IPL was 'an Enron in the making'

Corruption and match-fixing claims could threaten cricket's richest league.

    Lalit Modi was key in establishing the Indian Premier League [AFP]

    India's multi-billion dollar cricket premier league has been a huge success since its formation in 2008, providing celebrity glamour and A-list attention for the sport.

    The brand value of the IPL has more than doubled this year to $4.1bn as it has enticed advertisers with a more youthful audience and drawn in owners from India's rising number of billionaire businessmen and Bollywood stars.

    But the last week has seen the fireworks and cheerleaders eclipsed by the altogether seedier spectacle of match-fixing and corruption allegations against Lalit Modi, the tournament's architect and chairman.

    The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns the IPL, suspended Modi just hours after the Chennai Superkings took victory over the Mumbai Indians in the final of the competition on Sunday.

    'Corrupt and disfunctional'

    But Gideon Haigh, a cricket writer based in Melbourne, Australia, said that the lack of transparency in the running of the IPL meant that controversy was inevitable.

    "There were always the preconditions of scandal and corruption here," he told Al Jazeera.

    "There were opaque finances, negligible regulation, asset valuations being plucked from thin air, an over-mighty chief executive, self-satisfied directors and politicians with their hooks in.

    "It looked to me like an Indian Enron in the making," he said referring to the US energy company that collapsed after committing massive accounting fraud in 2001.  

    Haigh said that what had justifiably been viewed as a reflection of India's growing economic success and international standing was now showing the South Asian nation at its "corrupt and disfunctional worst".

    The BCCI is beginning its inquiry into allegations that the partner of a Shashi Tharoor, a now ex-junior foreign minister, had been given a free stake in a team expected to join the IPL's 2011 season.

    Modi himself made these allegations on his Twitter page, instigating the investigation against Tharoor.

    The resignation of Tharoor, who denies any wrongdoing, was followed by India's revenue office launching an investigation into the tax records of the IPL, BCCI and team owners.

    'Dirty secret'

    Indian Premier League

     Founded in 2008 based on a shortened, made-for-TV format of cricket known as Twenty20

     IPL teams feature some of the world's top cricketers, with average salaries of around $3.8m a year

     For comparison the average salary among players in the US NBA basketball league is around $4m

     IPL has estimated brand value of around $4bn, with TV rights for the last season fetching $1.9bn

    Narayanan Madhavan, an editor at the Hindustan Times newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the BCCI, a non-profit umbrella organisation, had effectively sheltered the IPL from paying tax.

    "The main point here is that a lot of sleaze has been hidden under the guise of business confidentiality. One man's confidentiality is another man's dirty secret," he said.

    "The BCCI is a non-profit body that has been carrying out a $4bn business without any meaningful accountability.

    "And that is because it is not supervised even by the sports ministry because it says that it has an autonomy of its own as a non-profit body.

    "So there is a lot of grey area there that is bring exposed after Modi’s famous tweet."

    Madhavan said that while the league had been a "mammouth success" for the fans and sport, it has failed as an administrative exercise in transparent business and public conduct.

    The opening game of the 2010 tournament between Deccan Chargers and Kolkata Knight Riders attracted 42 million viewers, a 41 per cent increase on the inaugural tournament opener just three years ago, according to television ratings agency TAM.

    But Nagraj Gollapudi, the assistant editor at Cricinfo.com, said that the allegations of match fixing and illegal betting could be a grave threat to the future of the competition.

    "If the match fixing allegations are proved true this could have a big impact on Indian cricket and wider game also," he told Al Jazeera.

    "That could prove to be very dangerous [for the IPL]. It could prove to be the tipping point if it really happens. But at this moment it is in a dormant stage and it is not right the assume anything."

    More scrutiny

    What is clear is that the scandal will prove to be a point of change for the bureaucratic mechanisms of the IPL.

    As Gollapudi said, the BCCI now has "a clear opportunity to clean its system - to become more transparent".

    "They are professional enough, it is just that they have been a very insular body," Gollapudi said.

    "They would be helping themselves if they opened themselves up to scrutiny and then appoint someone as charismatic as Modi but a little more down to earth."

    Corruption is no enticement to fans, but the BCCI is looking to make amends before next year's pre-season hype commences.

    For they know that the huge commercial potential that even a dented IPL brand offers will mean that the fireworks can be lit again in 2011.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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