Indian greed league

IPL and betting

The spot fixing scandal that bedevilled the sixth season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) should occasion surprise only to those who naively believe that the sources of money spinning around the extravaganza are as pure as driven snow.

CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta, raising the issue of corruption of IPL matches, described IPL as a fertile ground for gambling and betting, urging the government to trace the source of massive funds flown in the entire event. He pointed out to the mechanism how teams are franchised, players are bought, teams are owned by leading industrial houses and business magnets that lead to open betting and gambling.

Belonging to another political planet, BJP leader Yashwant Sinha said, “IPL is nothing but a den of gambling. There is less cricket and more of gambling in the IPL.” Without a law against match-fixing in place, this format of the game since the beginning of IPL in 2008, has been a happy hunting ground for the bookmakers and punters. 

At the Asia House Festival of Asian Literature recently, James Astill and Ed Hawkins attempted to trace the link of corruption to Indian cricket. Astill – the author of ‘The Great Tamasha: Cricket, Corruption and the Turbulent Rise of Modern India’ – argued that corruption in Indian cricket reflects the weaknesses of Indian institutions, ironically when the game is growing at a time of soaring wealth within the country. Without the coming of age of Indian institutions and without the demand of greater probity in the public sphere, Astill felt, the problem could not be addressed.

Hawkins – the author of a provocatively-titled book ‘Bookie, Gambler, Fixer, Spy’– instead is more upfront in probing the dark underbelly of cricket taking pains to describe how corruption has struck a firm root in the game of cricket in recent years and how politicians, governing bodies, illegal bookmakers and players are mired in an internecine cycle of corruption, intimidation and even murder.

Not that we didn’t get to hear of it. Words were rife that for any India-Pakistan clash, especially in Sharjah – believed to be the nerve-centre of match-fixing – Dawood-controlled betting syndicates step in and Mumbai bookies, as an unwritten code of conduct, lay off. Paul Condon, the former head of the Anti-Corruption Unit of the ICC claimed that during the Nineties, ODIs and Test matches were being fixed on a regular basis. 

Way back in 2000, when the Delhi police intercepted a conversation between a blacklisted bookie and the South African cricket skipper Hansie Cronje in which they learnt that Cronje accepted money to throw matches, we were made aware of the role of flush money in what has come to be traditionally known as a gentleman’s game. A CBI report on match-fixing named not only former India skipper Mohammad Azharuddin and players such as Ajay Jadeja, Nayan Mongia, and Manoj Prabhakar but also nine non-Indian players, including former West Indies skipper Brian Lara and former England skipper Alec Stewart, Australia's Mark Waugh and Dean Jones, Sri Lanka's Aravinda DeSilva and Arjuna Ranatunga, New Zealand's Martin Crowe and Pakistan's Salim Malik.

Range of syndicates

Implicated or not, the names of so many cricketers across the world, were indication enough about the range and breadth of betting syndicates. The CBI, in its report, castigated the Board of Control for Cricket (BCCI) in India for failing to investigate allegations "which were bound to have been within their knowledge" "Both inducements and threats to players are bound to increase in view of the big money involved in gambling on cricket and the entry of the underworld," the report concluded.

This time, we are feeling a sense of déjà vu. This time as well, the BCCI is accused of not acting, despite its knowledge that the problem is grave, of not ensuring that players do not get lured away by the trap bookmakers set for them. The BCCI seems to be guided not by a definite stand on match-fixing, drugs and chucking but rather looks soft on the transgressors. One can understand the rotten core when one finds that Vindoo Dara Singh, arrested in connection with the scandal, was in touch with Gurunath Meiyappan, CSK chief and son-in-law of BCCI president N Srinivasan.

Besides players with pay cheques that far outstrip their ability – Sreesanth’s annual IPL salary of $ 681,000 could have bought him several large houses in his home region of Kerala besides a successful post-retirement career – there are players who as malcontents begrudge a low deal in the auctions; minnows who have only a few years of cricket in them, who all might be susceptible to the lure of quick money. Take the instance of Ankit Chavan or Ajit Chandila, who could be remotely trusted to have a realistic chance of playing for India and earning through cricket legally the amounts they could make illegally.

Comparing European Premier League (EPL) with IPL, commentator Mukul Kesavan once tersely commented that the IPL has made the ‘fatal’ mistake of selling razzmatazz, while the EPL remains committed to selling football. “Over time this will trivialise the league because the glitz will make it hard for its potential fan base to take the matches seriously. Loyalty, in the end, is a serious business.”

Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan just happen to be three skewed symbols of an internecine story of greed that governs Indian crony capitalism now, which incidentally is part of a larger scheme of corruption stalking our nation. Market is a nice thing only as long as it does not begin to stalk itself.

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