Lalit Modi, IPL head honcho, brews up a cricketing storm over corruption worthy of an episode of ‘Scandal’

2010-04-24 00:00

AFRICA invites even as it repels. No sooner had last week’s article been completed than news arrived that the poor souls seeking World Cup tickets have been forced to queue for hours due to the inefficiency of the system. In contrast, the annual UKZN graduation ceremony was superb, with fine speeches from a young man from the ANC Youth League and Finance MEC Ine Cronje. Apparently 61% of the graduates were women. If the president of Liberia and numerous fine mothers are anything to go by, Africa might yet be uplifted by the female of the species. Not that all is sweetness even at UKZN. Sixty-five of the intake are sponsored by Zanu-PF and are given R20 000 to spend every semester. Still, the good UKZN does surpasses such calumnies.

Much the same can be said about the IPL. At present it is bogged down in the sort of chicanery that has been a feature of our local municipality. The bigwigs running IPL will live to regret the day they lifted the lid on its activities.

The current contention has at its core the nomination of two new franchises to join the league next year. Bids arrived from wealthy enthusiasts and some unsavoury types. Lalit Modi, the IPL head honcho, was keen for Gujarat to succeed, not least because his brother runs that state. A wily operator, he advised other contenders to pitch their prices at $300 million, telling them it would be enough. In fact, he knew that Gujarat had offered $319 million.

However, two applicants ignored his advice and beat the field. To ­Modi’s dismay, Gujarat was outmanoeuvred. Modi responded on Twitter — his modi operandi — by questioning the make-up of the Gujarat franchise and pointing out that one of the backers was closely related to a government minister. In effect the politician was accused of interfering to assist a family member.

Admittedly this is starting to resemble an episode of Scanda l, but stick with it. Exposed, the minister resigned. So far so good. But it’s risky to open a door that might not close.

Modi’s triumph was shortlived. He had asked for trouble and it came in spades. His enemies pounced even as the sycophants rallied — the television channel covering IPL shows his beaming face every 10 minutes. They started asking questions about his dealings, present and past. It emerged he had offered the winning franchise $50 million to withdraw.

Next, critics began demanding details of the ownership of other franchises, and most especially Modi’s connection with them. Meanwhile, investigative journalists were turning over all sorts of stones and portraying IPL as a wild party funded by laundered money and sustained by gambling. Experience insists that heavy betting leads to compromised cricket. Before long, rumours were circulating about the integrity of some teams.

Modi was foolish to throw his weight around. He is not exactly Allen Stanford, the fraudulent Texan who made a hundred promises, threw money around like Mrs Mugabe in Harrods and landed his helicopter at Lord’s with Ian Botham and Viv Richards in tow only to be incarcerated a few months later. Nor is he Warren Buffet, the legendary investor who still drives his beaten-up old car and gives most of his personal fortune to charity.

Modi is in a tight spot. Adam Gilchrist, a clean skin, has joined the chorus seeking due diligence. Cricket has many fine servants who care about the game and want right to be done. Scenting blood, the tax inspectors are demanding to see the IPL’s books. Hitherto Modi’s murky spell in Florida has escaped close attention. So far his close links with the ruling party in Rajasthan and the IPL franchise have largely been ignored. Now, though, esteemed magazines like India Today and Outlook are hot on his trail. Nor are India’s 125 all- day news channels twiddling their thumbs.

Good might come of the current imbroglio. Governance has long been the most important issue in cricket (in which regard it mirrors the wider world). India is the driving force in the game. Mostly it is a boon because India is a secular and restrained democracy. But oversight has been a weak point. IPL is India’s responsibility. Exposing the shenanigans could lead to closer monitoring and publication of the cricketing accounts in India and elsewhere. If so, these clashes are a small price to pay. Peter Roebuck is an international cricket correspondent who is based in the KZN midlands.

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