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By Suresh Menon
It is not as if the latest controversy in the IPL has come as a surprise. Right from the first tournament, there has been a cry for transparency; the conflict of interests inherent in having a senior board official own a franchise was made clear. The impropriety of the chairman of the national selection committee being a brand ambassador of a franchise was pointed out.
Yet, perhaps blinded by the huge amounts of money involved, the cattle fair on live television and the worshipful air with which Lalit Modi was interviewed by those paid to be worshipful pushed all that into the background. The lack of transparency remained, the improprieties continued, and the habit of making up the rules on the fly was seen as the way modern business functioned.
The response to those who questioned all this was similar to the response to the coach by a player who refused to follow the MCC Coaching manual – “Forget my feet, watch where the ball has gone.” The IPL was saying in effect, forget the propriety, smell the money.
The arrogance of power and early success meant that there was a refusal to read the signs. Even as early as in the first season, the cricket board had begun to make clear its unhappiness over the IPL’s public image of the tail wagging the dog. The BCCI President’s recent letter to the IPL Commissioner is indicative. Written presumably on official paper (and not on twitter, the Commissioner’s preferred mode of communication to the world), it says in part, “Till date, you have made public statements about a lot of issues which were not even discussed in the meetings of the governing council when it is the governing council which has the authority to take decisions with regard to each and every issue related to IPL.”
Perhaps internal wrangling might achieve what media promptings have not, and introduce propriety in the functioning of the IPL.
The IPL in the phrase made popular in the US after the crash of the huge banks is not “too big to fail”; it certainly is not too big to get its house in order. Despite the media’s effort to paint the problems in the colours of a Shashi Tharoor versus Lalit Modi battle of personal egos, there are deeper questions that need to be addressed if the IPL is not to collapse under the weight of its own imperfections. Systemic imperfections, that is; imperfections that suggest that things were not thought through or that the main stakeholders had themselves bought into the hype. Things will not right themselves; an effort has to be made.
The IPL, for those who came in late, was never about the cricket. It was about entertainment, it was about business, it was about power and ego and television rights.
But it is also about the lesser players, about thousands of people making more money in six weeks than they might make in the rest of the year. If the IPL collapses because of its inability to distinguish between what is right and what is convenient, it will be these people who suffer, not the Tendulkars and the Pietersens.
Despite its own shaky moral ground, the IPL has never hesitated to speak high morals. The manner in which a misguided Ravindra Jadeja was banned for trying to better his lot was made much of and the player was banned. Obviously the same rules do not apply to the IPL which breaks its own rules (about confidentiality, for instance) with impunity.
The IPL cannot be run like some Indian companies with well disguised private holdings (what used to be called ‘benami’ ownerships), negotiable rules and regulation and a lack of respect for business practices.
Opposition parties who have been gunning for Tharoor have now entered the IPL debate. Last year the Modi versus Home Minister Chidambaram stand off ended with the IPL being transplanted to South Africa. Modi might like to live on the brink, but every fight, every deviation from the normal chips something away from the integrity of the IPL.
There is so much hype surrounding the IPL that it is difficult to get at the truth. Everyone involved with it – from the players to the administrators to the media – will only sing its praises because that is what is convenient. It may be too early for objective assessment, but it is never too early for objective system-cleansing. What does not destroy you makes you stronger.