The investigations into spot-fixing by cricketers during the Indian Premier League seemed to have led to the creation of a hydra-headed monster, attacking us from all sides. Is the problem just a few, crooked, greedy cricketers? Is it the nexus of greed, lust and corruption that humans find it so easy to get stuck in? Is it a larger malaise of a depraved society? Or has our innate hypocrisy shielded us from various visible ugly truths? Should betting be legalised? Is the Board for Control of Cricket in India to blame? Should the BCCI have changed its own rules to allow a board member to own an IPL team? Should that board member have been allowed to contest for president? How about the board president’s son-in-law running the league team that his father-in-law owns? And now that the son-in-law has been accused of leaking team information to bookies, how free and fair will a board inquiry into his misdemeanours be?
Behind all of these questions are hundreds of other questions we never asked properly, we never saw through to the end and we ignored. The moralistic argument against gambling in India only leads to underhand activities and pushes what would be out in the open, underground. That’s only one aspect though. Spot-fixing is cheating by an individual — not to win the game, but to make money for oneself. This undermines the team that the individual belongs to as well as the concept of sport itself. Legalising betting will not stop the corrupt or the greedy. To help with that, the sport’s governing authority has to create strict checks and balances and use some sort of internal intelligence network as well.
By keeping betting illegal, we have created a special category of criminal and that criminal will inevitably corrode the system. If everyone can openly bet — and underhand dealings would adversely affect a legitimate betting agency — there is every chance that competition will create its own code. Right now, cricket is attacked from both sides and has no answers.
The sport that I follow is tennis, where players have ensured that they have some say in the way the system operates. The recent revolt by tennis players in India is partly because the governing authority is unable to accept that players have a voice. If you are a good enough tennis player to reach the ATP or WTA levels, at least you are no longer dependent on the All India Tennis Association. But cricket players have long been silenced and are programmed to listen to the person who holds the chequebook, which is the BCCI.
The result is that those who have cricket’s best interests at heart and the corrosion of which attacks both their vocation and their livelihood have very little say in the present and future of cricket. The board is made up of politicians, businesspeople and professionals and they decide how cricket will be played in India. This means that even if the BCCI means well as a body, individual decisions, whimsies, doggedness and crookedness can seriously affect the game.
The fact the Srinivasan was allowed to own an IPL team is a clear conflict of interest — since the BCCI owns the IPL. Yet, in the fun and excitement of the IPL, this problem was shoved under the carpet every time it came up. If the Indian cricket team did well, we all pretended that nothing was wrong. Blaming the BCCI and self-recriminations are too late now. More drastic solutions are needed. There is constant debate about whether India is a sporting nation or not. If we are to prove that we are, then we need a better effort to fix the gargantuan problems facing India’s favourite sport. The current administrators have demonstrated once again how limited they are. Why not try a combination of players and professional managers to run cricket’s richest and most powerful governing body?
Yes, legalise betting while you’re at it. And make sure that you keep a sharper eye on sharp operators within.
Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on Twitter @ranjona