BCCI close to killing the golden goose

Last Updated: Sat, May 18, 2013 22:35 hrs

It has long been argued that the Indian Premier League is a true reflection of the various problems of Indian capitalism in the 21st century: cronyism, mis-set prices and an emphasis on the spectacular at the expense of the substantive and on the short term at the expense of the long. It is increasingly clear that it is also riddled with its own form of corruption and deception. The arrests of three players from the Rajasthan Royals team, and the clear threat from various police forces that other raids and arrests might follow - indeed, one of the bookmakers arrested is a former Royals player, too - make it clear that the rot of spot-fixing, in which players collude with bookmakers to produce certain outcomes that don't necessarily change the overall outcome of a match, is not something that has, as yet, gone away.

The problem for the Indian Premier League is that it is uncertain whether it is a sporting event or pure entertainment. Because it tries also to position itself as the latter, standards of one sort or another, particularly regulatory, have become lax. This should worry the Board of Control for Cricket in India, or BCCI. After all, like it or not, the IPL has become a very visible representation of Indian cricket, and its flaws can easily be taken to represent those of the game in general. Attempts made by international cricket in the past ten years to clean up the influence of illegal betting in the game have not, because of the BCCI's ongoing feuds with the International Cricket Council or ICC, made much of a difference to the IPL - which the Indian board considers to be its property alone. That the BCCI does not have the ability, persistence - or, some worry, the desire - of its international counterpart to crack down on fixing is becoming obvious. A change of approach is thus warranted.

Many possible solutions exist; but only cosmetic ones, such as banning mobile phones from dressing rooms, have been tried so far. It is clear that there are easy ways to get around that, such as the code involving towels that the fast bowler Sreesanth is supposed to have used to communicate. The real need is to regulate the League properly. Finally, arguments have long been made that the illegal and unregulated nature of betting on cricket, in which large amounts of black money is moved around the world by gangsters, has contributed to the problem. Whether there is some way in which such betting can be brought above-ground, so as to improve the ease of regulation, is something that should be examined. If there is a need for other legislative measures, those too should be seriously considered.

Either way, the BCCI must realise that it is coming close to killing the golden goose. Viewer interest in the IPL is not as firm as once it was, although the saturation coverage of the scandal shows it remains a cultural touchstone. It was only through the efforts of India's golden generation of cricketers that the stain of the match-fixing of the late 1990s was washed away - a stain which at one point threatened to turn an entire generation off the game. The BCCI must show it has learned the lessons of that period. Once cynicism invades how Indians watch cricket, then the IPL will no longer be sport - or even entertainment.

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