All in the game by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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28 May 2013

The audience braving the sun and the crowds makes it way slowly through the turnstiles and stifling security and finally through the wide gates into the auditorium. After finding their seats, wading through the sea of legs of all sizes, dispensing apologies and acknowledgements wherever necessary, they finally settle in with their choice of refreshments and wait for the action to unfold in front of their eyes. They have come here to be regaled and entertained and to take it all in in a communal atmosphere. They cry and laugh, they clap and cheer, they boss and hiss. The anxious moments are reflected in the hills of nails gathered at their footsteps and the tensions, in their soaked handkerchiefs. At the end of the show, after the opposition is vanquished and the victor emerges triumphantly, it was time and money well spent for them, or in 'desi', it is 'paisa vasool'. It doesn't matter if the show they have just witnessed is completely scripted - the hero doesn't actually fly, the villain is not actually killed, and the songs, dialogues, fights - pre-planned and completely choreographed. Yet the audience doesn't mind the wool being pulled over their eyes. In fact, that's the fun part, allowing themselves to be tricked into believing that what was happening in front of their eyes was truly what those fictitious characters are really undergoing in those fantastic situations. Because the word 'entertainment' drowns it all, soaking up all the criticism being leveled against it for being too outlandish and far-fetched. As long as people were being entertained, who cares what's being played out there? Real or not real, scripted or otherwise, who cares, it is fun. So what's all this hullabaloo around the IPL tamasha, that positioned itself as purely entertainment, being now held for not confirming to the real world ethics and standards?

For all its inspirational moments and purposes, sports had always had a tough time being relevant to every day life - the news of a tainted minister whips up a lot more outrage than a doping sportsman, a well intentioned policy has a far reaching impact than a world cup win. Erase sports completely out of human existence and the world around doesn't change much, as it has little to no effect on the march of generations. So to whom is sports important - to the ones playing it and the ones managing it. That's it, the circle of relevance and the sphere of influence ends around just these two entities. And for the rest, it is merely a distraction, sometimes a welcome one and at times, not so. So, first things first, don't make the betting and fixing scandal into something that has the potential to rock the foundations of the civilized society to the core. It is merely an entertainment that has soured for the time being. GIve it a little time and slack for the show to be rejigged and retooled and it'll be back in no time entertaining its audience causing them to cry and laugh, clap and….

Credibility, or the lack of it, had always been in question since the conception of IPL. After elbowing the rival league out of business by threatening the participating members - players and supporting staff - with suspensions, quarantines and life time bans, and coercing the local boards into cheerleading the BCCI's efforts into founding the new league, and then above all, rigging its own rules to suits its purposes whenever it felt like it and ignoring the most important tenet of a competitive marketplace - conflict of interests - to curry favors to its top brass, it was just a matter of time (and only natural) when its players followed in the footsteps of their employer placing their personal interests before everything else. And add to that, the unholy nexus of mainstream politics and board room machinations, the questionable sources of seed monies for setting up the franchises that went uninvestigated, and the arm twisting of the fellow national boards for quid-pro-quo-ing, right from forcing them to free up their key players to making alterations to their program calendars, karma has come home to roost. The problem with IPL has always been the shocking absence of a strong voice of reason and opposition from within the system that so often keeps the leagues in check from running away with whatever they desired and often served as checks and balances. After having bought off all the key administrators, commentators and players of some repute (in other words, bringing everybody on their payroll), it has successfully squelched off any dissent to its practices or simply started branding anyone who tried to reprimand its highhandedness as someone suffering from serious pangs of jealousy. In effect, IPL tried having it both ways - whenever international boards and bodies questioned some of its movies, pat came the reply that the tournament was an internal matter that didn't have to bear the scrutiny of international rules and regulations. Yet, it had the gall to turnaround the twist ICC's arm into according it the legitimacy that is offered to ICC sanctioned tours and programs. Have the cake and eat it too?

Money has been the foundation stone and continues to remain the guiding principle of IPL. The unexpected success at the inaugural world championship and the tottering baby steps that ICL took towards running a professional league, had turned the gears in the thinking heads at the board into identifying and realizing the enormous potential of the Indian market and to monetize the peculiar penchant of the typical Indian fan for quick results and instant gratification (which explains the dwindling support for tests and the swelling patronage for both the shorter and the shortest formats). There have been a few benefits too (fall outs of good nature are more like it) because of the league, in that it has secured the financial futures of many a mid tier players who have the skill but not the merit to make it all the way to the top, who would have otherwise languished in the domestic leagues before fading out in oblivion without a secure retirement plan at the ripe old age of 35. But can this sole benefit outweigh the glaring sense of greed that forms the bedrock of IPL? Now the same money is entering the league through an unsanctioned channel (cannot exactly call it illegal as there should be some honor among thieves here, come on!), and there is a moral outrage over the incident??

So finally, what about the true patrons and real payers of the league - the audience and the fans? Well, what about them? Aren't they the only ones with the moral authority and loyalty given right, who can catch these players by the scruff of their necks and demand for some answers - Why the cheating when there already are lakhs and crores playing the game the right way? But then again, isn't the public having their share of fun, their fill of entertainment, watching the events unfold on TV with great many twists and turns like a recent blockbuster, all in the comfortable confines of their homes? So, who died? what's the complaint about? Like the fireworks, the cheer girls, the festivities, the music and the fun, let cheating be also thrown in the mix for good measure just to keep the audience guessing, like some whodunnit mystery, all in the name of offering some heart racing and pulse pounding entertainment. So come through the turnstiles, walk up to the seats, settle down with your refreshments, sit down and have fun. And that should the tag line of IPL - 'Just have fun'….doesn't matter how it is coming, as long as it is coming in any shape, size or form.

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