Out for a duck

BY VIKRAM JOHRI| IN Media Practice | 21/07/2015
An Economic Times debate on the ills of the IPL failed to frame the right questions and focus on the real issues.
VIKRAM JOHRI was disappointed at the regurgitation of old arguments
Out for a duck

The July 19 edition of the Economic Times(ET) carried a four-sided debate on the IPLtitled: “Is it worth buying an IPL team now?” With the Justice Lodha committee suspending the Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings franchises for two years, the question assumes significance. It was posed to four well-known businessmen: Harsh Goenka, Venugopal Dhoot, Pawan Munjal and Ronnie Screwvala.

Of the four, only two - Goenka and Dhoot - chose to speak about the IPL and they took a pro-stance. The other two -Munjal and Screwvala - opted to criticise the large amount of money that go into cricket in this country at the expense of other sports. These gentlemen said little on the IPL itself. Even the two tags to the debate - “The pro-IPL view” and “The non-cricket view” - reflected this dichotomy.

Before the current imbroglio, the IPL had come to be talked about as much for its business returns as for any inherent sporting aspect. Long after purists had stopped crying themselves hoarse about the bastardisation of the game with the T20 format, questions on the League’s financial skullduggery continued to make headlines. It is, therefore, curious, that ET could not manage to find one writer who would take on the League for its systemic failures.

Both Munjal and Screwvala made the right noises about the need to revitalize other sports. Munjal plugged for hockey and Screwvala for kabaddi, both of which have been sidelined because of our obsession with cricket. But this was an IPL debate. By taking on cricket as a sport and omitting to speak about the ills of the League, the men deflected the debate. As a result, a real discussion on the IPL did not take place.

Even the pro-IPL camp was poorly represented. Given that both pro-IPL-ers have shown an interest in purchasing teams in the past, it boggles the mind why ET did not seek to represent the views of a non-financial entity. The views of the two businessmen were in near concurrence. They looked upon the League as a good match for business, one that is likely to continue to give good returns.

To be sure, Dhoot and Goenka are businessmen and it is only natural that they will look upon any new opportunity from a business viewpoint. Dhoot admitted as much in his argument: “…while cricket retains its aura, it is a different story with the IPL. Owning an IPL team is no longer a lucrative business proposition and now even the owner's reputation is sometimes at stake. We had bid $230 million for the Pune team in 2010, but at that time Sahara bid $370 million and beat us. We had also shown interest in the erstwhile Deccan Chargers team (now Sunrisers Hyderabad). Today, I feel the IPL teams should be available at a 50 per cent discount.”

While one may, if one were so inclined, feel sorry for Dhoot’s multiple failures at landing an IPL team, it is hard not to read his argument as buttressing what IPL critics have been claiming from day one: namely, that the free flow of money into the game, money whose provenance is not always known, at the expense of all else will lead to cricket’s downfall.

That Dhoot chooses to plug for a 50 per cent discount on buying a new team at a time when so much filth is running amok in the League leaves a bad taste in the mouth.When so many of the IPL’s problems have been related to how it has been abused by those looking to make a quick buck, it is surprising that ET did not present a purely sporting critique.

Besides, even those arguments that did not pertain to business offered by the pro-IPL-ers only accentuated the need for a more thorough discussion. Harsh Goenka was candid enough to admit: “There were two reasons for people to bid for IPL teams. First was the trophy value - you could be seen with the cream of Indian society, top industrialists, film stars and cricket players. The second part was the brand-building part, the TRPs. We have been involved with CEAT as a major sponsor during IPL matches and are happy with the rub-off on our brand and sales.”

So we seem to have formally reduced IPL to what everyone knows it has always been: a venue to schmooze and groove with the right crowd. One had hoped that the current cleansing in the IPL might lead to a cleaner version of the game. But on the evidence presented in the debate, it seems the League will continue to be tossed among sundry industrialists looking to milk it dry.

That, however, is only expected. What is astounding is that ET allowed the writers to regurgitate old arguments that have done little good for cricket in general and the League in particular. What was the paper thinking?

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