Saturday, May 15, 2010

Caligula cripples cricket

It will be a pity if Lalit Modi gets off the hook on legalistic technicalities. That’s what he is trying to do. And our country has a long history of dubious characters getting off the hook on one technicality or another. Take your pick from a host of “VIPs” ranging from Ottavio Quattrochi to Dawood Ibrahim.

No technicality can hide facts that stare everyone in the face – that IPL was a money game, not a cricket game, that obscenely huge amounts characterised all its billings, from hundreds of millions of dollars for a team ownership to 40,000 plus rupees for a match ticket, that betting and insider trading flourished in the culture singlehandedly promoted by Modi, that moneys were invested by arms dealers and smugglers and offshore black-money barons through shell companies.

Much of this took place under the nose of a brazen, defiant Modi and a brazenly unseeing, unhearing establishment. Which is another aspect of this scandal that needs to be looked into. Yes, this man was an over-wrought, badly brought-up, spoiled character who, because he was born with a jewel-encrusted golden spoon in his mouth, thought that he was his own law and his own universe. But even such a one-man Caligula could not have done all that he did without his immediate “colleagues” knowing what was going on.

What indeed was going on among these colleagues, especially the BCCI and the so-called Governing Council consisting of some of cricket’s most celebrated stars? The first and foremost crime of these bodies was their secrecy. Playing with public money and public emotions, there should have been a system that enforced at least a modicum of transparency on them. But their only system was mounavrit. Was this because they were scared of Caligula, or was it because Caligula was generous with his loot?

The income tax and enforcement authorities have already unearthed some of the answers to such questions. If their inquiries are allowed to proceed unhindered, we will get all the answers and our cricket stables can at last been cleared of the muck they have gathered over the years. But, again, our record does not give us much hope. Inquiries get slowed down, forgotten or even sidetracked to suit the political convenience of the moment. Cricket is the most political game in the country, with ranking politicians like Sharad Pawar and Arun Jaitley at the helm. (What is a card-carrying BJP leader doing here? Was there Vedic Cricket on the banks of the Saraswathi?) The earlier politicians are banished from sports organisations, the better for sports and for the country.

The irony is that, even as BCCI played the game of the three wise monkeys, IPL’s corrupt ways had attracted attention abroad. The International Cricket Council’s ACSU (anti-corruption and security unit) told the ICC Board on the eve of IPL 2 in South Africa: “IPL brings with it the biggest threat in terms of corruption in the game since the days of cricket in Sharjah”.

What was BCCI’s response? Mounavrit. What was the Governing Council’s response? Mounavrit. What was Lalit Modi’s response? Ban ACSU from IPL in South Africa. Under pressure, he later allowed some ACSU officials to be present at the matches but subject to various conditions he imposed.

Two things are obvious about the man with the jewel-encrusted golden spoon. One, he will do things his way from adopting the dubious business model of speculative valuation to changing bid rules arbitrarily to help his buddies and relatives. If anybody cries foul, he will simply excommunicate them, simple.

Lalit Modi is not a man. He is an idea. He is a pernicious idea that has already destroyed cricket as well as India’s fair name in the global arena of sport. To let this man and his idea off the hook will be to keep India permanently swinging on the hook.