The IPL typically represents media frenzy, glamour and excessive of vices that supersede the sporting domain of the event; the event is taking cricket lovers for a ride as the glitterati topple the sporting paradigm of the game of cricket. IPL is packaged in a way that even those population segments that might not be hardcore cricket fans are glued to their television sets allured by the clamour of celebrities, glamour and the hysteria that goes with it. The money-spinning potboiler that the IPL is, it undoubtedly speaks of a very efficient and hot business model with all the right proportions of the marketing mix embedded in it. But with the largesse comes the cost. And the cost is the game of cricket itself. The unearthing of betting scandals, players’ complicity in spot-fixing, underworld kingpins’ involvement and monetary misappropriation are all turning the premise of what was supposed to be a perfectly innocent game – the game of the gentlemen.
The IPL model follows (or at least was supposed to follow) the EPL, NBA and NFL models. They are all professional sporting events with billions of dollars involved within them. However, the critical point to note here is that they are not primarily business models converted to sporting events. But precisely the opposite! The EPL and NBA are inter-club tournaments where the clubs represent sporting tradition and loads of sporting pedigree. Their sporting heritage speaks volumes of their commitment towards the sports they represent and the same is evidenced within the domain of their respective games and tournaments. The IPL, on the other hand, has become something more than a cricket tournament, but something less than a major world league. It is a new career option for the many hopefuls but no more bears the inherent spirit associated with cricket.
From the very onset, the event has been mired in a spate of scams and controversies. It’s a far cry from the supposed role-models EPL and NBA. On the one hand, where sporting leagues internationally are trying to adopt more of a socio-capitalist model and are increasing their accountability towards the sporting world and society at large by promoting sports and holistic development across the world, the IPL has unfortunately gone the crony way! Obviously, the lack of a free-market structure has given IPL and its stakeholders all the possible avenues to distort the essence of a business model and still stay in the market. What else can better describe this than the ownership pattern of the league? There has always been a link between IPL and BCCI with respect to ownership and management. In the beginning, Lalit Modi served as the Chairman and Commissioner of the Indian Premier League and also was the Vice President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI)! Similarly now, Mr. N. Srinivasan, who is the President of BCCI, concurrently is the owner of Chennai Super Kings! Such ownership not only questions the verity and transparency of the system but also allows the promoters to misuse official power and positions. It’s like the Chairman of the Football Association (FA) owning a club in EPL; or David Stern, the Commissioner of NBA, also having management control in USA Basketball, the official basketball association. And with recent reports confirming that BCCI Chief N Srinivasan’s son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan is being questioned by the police for his alleged spot-fixing role and his deep connection with the now arrested Vindoo Dara Singh, another alleged spot-fixer, this complicity of BCCI in IPL mismanagement has come completely out in the open.
In the age of Internet, it is very difficult to curb the moral plague threatening to engulf the integrity of sports in general. What is most disconcerting is that the malaise finds its base in Asia at large and particularly in India. South Asian betting chains now are not merely restricted to the subcontinent but are spreading their tentacles to the European and American sporting markets as well.
What one has to realize is that the reason the intensity of betting in India far exceeds that in Europe or North America is not because those countries are full of noble souls but because of a much better tackling of the phenomena by authorities. The governing bodies of sporting fraternities in Europe and in America have kept a close track of and control on the impending danger that global betting rackets pose to their sports. In EPL and NBA, for example, there are specialized cells of betting managers whose job is to keep track of the players, referees and umpires with data and analysis to insulate the games from betting operators. These cells have set up monitoring systems that even keep tabs on international transactions that players and other stakeholders make. Moreover, the law enforcement agencies in these countries are more efficient and credible and any hint of money-laundering is addressed with immediate action. The active combination of public authorities – like police, crime branch, detective departments and monitoring apparatus of the local clubs in concert with sporting bodies – has been instrumental in checking financial scams and misappropriations to acceptable limits.
