Does BCCI have mettle to resist greed?

There are huge risks involved in venturing into the unknown, drawing new, hungry audiences to a sport and, more importantly, new investors. For close to three years since the concept of the Indian Premier League was unleashed on an unsuspecting Indian public, it rode a high but events in the week gone by have threatened to prick the inflated balloon.

In a classical case of Twitter vs. Twitter, featuring two of India’s widely followed men, Lalit Modi and Shashi Tharoor went at one another’s jugular. India has watched with bated breath as these men fought a no-holds-barred battle in public domain in the wake of IPL’s expansion from eight to 10 franchises in the next season.

No soap opera could have offered a richer menu – allegations of favouritism, nepotism, bribery and threats, income-tax surveys featured prominently. It did not seem to matter that IPL III was heading to its climax. A large audience awaited the unfolding drama that got along more dramatis personae every day and left us with more unanswered and uncomfortable questions.

Let me dismiss any suggestions that cricket will suffer. I have believed that cricket can outlast any controversy like it did Bodyline, apartheid, Kerry Packer-led World Series and match-fixing. The game is larger than anything else that it spawns, including pretenders who wallow in the belief that they are larger than cricket itself.

The fact that last year when the world was battling recession – and India with a slowdown —  the eight franchises signed up 17 overseas cricketers and spent more to $11.5 million at the auction was a clear pointer to not just IPL’s health but also that of the cricket economy in the country and, for good measure, the state that India was in.

And this year, the numbers took a gigantic leap with two new franchises promising to raise more than $700 million over 10 years. But naturally, some of wondered if the owners of the two new teams had such deep pockets that would see them through long spells of no return. And we wondered if IPL was reaching for the self-destruct button by inviting uninvestigated investment.

Let us look at some more questions that have sprung up now in the wake of Lalit Modi’s tweet about the shareholding in IPL Kochi. If indeed the IPL Commissioner wanted to check the antecedents of those involved in floating the company that successfully bid for the right to own IPL Kochi, he should have done all that verification before the auction itself rather than fling doubts after the bidding process was complete.

And, if indeed there is nothing wrong in revealing the names of the shareholders in IPL Kochi, why haven’t shareholding patterns of all IPL teams been revealed? Such selective revelations do raise doubts about the motive. So was Lalit Modi peeved that Rendezvous Sport and the others chose Kochi over Ahmedabad?

There is a feeling – and it has been fuelled by the IPL Kochi camp – that Lalit Modi was keen that the franchise be based in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat. How true is Shailendra Gaekwad’s allegation that Lalit Modi offered him $ 50 million to withdrawn their bid for the Kochi franchise so that fresh bidding could be called for?

The time is at hand for all IPL stakeholders to prove to the nation at large that the sight-screens in the venues are the only things black now associated with the colourful game. A lot of us will heave a collective sigh of relief if that is not the colour of money likely to come into the game. It would help if we know for sure that there is no slush money being laundered through IPL.

Since most IPL franchises are not to be making a profit yet – and the two new ones are unlikely to in three to five years, given the enormous amounts they are due to invest each year – I wonder if they really want to make a profit and not just balance their books of accounts with a loss-making project.

There is no question that IPL has drawn huge investments in India. Nor, for that matter, can anyone challenge the fact that IPL has gone past the conventional sponsor and appealed to a world beyond. Therefore, it is imperative that IPL is not run on whims but raises the bar as a model of corporate governance in Indian sport.

One of things that must be done is to ensure that all these companies that own IPL franchises and other IPL properties are registered in India rather than in tax havens. The other thing it must do is to develop a self-regulatory mechanism that will ensure that the financial deals by IPL and its franchises are clean as a whistle.

And yes, the Board of Control for Cricket in India needs to exercise more control over what it calls one of its sub-committees, especially in money matters. At the moment, the sub-committee has outgrown its parent leaps and bounds and threatens to over-run it, too. The only whip that BCCI holds is the fact it runs all ‘official’ cricket in India and can withdraw recognition to a product that has grown beyond its control.

Any human endeavour that encompasses body, mind and spirit makes for a heady potion for those who are destined to merely watch it. The idea of drawing new audiences is fine; the idea of taking IPL beyond known boundaries is just as fine; but getting new investment without verifying its antecedents or questioning the motives of the new benefactors does not appeal to me as bright at all.

Cricket needs to guard its reputation fiercely and not become a vehicle for all and sundry to ride piggy back on. The big questions is: Do the mandarins of BCCI have the mettle to say that they would not be drawn by an intense desire – bordering on greed – to make more money for the sport? Your guess is as good as mine.

(This article was first published in Free Press Journal, Mumbai)

11 comments for “Does BCCI have mettle to resist greed?

  1. Karthik
    April 18, 2010 at 10:27 am

    Totally agree on the color of the money with no real intentions to make profits or break even. The transparency issue is overstated here. if so the investors credentials should have been verified before the bid. with the skeletons out, it seems like a family run business. I like it when u say “unleashed on an unsuspecting Indian public,”….they make bakras of the public most. AND we’re used to taking it lying down most times..

  2. April 18, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    this is where i think the controversy is not that bad… specially in formative years of ipl… i believe the timing is perfect for this controversy (however unfortunate) and this will force ipl and bcci to be more transparent in future… have more mechanism in place that such things do not get repeated again…

    just one question tho…

    So was Lalit Modi peeved that Rendezvous Sport and the others chose Kochi over Ahmedabad?

    are your sure about it…? specially when some of rendezvous promotors have come up in print to say that actually they wanted ahemdabad but for the tharoors ‘mentorship’ for kochi…?

  3. April 19, 2010 at 12:05 pm

    It makes absolutely zero business sense to have teams in places like Jaipur, Mohali, Pune and Kochi and not have one in Ahmedabad. Jaipur got a team because Modi was President of the RCA back then, and also because Mukesh Ambani was adamant on keeping his brother out of the IPL. Mohali hasn’t even sold out any of the 5 games this season. Pune doesn’t have a stadium although we keep hearing about this “Mercedes Benz of Cricket Stadia”. Kochi has a stadium but it’s not going to host any games either.

    Isn’t it a bit shady that a bunch of investors from Gujarat would choose Kochi over Ahmedabad and award a 5 percent stake to a woman close to a Minister from the state Kochi belongs to? It’s not too hard to imagine Shashi Tharoor getting the auction postponed in return for a franchise in Kochi, is it? People talk about the huge expat Mallu community to justify the move. There isn’t a bigger expat community of Indians than Gujaratis and unlike most of the Mallus in the Gulf, these Gujaratis are filthy rich.

    Here’s my two cents. Every person involved with this is pushing his/her agenda and it’s poetic justice that Shashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi are in deep trouble. I hope others like Shashank Manohar follow suit.

  4. Balu Ganesan
    April 20, 2010 at 9:38 am

    The Politicians in our country have always managed to play spoil sport.
    They see IPL as a money making machine and now they crave to get a piece of it.
    Firstly, all Pols should be barred from poking their long nosey noses in the domain of sports, cricket, hockey, wrestling, badminton or any other.
    IPL was well on its way to becoming the MLB, NFL or NBA in terms of popularity and revenue generation. But with the current set of politicians – I very much doubt it.
    Just the two New York area teams, the Yankees and the Mets have a combined worth of $2.5 billion and the entire MLB is worth $15 billion. Its a long and arduous task and these kind of events only act as the speed breakers on the streets of Hyderabad (which are actually vehicle breakers).

    No one had the vision or the guts to put together something in terms of the IPL, not just in India, but in any of the cricket playing nations.

    Like Raj says, it must be ‘mandatory for corporations that own IPL teams to be registered in India instead of tax heavens. Like Akshay kumar says on tv ‘be responsible citizen and pay your taxes on time and properly’ and if we do not see the benefits, then the tax payers should punish those who do not use the tax revenue for the beneift of the people of India.

    All this cloak and dagger game is because we Indians are afraid to pay our taxes.

    To conclue I just cannot resist taking a dig at the comments of Mahek “There isn’t a bigger expat community of Indians than Gujaratis and unlike most of the Mallus in the Gulf, these Gujaratis are filthy rich”

    I am an INDIAN and only an Indian. I have no favs. However I have to mention that the Mallus in the Gulf or anywhere else largely derive their income from salaries which in the gulf is tax exempt, while the Gujartis whom Mahek claims to be filthy rich derive their income from business both in India and abroad. Since most do not declare their real incomes to save on taxes they accumulate wealth which they cannot show in their statement of ‘net worth’ which leads to creation of front companies in tax heavens and using third party to control interest in business.

    One more thing – Until we ALL speak as Indians instead of Mallu, Gujju, Panju and the likes – we are heading no where, neither in the world of sports, nor in the real world.

  5. April 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

    Interesting question: what is BCCI’s role? Popularise the sport or maintain its integrity?
    If BCCI’s role is to popularise the sport, it is not doing so badly, for after all, who can deny the value of controversy to create awareness for an event.
    On the contrary, if BCCI’s role is to maintain the integrity of the sport, then obviously, BCCI is not doing so well, but my question is, could Indian cricket face the same fate as Indian hockey, if we concentrate too much on the sport and less on the money attached to such sports?
    This is a basic question for sports lovers to decide!

  6. Vivek
    April 20, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Is IPL a fundamentally flawed business model? You cannot simply transplant a mixture of EPL and NBA in India

  7. April 20, 2010 at 4:51 pm

    Fair call that, Balu. But the issue of regionalism was raised by those who were trying to justify having a franchise in Kochi, wasn’t it? If Mr. Tharoor felt so Indian he could very well have mentored a franchise in another state but he didn’t.

    It is not regionalism to want to bring a business to one’s region. It happens in every country. I have no problems with a city getting a franchise by the right means. However, that has not been the case for more than one franchise and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be pointed out. One of the most important criteria for a city in America getting a professional team is infrastructure. Does Kochi have the infrastructure in place to host IPL games? I’m afraid not as the owners have already decided on not using the Nehru Stadium in the city.

  8. April 20, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    Mahek: Which IPL Franchise has a ground that it can call its own? Would anyone bidding to base a franchise in Ahmedabad have owned a ground in that wonderful city?

  9. Jignesh
    April 21, 2010 at 1:15 am

    By all this controversies they are giving proof for IPL is being a money game. The doubt arose when the first biding was cancelled by IPL committee. Why they have asked for biding if they wanted to change the rules? They have cancelled the biding at last moment by giving excuse that they want to make certain changes in the process. Lot of cricket fans and people in India believing IPL as money game and not following it. I agree with you Raj sir that why they have not disclosed this before auction or why they have not disclosed the sharing of other teams also. I am afraid if this is going to be big blow for future of Indian cricket.

  10. April 21, 2010 at 7:38 am

    The teams rent the facilities for the IPL and most of these facilities are under State Cricket Associations. Of the 12 venues used this season only D Y Patil is the one not owned by a state board.

    My point is this: If this is a city-based league then what sense does it make for a franchise representing a city not playing any games in that city? Deccan went through the same problem for a different reason this season.

    When the bids were opened I figured the teams would play in their respective cities, but it’s already been announced that the Kochi team is not going to play at the Nehru Stadium. So where will they play? If it’s another city why shouldn’t that city have got a team in the first place? Pune doesn’t have a stadium as of now but I hear there is one under construction and should be ready by next season.

  11. April 21, 2010 at 7:40 am

    Check that, 2 of the 12 venues. The Brabourne belongs to CCI and not MCA. Can’t believe I missed that.

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