Marketable entertainment counts more than the integrity of the contest April 21, 2008

Style over substance

Fazeer Mohammed on the money sloshing around

New Zealand will be without Daniel Vettori for warm-up matches leading up to the first Test in England because the IPL money is just too good to miss out on © Getty Images
He probably doesn't need the extra cash, but Shah Rukh Khan, and the other franchise owners for that matter, can earn a few extra rupees selling designer clothes clips to some of the superstars in attendance on and off the field at the inaugural season of the Indian Premier League.

Should it really be any surprise that so many who would usually have adopted the Esther LeGendre duck-and-run attitude to previous tours of the sub-continent as members of a national team are now all there, holding their noses as they collect big money for a few hours' work? In fact, purchasing those clothes clips frees up both hands to ensure that not one piece of silver slips through their fingers.

No-one should begrudge the players a single cent. If this is what their skills and reputations are worth in the most lucrative market for the game in the world, then all power to them. It's just that they should dispense with all the hypocritical trash about being so "excited" about the tournament and how "wonderful" it is to be playing with and against the very best in such a "fantastic" environment.

Much like the stuff that was being shovelled out by almost everyone within the faintest audible distance from a microphone during the two Stanford Twenty20 competitions so far, the rush to shower the IPL with sincere-sounding superlatives (an ordinary catch becomes "stunning", a desperate swipe for six is transformed into an "amazing" shot) betrays a self-serving desire to big-up the thing because everyone knows where their naan is buttered and, just as importantly, who is doing the buttering.

Exaggerated and cynical? Maybe, but wasn't it the same international organisation of players' representatives, FICA, that was complaining just the other day about the consequences of player burnout, yet is now championing the cause of a permanent window being created in an already packed annual schedule to accommodate the IPL?

How many people are aware that India's cricketers have no bargaining agent recognised by the Board of Control of Cricket in India to represent them? Shouldn't FICA be advising its members to avoid participating in a private tournament in a jurisdiction where it is not recognised?

If you give many of the contracted IPL players a chance, they would delay their departure from India to fulfil mandatory national duties until the day before they are required to pull on their country's colours once more. New Zealand will be without their captain, Daniel Vettori, and a couple other key players for warm-up matches leading up to the first Test of the upcoming England tour because the IPL money is just too good to miss out on any of it, unless it is absolutely necessary.

Michael Holding was making the point two weeks ago that he could only vouch for one country, Australia, whose players valued representing the national team above all else. Which is why all the selected Aussies will be saying farewell to the IPL and returning home for a training camp in less than two weeks' time ahead of the tour of the West Indies.

We relics may ridicule it as fast food, but even if it is ultimately of no value, fast food sells everywhere and therefore makes a lot of money for those willing to invest in it

Compare that with the fact that the West Indies Cricket Board has virtually taken it for granted that its training camp ahead of the first Test at Sabina Park from May 22 will proceed without its IPL-contracted quartet, including captain Chris Gayle.

Any surprise then that they are firmly at number one while we are solidly entrenched at number eight?

I obviously missed the shifting of this particular tide, for as someone pointed out last Saturday morning while I was dissing the IPL match on television as just a condensed highlight package of vupping and dismissals, sport is now much more about marketable entertainment than the integrity of the contest.

We relics may ridicule it as fast food, but even if it is ultimately of no value, fast food sells everywhere and therefore makes a lot of money for those willing to invest in it.

At the same time that the Delhi Daredevils were whipping the Rajasthan Royals (you would think that a culture thousands of years old should find it demeaning to copy Western sporting nicknames, but then this is the land of Bollywood, where movie storylines are essentially photocopies of recent Hollywood hits), I was listening to a debate on the BBC "Sportsworld" radio programme in which fans of Chelsea worldwide were letting Avram Grant have it full blast via e-mail.

Grant took over as manager of the English Premier League club just weeks into the current season after the shock departure of Jose Mourinho. After a shaky few weeks, Chelsea have pulled to within three points of leaders Manchester United going into their clash at Stamford Bridge on Saturday and travel to Anfield tomorrow to tackle Liverpool in the first leg of their European Champions League semi-final.

Yet the surly Israeli who never has much to say is branded as a failure. This clearly has nothing to do with results but with appearances, because Grant has none of the charisma, the Latin charm, the mischievous smile and the ability to play to the gallery like Mourinho.

The media loved the Portuguese, but could care less for the current Chelsea boss, especially after he made clear his disaffection with them with a succession of one-word answers to their questions after his team's victory over Everton last Thursday.

So substance is subservient to style and money does all the talking.

What a wonderful sporting world to wake up to.

Fazeer Mohammed is a writer and broadcaster in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad