Ironically, the most shocking thing about the spot fixing scandal that has rocked the Indian Premier League is that it may not have come as a rude shock to too many in the game. For, the moral vacuousness of IPL’s agenda — packaging dumbed-down entertainment as sport with the sole aim of making money — had left plenty of room for shady dealings of this kind. Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, the banality of evil, may not be out of place in the context of the popular League and the mephitic cloud of corruption under which it has prospered. Three players of the Rajasthan Royals team and a number of bookmakers have been arrested but when a whole enterprise is focussed myopically on crass commerce, it is only a matter of time before a few of those involved in it lose their moral compass. The utter lack of transparency in the IPL did come to light a few years ago and the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) predictably responded by pointing a finger at the man, Lalit Modi, whose brainchild the league was. But little was done to monitor the off-field activities of players, agents and hangers-on. And the arrests of S. Sreesanth, Ankeet Chavan, Ajit Chandila and a group of bookies may just be the tip of the iceberg. From the police’s description of how they cracked the case, it is obvious that there seemed to have been enough grounds for them to carefully monitor the matches.
Cricket, or for that matter any other popular sport, has never been a stranger to such scandals. From the time the Chicago White Sox “threw” the American baseball championship in 1919, sport has been fair game for fixers. And in India, where betting on sport other than horse racing is illegal, almost everybody following cricket has been aware that outrageously large sums of money were changing hands each time a big game was played. This was particularly so in Twenty20 cricket, which lends itself easily to spot fixing. What the late Hansie Cronje was offered — and what he accepted — might appear like small change in the context of what has transpired since. Spot fixing first came to light in the summer of 2010 when a News of the World exposé nailed Pakistan’s Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. But if Indian fans and the game’s administrators chose to believe that Indian players were untainted, they have only their naivety to blame. With the blessings of the Indian Board, the IPL has become a kind of rogue colossus. And this is, by far, the biggest blow to the BCCI’s credibility. A major clean up operation is required if cricket in India is to retain the loyalty of its fans. And passivity and inaction on the part of the men who run the game in this country may turn out to be worse than active collusion.