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Where are the 'Champions' in Champions League?

This league might be a bit of fun and showcase a host of big names, but the organisational process could be revisited

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Priyanka Chopra hands Harbhajan Singh the Man-of-the-Match cheque, Mumbai Indians v RCB, CLT20 final, Chennai, October 9, 2011

The economic law of supply and demand has been enough to steer the course of the Champions League  •  AFP

On face value, it is very difficult to take the Champions League T20 seriously.
It is not, as its name suggests, a competition of winners. After all, the second, third and fourth placed teams in a league of nine are participating along with the runners-up of some tournaments and victors of others.
Beyond the format, there are other oddities. The opening concert will be headlined by a person who calls himself DJ Earworm, a mash up artist. For those who don't know that does not involve potatoes but mixing of sounds to form what the Billboard 100 charts say is very popular music. What that has to do with cricket is as much as cheerleaders and fireworks. So, in other words, a lot.
Let's not bemoan that cricket is not simply cricket anymore because it has been taken over by side shows. We've known that for a while and secretly a lot of us like it because it is, even if it is just a little, fun. Who doesn't like a bit of dancing in between regular life? In the middle of all the fun, we could forget about the real issues that surround a tournament like this.
The imbalanced nature of the competition is its greatest flaw. With four IPL teams, two South African franchises and two Australian gaining automatic entry into the event, the rest are right to feel a little left out. Of the remaining Full Member countries, two - Zimbabwe and Bangladesh - were not even invited to qualify while the other five were give two spots to fight over. Even those were not evenly handed out as England were allowed two teams in qualifying while Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka were only permitted one each.
The result is a main event that just does not seem fair. If the marketing says the competition will be played between champions, why are so many absent?
The answer lies where so many other answers do: in money. When a novel concept like the CLT20 was mooted, its intentions must have been to play a real league of champions. The boards of India, South Africa and Australia quickly realised the only way they could make money out of it would be if more Indian teams were involved to appeal to larger Indian audience, who the advertisers pay to target.
That economic law of supply and demand was enough to steer the course of the entire tournament. Because more Indian teams need to be involved, fewer other teams can participate to avoid the event becoming much longer. Because South Africa and Australia are shareholders, they needed to see some benefit other than having a stake in it, so they get two teams. Because everyone else is not part of the administration of the tournament, they get what's left over.
Surely then some concoction of a tournament name like the 'Ind-SA-Aus T20 with invited guests' would be more appropriate and more honest. It would settle the question about who really owns the competition, who benefits from it and who dictates terms. It would be a private event and no-one would have any right to complain about it.
Such a neat solution is not possible though, because the ICC endorses the CLT20 in its current form. Why else would they permit a window for it in every year on the FTP? No other multi-team tournament that is not a World Cup (even the Champions Trophy is at an end) and certainly no other domestic event has this right. The game's governing body has rubber stamped the CLT20 and that would give it little reason to alter its composition in future.
Perhaps ICC involvement could make a difference in future, if it assumes some governing rights over the CLT20. Take UEFA's Champions League, which the CLT20 is often compared with, as an example. First of all, note that the top three leagues in Europe are allowed to enter four teams into the event, while some of the other countries are not even given a spot, so even the footballing equivalent is skewed.
Surely then some concoction of a tournament name like the 'Ind-SA-Aus T20 with invited guests' would be more appropriate and more honest. It would be a private event and no-one would have any right to complain about it.
The difference is that the system used in European Football is based on rankings, not ownership of an event. UEFA use a footballing coefficient to determine which leagues are placed where on the rankings system. The coefficient takes into account how the clubs from each country have performed in previous Champions Leagues, so those who have done better in the past have more spots in the future.
A system like that would ensure that Trinidad and Tobago are rewarded for reaching the 2009 final and could even see a team like the Sialkot Stallions get some recognition for holding the world record for the most consecutive wins in the 20-overs format. It would mean that money does not control the entire organisation of the event, as it does now.
Even moving the tournament to South Africa was, to some extent, driven by money. A Pakistan team could probably not have toured India with the current tensions, and religious festivals across the country would have made it difficult to host at certain venues. Instead, South Africa, default hosts for everything from the African Nations' Cup that was due to be held in Libya to a Champions Trophy once destined for Pakistan, were asked to step in so money that would be made from this year's CLT20 is not lost.
CSA itself will not make much more money from the event. They will receive the same shareholding as usual and will have to pay the hosting fees to stadiums out of that cash. It could result in them getting less money. Additional income will stem from hotel, airline and restaurant revenue as a large number of people descend on the country for the showpiece.
Make no mistake that it will be a showpiece. Despite the administrative issues, the tournament remains a home to some of the world's best players. Almost every big-name player, be it in the 20-overs format or not, is participating. World T20 Man-of-the-Series Shane Watson will turn out for Sydney, Sunil Narine and Kieron Pollard will play for their respective IPL sides, exciting prospects like Chris Morris of the Lions, Gary Ballance of Yorkshire and Shahbaz Nadeem of Delhi will be able to make names for themselves.
But even on the playing side, there is an strangeness. The player whose name is almost permanently aligned to a T20 competition, Chris Gayle, is absent. Gayle has played in every 20-overs competition besides New Zealand's and England's (he played for Worcestershire but not in the shortest format). Remarkably, none of the teams he represented made it to the main draw of the tournament.
Gayle was due to play for Uva Next in the SLPL but had to withdraw because of injury, meaning even if they had got past the qualifiers, he would not have been in their squad. His absence is so extraordinary that Mahela Jayawardene, who will captain Delhi, was even able to crack a joke about it. "Obviously Chris has set standards and he will be missed," he said. "But he has to lift his game and try and bring one of his teams to CLT20 next year."
Now that is something to take pretty seriously indeed.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent