Up to it to make the most of this, clean up its act
Given its phenomenal rise, its fall from grace after serious corruption allegations, and the involvement of the courts in deciding on the matter, in many ways the Indian Premier League (IPL) and its recent brush with collapse makes it the perfect metaphor for India—after its growth collapsed and investors began deserting it, India too has been presented with another chance to get its act together. Like India, IPL too was in a sweet spot, having come up with a property that was a win-win for everyone. India Inc got to be an intrinsic part of running cricket, created a great advertisement platform with nearly unlimited bragging rights to boot; entertainment-starved millions got another show to watch over many seasons, and it helped that the show was centred around the national sport; for the well-heeled, the show was embellished with IPL parties, among other goodies. For television broadcasters, given how the IPL model spawned a host of me-too leagues, from badminton to tennis with hockey and football thrown in between, it created a brand new sports broadcasting property, potentially spread over months—yet another avenue for advertisers and sponsors to latch on to.
All of this got endangered when, after several seasons of allegations of match fixing, the Delhi police arrested IPL players for spot fixing and a link was said to have been found to both Rajasthan Royals (RR) and Chennai Super Kings (CSK)—it didn’t help that the latter was owned by India Cements, the company owned by the BCCI president, and one of the persons accused of being in cahoots with bookies was his son-in-law. While it looked as if things could be controlled, N Srinivasan’s refusal to step down as BCCI chief furthered the impression the inquiry would not be impartial—when a Supreme Court appointed committee concluded officials of both franchisees were guilty, it appeared the Court was going to ban both RR and CSK. Fortunately for IPL, this didn’t happen, and the Court settled for removing Srinivasan while the case continues to be heard. Had this happened, the R3,500 crore property—including the money broadcasters would make annually—was in danger of either shutting down completely or losing a large part of its charm, and money. Just reducing the number of teams from 8 to 6 would have reduced the number of games by 43%; sponsors, advertisers and broadcasters would have wanted to renegotiate their terms with a truncated season and star attractions like MS Dhoni no longer available to play. Just as the possibility of a more effective government post-elections has given India a respite, the Court has given IPL a breather by allowing RR and CSK to play. The question is whether IPL, and India, will use this respite to clean up their acts.