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28 May, 2013

A can of worms in cricket

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A gambling scandal which has landed a cricket team manager, three national players, a film producer and many bookies in police custody has exposed the seamy side of Indian sports.

S Sreesanth, a pace bowler who has played 27 Tests and 53 one-day matches for the country, and his Rajasthan Royals teammates Ankeet Chavan and Ajit Chandila were arrested by Delhi police for alleged spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL).

Mumbai police also got into the act and arrested Gurunath Meiyappan, manager of Chennai Super Kings and son-in-law of Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President N Srinivasan, and Vindoo Dara Singh, a film and television actor.

Spot-fixing involves deliberate bad bowling to enable batsmen of the opposite team to make an agreed number of runs. Delhi police says Sreesanth received Rs4 million for conceding 14 runs in an over in a match between Rajasthan Royals and Kings XI Punjab.

The IPL, which is just five years old, is a commercial take-off from the fast-paced 20-over version of the sport which has gained currency in the recent past.

Teams earn eligibility to play by securing franchise through bidding and buy senior players in auctions. Sponsorship and television rights are sold for high prices. All of this is official. Then there is betting, which is unofficial. The annual illegal betting is estimated at $54 billion.

According to the police, the betting business is controlled from abroad. The activity apparently involves money laundering too.

When the IPL was launched in 2008, in the player auctions a spending cap of $5 million was set for each franchisee. Of the 108 Indian and foreign players on offer this year, 37 were sold for $11.87 million. Australian all-rounder Glen Maxwell fetched the highest price of $1 million.

Eight franchises were awarded in the first year. The base price was $400 million but the auction fetched $723.59 million. In 2010, two more franchises were given for $703 million. In this year’s tournament, which ended on Sunday, only nine participated.

Politicians and businessmen control the sport. Union Agriculture Minister and National Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar is a former BCCI president. Current president Srinivasan is a Chennai-based businessman, and vice-president Arun Jaitley is a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party. The IPL was founded by Lalit Modi, a businessman, when he was BCCI vice-president. Its current chief Rajeev Shukla is a Union minister of state, Congress general secretary and former television anchor. 

Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Shilpa Shetty and Sun TV network owner and former Tamil Nadu chief minister M Karunanidhi’s grandnephew Kalanidhi Maran are among the team owners.

The IPL brand value, which hit $4.13 billion in 2010, is now put at $3.03 billion. The combined brand value of the teams is $325.8 million.

Till 2017, the IPL is to retain 40 per cent of all revenue, distribute 54 per cent to franchisees and pay out six per cent as prize money. It was to become a listed public company last year but this did not happen.

The IPL is all about money. The BCCI gave it the nod with its eyes on an anticipated revenue of $1.6 billion over five to 10 years, without realising it was opening a can of worms.

When a sting operation by a TV channel exposed alleged spot-fixing involving five players last year the damage was quickly controlled. The BCCI’s incestuous relationship with the IPL inhibited it from acting decisively. The government, which has granted the IPL tax exemption, also did not act.

Since two state police teams are conducting separate investigations and both have provided versions with gaping holes, the final outcome of the current scandal is open to doubt. Old-time players and cricket fans are saddened by the commercialisation and want the sport rescued. The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry favours legalisation of betting.

The government is considering the possibility of bringing in a law to deal with betting in all sports. Given the political and financial clout of those in charge of sports, it may end up as an unenforced or under-enforced law. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, May 28, 2013.

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