x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

IPL: Greed is the word that you heard

To understand how fragile the entire edifice of the Indian Premier League is, we need only to look at the Twitter profile of Gurunath Meiyappan.

Police escort Gurunath Meiyappan, centre, son-in-law of Indian cricket board (BCCI) President N Srinivasan, to the Crime Branch in Mumbai on allegations of illegal gambling.
Police escort Gurunath Meiyappan, centre, son-in-law of Indian cricket board (BCCI) President N Srinivasan, to the Crime Branch in Mumbai on allegations of illegal gambling.

It is one of myriad little examples, but being so recent, it is the easiest to recall.

To understand how fragile the entire edifice of the Indian Premier League (IPL) is, we need only to look at the Twitter profile of Gurunath Meiyappan.

Last Friday, as it became clear that Meiyappan, the son-in-law of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) president, was to be arrested by Mumbai police on allegations of illegal betting, his profile was changed.

Originally it had him designated as the team principal of the Chennai Super Kings, the franchise owned not by BCCI president Narainswamy Srinivasan, we are told, but by the company he owns, India Cements, because, well, there is apparently a difference.

As news of his impending arrest emerged, India Cements issued a statement of dis-ownership, clarifying that Meiyappan "is neither the Owner, nor CEO / Team Principal of Chennai Super Kings.

"Mr Gurunath is only one of the Members (Honorary) of the Management Team of Chennai Super Kings".

Minutes later, the Twitter profile was changed to remove all mention of Chennai.

The first thing to note is the designation itself, which is not only vague but modish and imported: what does a team principal even do? In Gurunath's case, it seems he attended auctions and occasionally spoke on record.

Otherwise his only official role seems to be to tweet excessively and familiarly to the team's stars and fans: "Hi, great, must meet, well played, happy birthday" and so on.

Essentially, it sounds like he sat at one level above the average hanger-on, higher and with more access because of, presumably, his family connection. Allegedly, he also made regular phone calls to bookies.

But in the swift, panicked change in profile and the hope for it to vanish, in that one swish across a keyboard as an attempt to erase reality, lies the complete stripping of everything about the IPL.

With that, the hubris it has wrapped itself in, the money it swims in, the glamour it is so proud of (a few cheerleaders and a Bollywood star? There is more glamour at local libraries), and above all, the pretence that it is a functional, corporate, professional enterprise all of it is yanked off.

To be fair, let us tax our memories and pick out just a few more examples. How about the time the league amended its charter in September 2008 to allow board officials to have commercial interests in the IPL, allowing not just Srinivasan, but others, to continue justifying conflicts of interest?

Or that excellent story back in 2008 that revealed that a number of franchises were owned by relatives of BCCI members, or in one way or another, by the family of the IPL founder, Lalit Modi.

Modi's own legendary micromanagement was the clearest sign that the IPL was nothing but the fantasy of one man with great access to money and power. In those first seasons, the IPL simply represented the whims and fancies of one man. The most forceful reminders of the unreality of the IPL have always come from the commentary team.

In these troubled days, where they have refused to discuss in any depth if at all what is happening around them, they resemble some old Eastern European state radio station, playing on a perpetual loop the national anthem and official speeches as the country burns around it.

Unreality, incidentally, is a term much in vogue among smart writers of World Wrestling Entertainment.

The cricket itself is irrelevant, because this is not about the IPL's cricket, or even the cricketers and the choices they make in going there. That is all up to you.

Many people love it, many people cannot stand it. It is uneven, competitive, dull, brilliant, a new standard of cricket or amateur hour. It has changed cricketers' lives, though you can quibble philosophically about whether we should use only money to measure change.

It is not even about the corruption uncovered this season.

That is not restricted to this particular format, and is very probably not restricted to this particular league or country.

That is restricted merely to human existence and life.

No, this is purely about what that change in Twitter status really said.

This is not a league. This is not even a random collection of franchises (some of which come and go, and some which come, go, come and go again) playing a sport.

There are no real laws, codes or regulations to adhere to. This is an ad-hoc, money-making enterprise, one in which the power brokers are not bound together by anything other than the desire to perpetuate their status quo.

This is a cabal, a cartel of the already wealthy getting wealthier and making sure they protect themselves in doing so. Cricket just happens to be a means.

It may as well be, to use a relevant commodity, cement.

Which is fine, because the world is dotted by such groups.

Just let us stop pretending that this is a league of any sporting kind.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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