was shown up as an international basket case, dominated by willful misgovernance and autocracy. Sreesanth and Ajit Chandila are not responsible for this. Srinivasan, Shukla, Jaitley and their colleagues are.

The franchises' assessments of the situation vary. A few hope that their post-IPL season lives return to back-slapping. One executive from a heavyweight franchise says what the IPL requires more than anything else now is: 'transparency.' In cricket and administration. Or he feared, "the League may collapse, cave in on itself. End."

It is only the numbers men who can indicate how the much-beloved market responds to the IPL 2013's caravan of corruption. In the brand valuations business, in public perception, according to Harish Bijoor, brand strategy consultant, "the IPL is affected."

Brands, he said, depended on "positive value," which led to the "goodwill" that drove consumer passions. The arrests and the cloud around umpire Asad Rauf had diminished the IPL's positive value even as "wholesome family entertainment." Bijoor says, "broadcasters will not tell you about this, franchises will not tell you about this, but advertising is shouting from the rooftops that the IPL's brand valuations are affected."

Words like "brand valuations" and formats like Twenty20 do not impress former BCCI president Shashank Manohar and maybe it was why his solution was the most cogent, amid the loud rancour of the last ten days. To start with, he says, open up IPL 2013 to a proper investigating agency (rather than feeble internal committees) and in the future, work with law enforcement.

No matter what its shiny numbers and crowd figures indicate, the IPL's trustworthiness in the eyes of the public with a brain, is now severely damaged. If the league is to rescue its integrity around the world, the BCCI must first rescue itself. This event it has owned for six years now is not a Residents Welfare Association tea party, with its petty, personal pointscoring. It is a billion dollar industry.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Jay on May 31, 2013, 3:02 GMT

    Sharda - The cleansing process is well under way: Investigations & actions by a host of concerned parties - law enforcement/police, courts, ministries of law & sports, apart from ACSU & BCCI commission. The Supreme Court has set a 15-day time limit for BCCI (ACSU) to report its findings. Significantly it's the outside agencies that have the long arms of the law & government. They will eventually determine the course of the cleansing process: whole truth about spot-fixing, due punishment for the culprits, corrective actions & stringent administrative reforms (S Manohar is spot on). They might even force action on the hot "conflict of interest" issue and - through due process - the fate of embattled Srinivasan (if he doesn't resign). If the "silence" is deafening, so is the media frenzy! Who wants to listen to politicians? Press conferences are a media circus anyway! Let the agencies do their jobs & justice will be served. Yes, change is inevitable & cricket will be "rescued", Sharda!

  • Rajkumar on May 30, 2013, 12:34 GMT

    I am from Kerala the state represented by the only test cricketer booked for fixing in IPL as of now and yesterday an elder relative of mine was wondering"what happened to this kid,he was everywhere and seemed so happy and energetic,how to stop this menace etc".The answer to this lament was given by a much younger friend of mine--"For this to stop people should stop watching this.As long as there is viewership this will prevail"...NOW we need to define the "THIS" in the preceding sentence.It doesn't mean the game of cricket it means fixing and cheating in the game.All this talk about ex cricketers heading BCCI,running the game etc are wishful thinking(what are a few ex doing as BCCI mouth pieces right now?)the fact is that there was always something fishy about IPL and serious cricket fans took many results with a few pinches of salt.If and ONLY if the ambiguity of the league starting from the real franchise owners is cleared we can even hope to see the end of fixing and murky deals.

  • Srinivas on May 30, 2013, 2:29 GMT

    This is a country in need of cleansing. A small league is nothing in comparison. We need to get over this obsession with small time corruption in cricket.

  • Peter on May 30, 2013, 1:48 GMT

    This is really much ado about nothing. Most Indian have always known that there has been match and spot fixing in the IPL - and this includes people who bet on the games (interestingly, they effectively bet on the probability that their bookie is the one who has the fix in). Scripted entertainment is still entertainment - and while the competition on TV is saas-bahu serials, I don't think the public is switching away from the IPL. As a somewhat related example, professional wrestling does fairly well on Indian TV. The IPL pretty much falls in that category now.

  • Ashok on May 29, 2013, 18:21 GMT

    "If the League is to rescue its integrity around the World, the BCCI must first rescue itself"- summarises the issue l. The first job is to move forward by putting Former Cricketers in charge of BCCI & rescue it from the money Lords. When Money is the main objective, there is little focus on Cricket as a sport. We have a Company CEO leading BCCI & running it like a money making organisation rather than a sport. Under his leadership, India suffered 2 successive series whitewashes in England & Australia. BCCI took it so lightly that even at home India suffered a severe mauling at the hands of England in the Test series. Thanks to a weak Aussie team that it gave India a measure of relief & respectability. How India fares in England in Champion's League will reflect a lot. Meanwhile IPL 6 has been marred with "corrupt culture" with 3 players + CSK owner caught with their hands in the till. Even the Umpiring is under review.New "Washing Machine" will only work with a totally different BCCI!

  • Jerry on May 29, 2013, 16:18 GMT

    There is an easy way to clean this up.

    Legalize betting in sports. Betting is a natural human tendency. By criminalizing it, all you are managing to do is to drive it underground and acquire some rather nasty undertones.

    I know they sell lottery tickets in India. How is this any different?

  • Chandra on May 29, 2013, 13:49 GMT

    They have already killed their golden goose. Now they are hell-bent on frying and eating it. RIP IPL.

  • maneh on May 29, 2013, 11:00 GMT

    This is an excellent article. Besides the administrators, the role of the Indian media also needs to be examined. They have acted as hand maidens to the powerful in the BCCI; they have been complicit in this charade; and up till now have been embedded in the BCCI and IPL preventing them from asking the hard questions.

    More power to your pen!

  • Dummy4 on May 29, 2013, 9:03 GMT

    Lol...all the Indians and cricket followers who are crying foul!!! You do have a simple option....stop watching cricket (atleast anything remotely related to Indian cricket). As long as Indians are overly obsessed with cricket, Bollywood, those industries are going to take you for granted.

  • Amit on May 29, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    There are several questions swirling in my head about this... Why is Srinivasan so indispensable? He was an unknown quantity not so long ago and the cricket world could honestly do with some realignment. I would love India to be dominant for their performance and not just their wealth. It is well established that pretty much all levels of IPL - adminisitration, players and Bollywood are involved BUT what is the extent of their involvement? How deep does this rot go? The oldest saying / practical advice to me was - if you need a shoe, go to a shoemaker; if you need a watch, go to a watchmaker. Then why is the BCCI whose job is to manage cricket affairs taking on the job of investigating corruption? Should it not be someone whose job is investigating all sorts to be taking this task on? Naive but.. Legal bias on the matter is irrelevant as sport by definition is expected to be fair. It also like chess where people have weighed up their chances of the high chair and now called for action