Monday, January 23, 2012

BCCI Cash Machine Collapses, So What? The Shame is Corruption in Sports

Indian cricket's performance in Australia this time has been described as shameful, humiliating, disgraceful, etc. Actually, it is the best thing that has happened not just to Indian cricket but to India itself. If this “disgrace” can only be sustained for a while, Indians can, perhaps, recover from a madness that has been induced in them by commercial operators.

Of course cricket was always popular in India. But popularity never turned into mandess in the days of Vijay Merchant and Vinoo Mankad. If Bombay's Brabourne Stadium was full when cricket stars were playing a test, so was the nearby Cooperage grounds when football heroes were kicking up their magic. No cricket team ever commanded the preeminence of Mohan Bagan and East Bengal clubs.

Cricket's spoilage began with the arrival of television. TV meant advertisements which meant money. And money meant politicians. Politicians of course meant ruination. Money attracted business tycoons also. The combination of politicians and business tycoons can only lead to one thing – scams of different shades. This happened and transformed cricket from a sport to a commercial activity run for profits.

The climax came with IPL, the correct full form of which was given as Indian Paisa League. It was invented by a man whose genius cannot be denied. Lalit Modi, singlehandedly, converted cricket from a five-day and one-day bore into a three-hour prime time spectacle complete with Bollywood stars and imported cheerleaders – genetic engineering at its wicked best. He sold teams and auctioned players in the ultimate commercialisation of the game. Cricket was fully corporatised.

Unfortunately Lalit Modi's genius was not unlike the genius of Harshad Mehta and Abdul Karim Telgi who too had thought up wholly original business schemes. So in the end rivals brought him down and he had to leave the country to escape legal traps. How long he can remain safely away is in doubt since the cases against him are alive and his passport is impounded according to some reports.

Of course the corruption of cricket was not started by Lalit Modi. The tragedies of South African Captain Hansie Cronje and India's own Mohammed Azharuddin were played out before Modi. But Modi raised cricket from the million-league to the billion-league. The auction of just two IPL teams in 2010 brought in Rs 32 billion. The criminal case filed against Modi alleged a misappropriation of Rs 4.7 billion.

The billions mean that the politicians and the tycoons will dig their feet deeper into the BCCI, the controlling body. That is the real bad news. Because of its monopoly and the pull of the politicians running it, the BCCI conducts itself as a supranational fiefdom. The richest cricket body in the world, it still wants tax concessions, it still argues that its books are not open to outsiders, that it is above RTI rules. BCCI talks of misappropriation by Lalit Modi. Were the other bosses of BCCI twiddling their thumbs when one man was making hay? How many have misappropriated how much?

Sharad Pawar and Arun Jaitley and Rajiv Shukla belong to opposing parties which try to gore one another in the political pit. But the luxury and the privileges and the sheer money cricket provides are so beautiful that they embrace one another warmly on the BCCI's pitch. For once coalition dharma runs smooth as silk. All of Indian sport has been destroyed by self-seeking politicians. India does reasonably well only in individual sports like shooting, wrestling and tennis. The talent in athletics is outstanding, but politicians and sundry exploiters look after their own comfort while subjecting athletes to deprivation and abuse. The example set by cricket and its Pawars and Jaitleys and Shuklas wreaks havoc across the field.

From far away, the New York Times once commented that IPL had become a symbol of “how much the old and often corrupt political and business elite still dominate the country”. This is what really is shameful, humiliating, disgraceful, etc., not the collapse of BCCI's money machine in Australia.