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By Suresh Menon
Quite the amazing aspect of the IPL scandal has been the indifference of the public to the revelations. Television channels were playing it in the manner of a soap opera where the ambient sound is the continuous screech. Yet, the match-going public was unaffected; so much so that N Srinivasan, President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India uncharacteristically thanked them for their support. This is the first recorded instance of the President acknowledging that the audience is a part of any sporting spectacle.
But that was then. Now, fortified by the support of his cohorts in the BCCI, the brief vulnerability is gone, the arrogance is back. And Chennai Super Kings were given the Fair Play Award. What better way of rubbing the face of cricket lovers into the dirt?
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the fans had refused to turn up at the Eden Gardens for the final, forcing it to be played before an empty stadium? Alone among the stakeholders in the sport, they have the power to force the cricket board to clean up its act, first by keeping away from matches and then by boycotting the products of the sponsors involved in the IPL. That fantasy was, however, short-lived.
But then, as Saurabh Somani has suggested in his column in wisdenindia.com, perhaps Indian cricket survived not so much because of the integrity of its players but because of the indifference of the general public to the scandals.
In that case, the Indian public is reacting on the right lines. And that is even more depressing than the stories of betting and fixing tumbling out now.
If stories of the unhappiness of the sponsors is true – and which sponsor would like to be associated with a tainted product – money, which is the root of all evil might, in this case, be the root of all good. More than the public, the sponsors hold the key in the IPL which has been characterized as a means for billionaires to get together and make more money, and hang the sport.
Sadly, even the media, now so critical of the shenanigans in the IPL saw no contradiction in reporting the playoff and the final matches in their usual breathless manner when they too could have taken a stand by either ignoring the matches altogether or dismissing them in a single paragraph.
The BCCI, once again the Board of Compromises for Cricket in India, has come across as a toothless body – although what is really missing is a couple of other body parts – focusing on protecting the Board President, the IPL and its chairman, His Oiliness Rajiv Shukla when its stated aim is to protect the sport.
To say that cricket is a reflection of society is glib. It is an artificial construct, with man-made rules and human expectations. For that very reason, it must follow a moral code that places it above the daily dealings of society. We inject meaning into sport which is essentially a meaningless activity, and with that we also inject morality and expect a higher standard of behavior from those connected with it. Cricket is a philosophy that cannot be a mere reflection of society but something society must aspire to, with its emphasis on ethics, fair play and teamwork. If Sreeshanth cheats on his girlfriend that is a private matter, but if he cheats on a cricket field, he has no place in decent society.
Srinivasan remains President secure in the knowledge that the public doesn’t care if the IPL is a version of WWE wrestling, that self-interest will guide the actions of his colleagues in the Board (right now self-interest coincides with the President’s interest), that if he brazens it out long enough, the media will grow tired of the story and move on to other scandals so thoughtfully provided by our men and women in public life. His argument for hanging on is disingenuous since no one is accusing him of complicity. He needs to go because the inquiry must not only be fair but seen to be fair. This is an issue of propriety that simply bounces off the President’s thick skin, making no impression whatsoever.
Not even the unsubtle efforts at blackmail by his associates – Rajiv Shukla and the opportunistic Subroto Roy Sahara – made any difference. Shukla’s attempts to round up the troops against Srinivasan came to nought. No knight in shining armour, not Arun Jaitley, not Narendra Modi, nobody emerged to take the BCCI out of the mire of corruption. Roy’s threat of pulling out as sponsor of the Indian team if Srinivasan continued in office was laughed out of consideration by those who profit with Srinivasan in office rather than by having a do-gooder take over the reins.
Jumping on to the bandwagon to provide comic relief is former IPL Commisioner Lalit Modi, appearing like a cross between Mother Teresa and a cuckoo clock, telling us at hourly intervals how pure he is, and how Srinivasan is the fount of all evil. This, from a man who once addressed Srinivasan as ‘darling’ and was a party to condoning Srinivasan’s original conflict of interest.
What next? Will Srinivasan claim that Gurunath Meiyappan is not his son-in-law either?