However, in IPL, neither do we have specialized machinery for controlling betting and fixing within the game nor do designated public authorities have decent track records. Hence the nosedive. In the backdrop of such betting scandals cropping up every now and then, these sorts of checks need to be set up, supported by an all out overdrive to cleanse the system. However, just setting up monitoring mechanisms won’t work unless they are backed up by sound logistics of law enforcement agencies and judiciary. The fear of prosecution is the greatest deterrent to such crimes and if the prosecution is weak, the scaling down of betting rackets will be on shallow grounds. Sporting crime is a crime per se and a holistic overhaul of crime control has to include the issues within IPL too. Betting rackets are often found to have their primary links within the hierarchy of underworld networks, like the D-Company. If these people are allowed to roam around and do ‘business’, there is every likelihood that they will dig their heels deeper into high profile money-spinning events like IPL. After all, it’s a lucrative business and easy money; and if they can escape the hands of laws quite easily, why wouldn’t they indulge into it?
Barring Hansie Cronje, all other players complicit in spot fixing were and are from the sub-continent. Mohammad Azharuddin, Salim Malik, Manoj Prabhakar and Ijaz Ahmed are cases in point. It is because both the players and the betting agents know how to escape prosecution, that they get the required guts to commit the crime. However, if a player is from UK or Australia, their domestic jurisprudence is considerably stringent and that itself acts as a deterrent. In US or UK, the host nations for NBA and EPL, those days are gone when the mafia used to rule the roost. So chances of players getting influenced by mafia gangs from a distant country are often limited because a close physical proximity is required to build trust, rapport and influence over players. Thus, the probability of a malicious effect on the games in US and UK is curtailed and even clobbered down with judicious micro-level checks.
In US, corruption in sports is curtailed by their two decades’ old law that ensures ‘competitive integrity’ and prevents sports related crime. The Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) not only bans sports gambling but also keeps the integrity of sports quite high. In Europe, respective governments have treated match fixing as a priority area of concern due to the national image and integrity of sports getting affected due to the same. France has amended their criminal code to include spot-fixing as a form of criminal corruption; so has Sweden, while Greece has introduced new statutes where the convicted offenders in match fixing may get up to ten years of incarceration. Similar laws related to corruption in sports are laid down in most European countries. Even in other continents, like Australia, the law ministries have developed match-fixing laws that would allow them to send culprits to prison for a minimum of ten years. Australia has also recently incepted a specialised National Integrity of Sport Unit to monitor activities of stakeholders and “to protect the integrity of sport in Australia from threats of doping, match-fixing and other forms of corruption”. In the same lines, Russia is considering a law which would permit them to criminally prosecute individuals involved in match fixing and related activities. On the contrary, the National Sports Development (NSD) Bill proposed in India for greater accountability and transparency in sports, has been rejected by the cabinet. This Bill’s rejection provides another leeway and latitude to slanted players and their betting masters.
Thus, IPL’s attempt to be cash-rich has clearly paved the way for the loss of sportsman’s spirit and the integrity in sports per se. And that’s not the case with NBA, NFL and EPL. They have maintained their sporting character and have kept the game above their monetary worth, something that IPL couldn’t. Their respective politicians, bureaucrats and others in the corridors of power were not allowed to enter the cash rich tournaments. And neither were global underworld top dogs allowed to wield influence on players and the administrators. On the other hand, the series of spot-fixing scams in IPL and the involvement of underworld characters and the likes is a vivid display of how the event has failed to maintain its sheen and has got reduced to an amateur sporting event where all possible stakeholders are running after small bucks rather than comprehending the big picture. Undoubtedly, this would make it tough, rather impossible, for IPL to join the leagues of elite games like NBA or EPL, especially in terms of credibility, inspiration, elitism and social accountability. Thus, India, not only for IPL, but also for all the sporting events, needs a dedicated and centralized body for monitoring sports activity in tandem with local investigative agencies, independent and anonymous law enforcing units and also with international investigative bodies. Till then, every time a player scratches his head or tucks his towel, the viewer sitting back home would presume the match to be fixed and manipulated!