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Rajdeep Sardesai
Friday , April 16, 2010 at 10 : 25

Gochi in Kochi: let's play it straight


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Here's a story that perhaps best exemplifies how far Indian cricket has traveled. In the mid-1950s, India was playing New Zealand. The players at the time were paid a princely sum of Rs 250 for representing the country. When India beat the Kiwis in four days, a cheque of just Rs 200 was handed out. When asked by the players, a board official replied, "Who told you to win the match in four days? Fifty rupees per day is what we give you and since the match has not gone into the fifth day, we can't pay you the full amount!"

Five decades later, the Indian Premier League has dramatically altered the rules of the game. There are IPL players who may not even represent their state side, leave aside the country, but will still in the span of seven weeks earn more than what distinguished Test players from a previous generation earned in an entire lifetime. Which is why the success of the IPL should be celebrated: the era when even some of the finest cricketers struggled to make ends meet is well and truly over. The IPL is easily the biggest blockbuster of our times, a multi-million dollar entertainment brand which, to use the words of its chief impresario, Lalit Modi, has become 'recession-proof'.

But as the controversy swirling around Mr Modi and Union Minister Shashi Tharoor now suggests, being 'recession-proof' doesn't make you immune to sleaze and scandal. The staggering sums of money involved in IPL means that the 'gochi in Kochi' was waiting to happen. That it took a series of tweets to expose cricket's grimy underbelly is also not without irony. Tharoor, after all, is India's most famous twitterer, while Modi too tweets daily. Twitter is premised on the principle of making information flow open and transparent. Often, information that may have been considered sensitive in a pre-Twitter era is now available almost instantaneously through a one line tweet.

Unfortunately, the IPL, for all its phenomenal success in becoming a global brand in barely three years, has lacked a certain transparency in its functioning. Do we, for example, have full disclosures of all the stakeholders of the IPL teams, including 'related parties' and 'associate businesses'? Do we know how bids and valuations were decided in the first auction and who were the other bidders who lost out and by what margin? Isn't there a conflict of interest when a senior cricket board official also owns an IPL franchise?

These are questions that haven't been fully answered because the IPL has been run like a tightly-knit Boys Club, a clique of the rich and famous who appear to have mutually decided the rules of engagement with Modi and Mammon as the presiding deities. IPL Kochi, lets be honest, tried to break into the party. The owners weren't business barons (or at least none we'd heard of), nor were they film stars. The only recognisable 'face' they possessed was a high-profile Union Minister with an unquestioned passion for cricket.

Of course, not every passionate cricket fan would choose to 'mentor' an IPL team with uncertain financial connections. Not if you happen to be a public figure in a responsible position. Mr Tharoor may have had the perfectly justifiable ambition of becoming a Kerala folk hero, but it was naive of him to confuse a primarily commercial enterprise with the so-called 'spirit' of the game. By allowing himself and his friends to be drawn into a high stakes IPL auction, Tharoor left himself exposed to charges of influence-peddling.

But why single out Tharoor? Sports, especially cricket, has always been an intoxicant for our netas. Virtually every sporting body in this country is headed by a politician. At least a dozen state cricket associations are presided over by politicians, many with little interest or knowledge of the game. A majority of them run the cricket associations like personal fiefdoms, with decision-making confined to a small group of people who are accountable to no one.

The BCCI, the country's richest sporting body, exemplifies this culture of non-accountable administration. A few years ago, a lawyer Rahul Mehra had petitioned the Delhi high court claiming that the cricket board was functioning like a private empire. While ruling that the BCCI was subject to judicial review, the court observed, "We must not forget that cricket, is no longer what it used to be. It is not just a sport which people dressed in white flannels and rolled up shirt-sleeves enjoyed on lazy summer's afternoons in England between sips of tea and munches of scones. It is no longer the reserve of the nawabs, the maharajas, the brown sahebs and the rich who had the time and the inclination. It now permeates all levels of society."

Unfortunately, the democratisation of Indian cricket has not transformed the way it's administered. The IPL, in a sense, was uniquely positioned to effect a change since it is not dependent on political patronage. But while it has achieved great success in integrating the sport with consumer needs and market demands, it has failed to usher in the ethical standards of corporate governance that professional Indian sport so desperately needs.

The Kochi controversy is a timely wake up call for the IPL to clean up its act and observe due diligence before it's too late. The IPL needs to become the Indian Public League, not end up as a secret society.

(Post-script: The 250 rupee story was told to me by the sardar of spin Bishen Singh Bedi. Bedi's classical style might have been ill-suited to Twenty20 cricket but you can bet your last rupee, he wouldn't have minded being auctioned for a few crores!)

(The writer is the Editor-in-Chief IBN 18. mail rajdeep.sardesai@network18online.com)


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More about Rajdeep Sardesai

Rajdeep Sardesai is the Editor-in-Chief, IBN18 Network, that includes CNN-IBN, IBN 7 and IBN Lokmat. He comes with 22 years of journalistic experience during which he has covered some of the biggest stories in India and the world. Prior to setting up the IBN network, he was the Managing Editor of both NDTV 24X7 and NDTV India and was responsible for overseeing the news policy for both the channels. He has also worked with The Times of India for six years and was the city editor of its Mumbai edition at the age of 26. During the last 22 years, he has covered major national and international stories, specialising in national politics. He has won numerous other awards for journalistic excellence, including the prestigious Padma Shri for journalism in 2008, the International Broadcasters Award for coverage of the 2002 Gujarat riots and the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for 2007. He has won the Asian Television Award for best talk show for the Big Fight on two occasions and his current flagship show on CNN-IBN, India at 9, has been awarded the best news show at the Asian awards for the last two years. He has been News Anchor of the year at the Indian Television Academy for seven of the last eight years and won more than 50 awards in this period. He has also been the President of the Editors Guild of India, the only television journalist to hold the post and was chosen a Global leader for tomorrow by the world economic forum in 2000. An alumni of St Xavier's College, Mumbai, he has done his Masters and LLB from Oxford University and has also played first class cricket for the Oxford University team. He has contributed to several books and writes a fortnightly column that appears in seven newspapers.
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