Eerie echoes of Guptagate in the boring charade that is the IPL

2013-06-01 00:00

BLISS it is that the French Open tennis championship has arrived on our television screens in place of the endless charade of the Indian Premier League (IPL) with its dubious mixture of contrived excitement and stale content. For seven weeks the IPL trotted out its daily diet of make- believe matches accompanied by the fawning mewling of its varied participants. After all this time how many matches grabbed our attention from first ball to last? The answer is less than a handful out of more than 50.

The final was just another deadly dull match, although one would never have thought so from the affected excitement of the television commentators who sounded as though they had been asked to park their minds in the hotel safes along with their passports. Everyone appeared to have an obligation of some kind to the IPL and discerning comment was conspicuous by its absence.

The real story of the 2013 IPL was ignored by the galaxy of former cricketers who are paid to “entertain” us with their sycophantic opinions. This was the alleged involvement in spot-fixing of Gurunath Meiyappan, the son-in-law of N. Srinvasan, the current godfather of Indian cricket.

Srinvasan, who seems to go by the first name of “N”, is not only the president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the body that controls cricket in India, if not the entire world, and owns the IPL. He is also the CEO and majority shareholder of India Cements, the company that owns the Chennai Super Kings (CSK), otherwise known as the “Yellow Team”.

Srinvasan installed his son-in-law as the team principal of the CSK. The boy was entrusted with millions of dollars at the annual auction of players and was a permanent presence in the team dugout at every match. Srinvasan has been haughtily dismissive of any questions relating to his son-in-law’s activities and refused to countenance any accusation that he might have any conflict of interests in this affair. He scoffed at suggestions that he might resign his post as president of the BCCI.

Far from being an example of how to run a quasi-international cricket tournament, the IPL has descended into simply another example of a business that is tainted by scandal, much of which stems from conflicts of interest and crony capitalism. An interesting observation in this regard has been made by Devesh Kapur, an academic at the University of Pennsylvania, who has made a study of Indian business.

In a discussion with James Crabtree of the Financial Times, Kapur said: “What worries me is the sheer brazenness of India’s ruling elites, the arrogance that comes when one knows that when all is said and done, one will still be at the top.”

Apart from the concern one might have for the future direction of world cricket, this is an eerie comment in the context of the Guptagate affair, which was a breathtaking example of the kind of arrogance mentioned by Kapur.

The Gupta family has been steadily building up its interest in South African cricket through Sahara and other brands. It may be wise for the newly formed board of Cricket South Africa to take note of what is happening in India and to introduce some caution in its dealings with the Gupta family. The last thing cricket in South Africa needs after the Majola affair is to find itself tied up in the web of a family that has become a symbol of crony capitalism.

That is enough of issues related to the IPL in this column until next autumn when the whole sorry circus starts up once again.

Last Saturday, I took myself off to watch Michaelhouse play rugby against St John’s College in Johannesburg. The quality of the rugby on offer was not particularly good, but it was a highly entertaining match, which the Midlands school won in some style. There was plenty of running rugby and a number of spectacular tries that would have satisfied schoolboy rugby’s adherents.

In this age when the attitudes and style of professional rugby are creeping into a game played by all ages, it was refreshing to watch two schools having a real crack at each other in a spirited and open match.

The game did not appear to be constrained by the fear of errors that has made much of the Super Rugby on offer seem so static. There were errors aplenty, resulting in angry shouts from parents and old boys. But these errors with their many consequent turnovers added to, rather than detracted from, the spectacle. Incidentally, the boys on both sides looked quite tough enough.

Sadly, however, some old boys of the defeated school did not go home in a contented frame of mind. They have had enough of watching St John’s College struggle on the rugby field. A group of them are trying to raise funds to support a professional coach and bursaries for promising rugby players.

Although I fully support initiatives to coach the coaches, I cannot agree with efforts to provide “rugby” bursaries to 12-year old boys. This is yet another instance of an attempt by old boys to jack up the rugby at a famous school. If this is a new trend, one can only hope that it is short-lived. That these schools have survived and prospered for over a hundred years is due to many reasons, most of which concern the rounded development of all the boys who have passed through their hands.

The smart people who have guided these schools during this time have always recognised that success on the sporting field, while striven for and welcomed when it occurs, is not the be-all and end-all of a first-class education. It is a curious phenomenon that some of the old boys of these schools fail to understand that in the long run success or otherwise on the sporting field has little to do with the overall reputation of a school.

It makes one wonder whether a good education is always fully understood by those who receive it.

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