Match-fixing: What is the solution for fans?

Last Updated: Mon, Jun 10, 2013 12:12 hrs

Since the allegations about spot-fixing in the IPL first came out last month, more than 60 people have been arrested, and the police are on the lookout for several more. The headlines grow more bizarre every day. I doubt any of us would be surprised if N Srinivasan declared that he didn't know Gurunath Meiyappan was his son-in-law. Or if Raj Kundra said he didn't know he was part-owner of Rajasthan Royals.

As the authorities get busy with straightening out the mess, there is another set of stakeholders in the game – the fans. Reactions to the spot-fixing have ranged from staunch support for the teams that haven't been proven to be involved yet, to disillusioned calls for the IPL to be banned next year.

Now, we all know that is unlikely to happen. There is simply too much money riding on it. Besides, to ban a sport because of corruption is tantamount to admitting that the authorities are powerless to control it – which, though it is likely the case, is too embarrassing to accept.

What I find most interesting to gauge is how the IPL fan will respond to next year's tournament. Perhaps one of the reasons for the IPL's popularity is that it freed people from obligation. One didn't have a nation to support, to justify one's sense of patriotism. Of course, there are cities, but the stars of most teams aren't native to the city they represent. Unless one is a celebrity, one didn't have to wear team colours. And it was great entertainment, if one could let go of the idea that this isn't how cricket ought to be played.

As we look ahead to next year, that's probably what we should keep in mind – we need to let go of the idea that this isn't how cricket, or any sport, ought to be played.

The authorities can stage a clean-up act, but that is all it will be – a staged motion. Bookies will crop up again, and bets will be placed. Cricketers will be bought. That's just how it works.

One may argue that the obscene amounts of money even average players are paid to be part of this hungama should preclude the temptation to accept money to throw a game. But we all know that won't happen. There will be someone who decides to bowl a discreet no-ball for a seven-figure sum. There will be someone who drops a prize catch for an eight-figure sum.

Given all this, how do we react as an audience? Should we distance ourselves from the game, watching it for entertainment, but without the involvement of crazed fans? We know that rarely happens in sport. Unless one is absolutely indifferent to the game and the players (which I happen to be in the case of the IPL, and cricket in general), one finds oneself cheering for a particular team (which happens to me during football matches).

Should we trust that the IPL has actually been cleaned up, and that those who brought dishonour to the tournament are going to be punished? That those who are subsequently found guilty of the same malpractices will eventually be punished? Except for the most idealistic, fans are unlikely to swallow this.

But do we see this as a competitive sport, or as entertainment? If it is the latter, should it really bother us whether the games have been fixed or not? Haven't we got our summer evenings of fun, our share of live matches, our one-liners on Facebook and Twitter irrespective of whether the matches were legit or not? Perhaps we should let match-fixing bother us less than it does. We don't hold big stakes in here, unless of course we are involved in the betting too.

Then, there is the other, more scary, prospect of revelations fans don't want to hear – for instance, what should viewers do if evidence emerges that some of the World Cup matches were fixed, and that India didn't beat the world without assistance?

The sense of betrayal that cheating in sport brings to fans is uniquely potent, perhaps because sport comes closest to war-heroism. One-on-one games are duels, team sports are battles, and we associate them with a certain code of honour.

What we need to ask ourselves is whether this code of honour is relevant anymore. Can it really be said that a sportsman is fighting purely for an ideal, when he makes more money from the industries allied with his sport, such as advertising? Moreover, why haven't we considered that we are perhaps more loyal to teams than the players themselves are? If Sachin Tendulkar were to move to the Kolkata Knight Riders, for instance, wouldn't he do his utmost to beat the Mumbai Indians, of whom he was a part for so long?

Maybe we need to step back and stop getting angry over the match-fixing. No game is incorruptible, and the sooner we accept that, the less disheartened we are likely to get.

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