The cricket board has come out of the betting scandal as a toothless body with its focus on protecting its chief, the IPL and its chairman, not the sport
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of the Indian Premier League scandal has been the indifference of the public to the revelations. Television channels have been covering the story in the manner of a soap opera where the ambient sound is a continuous screech. Yet, the match-going public was unaffected; so much so that N. Srinivasan, president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, uncharacteristically thanked the people for their support. This is the first recorded instance of the BCCI president acknowledging that the audience is a part of any sporting spectacle.
But that was then. Now, fortified by the support of his cohorts in the BCCI, the brief vulnerability is gone, the arrogance is back. And Chennai Super Kings were given the Fair Play Award. What better way of rubbing the face of cricket lovers into the dirt?
Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if the fans had refused to turn up at Eden Gardens for the final, forcing it to be played before an empty stadium? Alone among the stakeholders in the sport, they have the power to force the cricket board to clean up its act, first by keeping away from matches and then by boycotting the products of the sponsors involved in the IPL. That fantasy was, however, short-lived.
Another fantasy: players with the integrity of Sachin Tendulkar, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid take a stand. Dravid has spoken of the ‘bereavement’ he and his teammates at Rajasthan Royals felt at the turn of events. But more needs to be done. The team that ensured India kept its dignity and sanity despite a captain and other players being found guilty of match-fixing 13 years ago needs to come together a second time. Add Sourav Ganguly, Javagal Srinath, V.V.S. Laxman, Venkatesh Prasad to the group above. Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.
But then, as Saurabh Somani has suggested in his column in wisdenindia.com, perhaps Indian cricket survived not so much because of the integrity of its players as the indifference of the general public to the scandals.
In that case, the Indian public is reacting on the right lines. And that is even more depressing than the stories of betting and fixing tumbling out now.
If stories of the unhappiness of the sponsors are true — and which sponsor would like to be associated with a tainted product — money, which is the root of all evil might, in this case, be the root of all good. More than the public, the sponsors hold the key in the IPL which has been characterised as a means for billionaires to get together and make more money, and hang the sport.
Sadly, even the media, now so critical of the shenanigans in the IPL, saw no contradiction in reporting the playoff and the final matches in its usual breathless manner when it too could have taken a stand by either ignoring the matches altogether or dismissing them in a single paragraph.
Board of Compromises
The BCCI, once again the Board of Compromises for Cricket in India, has come across as a toothless body — although what is really missing is a couple of other body parts — focussing on protecting the Board president, the IPL and its chairman, His Oiliness Rajiv Shukla, when its stated aim is to protect the sport.
Why aren’t enough people feeling bad about the scandal? Is it because it is a minor one compared to the huge money and bigger politicians involved in, say, the coal allotment scam? Is it because we have all been numbed by the regular excavation of dirt in other areas? Is it because we are convinced nothing will change?
To say that cricket is a reflection of society is glib. It is an artificial construct, with man-made rules and human expectations. For that very reason, it must follow a moral code that places it above the daily dealings of society. We inject meaning into sport which is essentially a meaningless activity, and with that we also inject morality and expect a higher standard of behaviour from those connected with it. Cricket is a philosophy that cannot be a mere reflection of society but something society must aspire to, with its emphasis on ethics, fair play and teamwork. If Sreesanth cheats on his girlfriend, that is a private matter. But if he cheats on the cricket field, he has no place in decent society.
Mr. Srinivasan remains BCCI president secure in the knowledge that the public doesn’t care if the IPL is a version of WWE wrestling, comforted by the fact that self-interest will guide the actions of his colleagues in the Board (right now self-interest coincides with the president’s interest), that if he brazens it out long enough, the media will grow tired of the story and move on to other scandals so thoughtfully provided by our men and women in public life. His argument for hanging on is disingenuous since no one is accusing him of complicity. He needs to go because the inquiry must not only be fair but seen to be fair. This is an issue of propriety that simply bounces off the president’s thick skin, making no impression whatsoever.
Not even the unsubtle efforts at blackmail by his associates — Rajiv Shukla and the opportunistic Subroto Roy Sahara — made any difference. Mr. Shukla’s attempts to round up the troops against Mr. Srinivasan came to nought. No knight in shining armour, not Arun Jaitley, not Narendra Modi — both of whom are board members — emerged to take the BCCI out of the mire of corruption. Mr. Roy’s threat of pulling out as sponsor of the Indian team if Mr. Srinivasan continued in office was laughed out of consideration by those who profit with Mr. Srinivasan in office rather than by having a do-gooder take over the reins.
Jumping on to the bandwagon to provide comic relief is former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, appearing like a cross between Mother Teresa and a cuckoo clock, telling us at hourly intervals how pure he is, and how Mr. Srinivasan is the fount of all evil. This, from a man who once addressed Mr. Srinivasan as ‘darling’ and was a party to condoning Mr. Srinivasan’s original conflict of interest — acquiring an IPL franchise (Chennai Super Kings) when he is a crucial part of the board that administers and polices cricket in India.
There is a lesson for the BCCI in the manner in which the bookies approach the vulnerable. The disaffected, the unhappy, the weak are natural targets. If a bookie could tell that someone like Sreesanth was some of the above, surely that should have occurred to the psychologists in the team and the Players’ Association too?
But then neither exists, and that is a part of the problem. Counselling, an important part of keeping sportsmen mentally fit, and a players’ association focussed on the well-being of the player, are alien concepts simply because of an archaic misunderstanding which equates players’ associations with trade unions.
In the last week of the IPL, the competition was off the field: between the police departments of Delhi and Mumbai, between Mr. Srinivasan and the truth, between news channel and news channel. We are a long way from the end.
Spot-fixing has followed the pattern of corruption scandals in India: initially, the authorities deny everything. Then they brazen it out. A commission of inquiry is promised. Responses thereafter are along the lines of “let the law take its course.” Occasionally a scapegoat is found who is way down the pecking order leaving the real culprits to continue in positions of power.
What next? Will Mr. Srinivasan claim that Gurunath Meiyappan is not his son-in-law either?
(Suresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack)