The IPL must be saved
THE Indian Premier League will return this spring against a backdrop of corruption and greed, but for the sake of the sport it must be protected from those who want to see the format burn. Over the past two-and-a-half years, the tournament’s troubles have been headline news and, subsequently, there have been calls to disband the league in an effort to end seemingly endemic malpractice. However, such a decision would be detrimental to the progress of the game so many love. It must be avoided. The IPL has been a trailblazer for T20 cricket, reincarnating the ECB’s 2003 brainchild into a franchise format which entertains and thrills with ridiculous ease. Its steady evolution has taken the shortest form of the game to new heights and spawned look-a-likes in South Africa, the West Indies and, most noticeably Australia. Its colour and character captures a worldwide audience and is, by a long way, the largest televised sporting export India has to offer, with over 108 million tuning in from abroad to watch in 2015 and even more expected when the league begins again in April. In the eight provincial stadiums, the tournament’s impact is even more obvious, as thousands upon thousands of young cricket enthusiasts gawp at the sight of MS Dhoni rocking back and slapping yet another six over backward point or Kevin Pietersen switch-hitting with the flamboyance of a seasoned swordsman. This is real legacy. This is the good the IPL can do. It can inspire and delight and give hope to kids who have little more than tree trunks for stumps back at home. Where the IPL struggles is not amongst the masses; their love for their sport is incorruptible. The difficulties the tournament faces remain at its summit. As with any sporting juggernaut – from the Olympic Games to the football World Cup and now Grand Slam tennis – along with passion, glory and emotion comes cash. Lots and lots of cash. In 2014, American Appraisals assessed the brand value of the IPL at $7.2billion, while the 10-year TV deal which accompanied the grand launch of the project in 2010 was worth over $1billion. No wonder, then, that greed has set into its senior figures and festered like rising damp. Dollar signs spin like Vegas fruit machines in the eyes of the men who have failed to respect their positions of power, and the cases of Ajit Chandila, Hiken Shah, Gurunath Meiyappan and Raj Kundra show that the game must do more to cut off corruption at source. However, that rot has not become terminal and steps are being taken to rid the IPL of those who have routinely undermined it. Some cricketing bureaucrats would have the league broken down and sold off as spare parts but that would be treating the symptoms instead of curing the disease. That would be punishing fans all over the world for the gluttony of a few. That would be denying India its proud place as the innovators of franchise cricket. Let’s remember, too, that the IPL is not alone in facing the spectre of corruption. In January, officials in South Africa have been embroiled in a scandal involving match-fixing by a former international, Gulam Bodi. In recent years we’ve been told the tale of Lou Vincent’s world tour of under-performance at the behest of various bookmakers, while Danish Kaneria picked up a life ban from the ECB in 2013 and, in 2014, former national captain Mohamed Ashraful was punished with a five-year suspension for influencing the results of Bangladesh’s domestic T20 league. This is a global issue and an issue which needs to be addressed globally. The IPL flying a white flag only concedes defeat. Worldwide progress is also required on the subject of gender equality. While the IPL’s fondness for the female form is 30 years backward – according to respected Indian cricket writer Sharda Ugra, one applicant for a TV role was asked “whether she was willing to have ‘a boob job’ and to name the cricketer she wanted to sleep with” – the problem spreads well beyond its borders. One 30-second exchange between an Australian reporter and a Jamaican batsman on the Hobart boundary shows that mindsets need changing the world over. This is not a single-front war. India, like most cricket-playing nations, has much to do to progress alongside society, but it does not have to fight alone. As part of an allied assault on all that is wrong with the game, all that is good must remain. The IPL, in pure cricketing terms, is the very, very best. It must live on.