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By Suresh Menon
Now that the IPL teams are not allowed to field Sri Lankan players in Chennai, and since the owners are more pussilanimous than the Board President who kowtows to politicians to the detriment of sport and self-respect, here's a way out. A way to level the playing field. Each team, when playing in Chennai should be allowed to decide who among the Chennai Super Kings players should not play. Three of the teams are captained by Sri Lankans, and in all there are 13 players spread across the franchises. Why should they lose out because a politician thinks this is a cute way to guarantee votes at election time?
Thus Delhi Daredevils, led by Mahela Jaywardene, should be allowed to take out at least one CSK player. Royal Chellangers Bangalore with two players, Muthiah Muralitharan and Tillakaratne Dilshan, will have the right to ask CSK to drop two of their players. The formula could be like-for-like or number-for-number or maybe it could be on a weighted average. And what about the CSK team? They have two players, which is not a problem if the weighted average is used. Or they could be asked to pay for the selfishness of their owner who put domestic business interests above common sense. The matches could have been moved out as it was done when Hyderabad had a problem during the Telengana agitation and India had a problem in the tournament's second year when it was shifted lock, stock and barrel to South Africa.
The president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India has many interests and many conflicts of interest. He is a businessman, he owns (or at least his company owns) CSK, the most successful IPL franchise, and he operates out of Chennai. This last detail has meant that he is in no mood to get on the wrong side of the chief minister. In Chennai, if there is someone with a reputation for being even more vindictive than the board president it is the chief minister. Mr N Srinivasan, therefore, was only too keen to show he was more loyal than the queen and gave in to Ms Jayalalithaa.
In fact, he voluntarily agreed to stop the Sri Lankan players in CSK from playing in Chennai, and when push came to shove decided that no Sri Lankan player from any of the franshises would be welcome there. One expects politicians to be twisted and focussed on votes to the exclusion of everything else including national honour, but surely board presidents must be made of sterner stuff?
Mr Srinivasan's business interests kept him from acting in an honourable manner. Perhaps moving out of Chennai was not an option because of the perceived insult to the reigning deity in Tamil Nadu. He was thus happier to destroy the sanctity of a sport, a tournament and India's well-earned reputation for tolerance and hospitality.
The long-running debate over the board president's conflict of interest continues as the tournament enters its sixth year. Sadly, on the issue of the Sri Lankan players, few of our own players, past or present have taken a stand. It is embarrassing for a country as obsessed with the sport as India to be held ransom to the political manouevering of those who have been elected to uphold the image of the country. The combination of political opportunism and commercially-motivated acceptance has dented the credibility of the IPL.
In South Africa's apartheid days, the cry was “No normal sport in an abnormal society.” It is a useful slogan to recall now, for discrimination in any form is abhorrent. How much longer before Karnataka's politicians refuse to allow players from Tamil Nadu because of the Cauvery dispute? Or Delhi disallows players from Rajasthan because a politician's daughter married a Rajasthani against his choice? The difference is only one of degree. The IPL is a platform for political posturing – that is a function of its success. But Mr Srinivasan and the governing council play into the hands of the disrupters when they decree that surrender is the better part of valour.