By Anand Philar
If at all proof was needed that cricket is no more a sport but just another industry, then the Indian Premier League is a shining example. The franchisee team owners and the BCCI would like us to believe that their cause is the game and its 'upliftment', while the mind-boggling financials involved are secondary.
You only need to look at the figures that one cannot even begin to count and ask of the team owners why they had not thought of spending just a small percentage of the staggering amounts they have coughed up to run academies or indulge in such grassroot activities like sponsoring needy and talented kids. The reason is the bottom-line.
Any businessman worth his salt would like to know how much he gets for anything he gives. In business parlance, it is all about return on investments or RoI for short. That alone dictates any spends of a corporate or a business house. The IPL team owners might have as well saved all the hogwash about 'love and passion' and stated the true purpose of their involvement that undoubtedly is the mileage, both personal and for their products.
Yes, the IPL has certainly elevated cricket to a different plane and I have no qualms in accepting reality. But it is difficult to believe that the Twenty20 format would help develop and nurture the game where a player's ability is judged mostly on his performances in Test matches, not even the ODI. Thus, looking in from the outside, the IPL is what it is - a high stakes business venture.
Indian cricket never had it as good and, if anything, the IPL has set a benchmark in financial stakes while making the BCCI among the richest sports federations in the World despite the fact that cricket is actively played in only 10 countries as against 208 in football!
The question is whether the valuation of cricket is overly inflated considering the base price for bids by the franchisees being $50 million even allowing for the fact that cricket enjoys the highest TRPs in India.
Any which way you look at the IPL and its millions, the BCCI has made the sporting world to sit up and take notice. After all, the IPL is now reckoned to be among the top revenue grosser, only behind the likes of National Football League (US), Major League Baseball, the NBA and of course, the English Premier League.
We might lament the obscene amounts being forked out by persons or entities of little or no cricketing credentials at a time when Indian sport is living a hand-to-mouth existence. But the fact is cricket has taken an irreversible step that has put the sport in the realm of fantasy. A would-be parent would now encourage the offspring to take to cricket as a career rather than any other sport.
Listening to the franchisee owners' blah-blah about their wish to 'contribute to the development of Indian cricket' and 'encourage youngsters', I thought they were insulting the intelligence of the audience. Team owners like Mukesh Ambani and Vijay Mallya are hardcore businessmen who may casually throw a few hundreds of millions of dollars for a lark, but behind every penny they spend, they would have perceived a return. If not, they would not have been in business in the first place!
The same could be said of cricketing nobodies like Priety Zinta, Shah Rukh Khan, Ness Wadia and their ilk who today are `proud owners' of the sport's top players. In fact, the situation is such these days that Bollywood rides on cricket. SRK's presence at the T20 World Cup final sporting a T-Shirt proclaiming his latest film was a case of clever promotion of his movie, for he knew the cameras would be panned on him and he leveraged the situation to the maximum.
If anything, the days of the amateur are gone for ever. The IPL and its billions have ensured that. I wouldn't get into cricket bashing, but rather, the BCCI has only exposed the sorry state of other sports federations in India.
For instance, the recent hockey Test series between Belgium and India in Chennai did not have a single sponsor! None of the Indian players were even paid a rupee (leave alone a dollar). Yet, hockey is often touted as India's `national sport and pride' on the basis of the eight Olympic gold medals it won decades ago. Last year, the Asia Cup winning team had to threaten a hunger strike to earn a couple of lakhs for their success!
Ironically, the IPL has been introduced in an Olympic year. The Beijing Games are barely six months away. Few federations have even a plan in place, be it training or fund-raising to meet the costs. Instead, just about every one of them is on hands and knees awaiting moneys from the Indian government.
Shocking, yes. But then, who cares? Other sports in India too, in a way can also be branded as IPL - Indian Poverty League!