IPL: Circus, and the Controversy

Published: Thu, 05/12/2016 - 13:02 Updated: Fri, 05/13/2016 - 09:38

The Indian Premier League finds itself in a soup once again, this time because of the water crisis

Sandeep Kumar Delhi 

‘Ek India Happy wala’ goes the melodious punchline of the Vivo Indian Premier League (IPL) 2016. However, in sharp contrast to its punchline, the advent of the ninth edition of the BCCI’s million-dollar baby has not brought much happiness to Indians. In its short and tumultuous history, it has been mired in one controversy or another. Be it match-fixing, spot-fixing, money-laundering or ostentatious post-match parties with an overdose of glitter and glamour, IPL has time and again found itself in the eye of the storm. It is once again in the spotlight, this time because of the drought situation in Maharashtra. 

The Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the petitions of the Maharashtra and Mumbai Cricket associations to set aside the Bombay High Court order to shift IPL matches outside Maharashtra has put an end to the matter. The cash-rich BCCI tried every trick in its book in the book to swing public opinion in its favour. Its offer to donate `5 crore to the Chief Minister’s Drought Relief Fund and to use treated sewage water from the Royal Western India Turf Club (which runs the Mahalaxmi Racecourse in Mumbai) to maintain the pitches at the Mumbai and Pune venues was turned down by the apex court. The BCCI also made an offer to transport large amount of water to the drought-affected areas in the state.

Maharashtra has been reeling under a severe and relentless agrarian crisis since 2009. The worst-hit areas are Marathwada and Vidarbha which have witnessed farmers committing suicide in large numbers due to the burden of heavy debts. It is ironical that neither the BCCI nor any state cricket board ever felt the need to donate money to alleviate the drought situation in the state. On an average, 3,685 farmers in the state of Maharashtra took their lives every year between 2004 and 2013. Reports from the ground suggest scores of farmers committing suicide every month.

Shifting matches from Maharashtra from May 1 will be a major blow to the local IPL franchisees. This means that 12 matches of IPL 9, including the final scheduled for May 29, will be played outside Maharashtra.  Mumbai Indians, owned by India’s biggest business conglomerate, Reliance Industries, is set to lose a huge amount of ticketing revenue as the Wankhede Stadium, was the venue for its home matches. Wankhede, controlled by the Mumbai Cricket Association with NCP supremo Sharad Pawar as president, was scheduled to host matches on May 8, 13 and 15, along with the final.  Similarly, Pune’s Gahunje Stadium was scheduled to host the home matches of the Rising Pune Supergiants (RPS). Apart from this, the Vidarbha Cricket Association’s ground in Nagpur was slotted to host three homes games for Kings XI Punjab on May 7, 9 and 15.

As a result of the shifting of matches, the state and local franchisees will reportedly incur losses to the tune of `100 crore. Incidentally, Jaipur, the alternate venue chosen by Mumbai Indians to play its home matches, is also under a shadow.  Responding to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by journalist Mahesh Pareek over the logic of shifting the IPL from Mumbai to a desert state with high scarcity of water, the Rajasthan High Court has directed the government to file a detailed report on the management of potable water supply during the course of the next two months. While the Pune franchisee has opted for Vishakhapatnam as their new home venue, the home venue of the Mumbai Indians remains in doubt. Adding insult to injury, some of the franchisees are in favour of relocating the IPL to foreign shores. If that were to transpire, the losses to state cricket boards would be humongous. 

Usually the ticketing revenues are `2-3 crore per match. Mumbai and Kolkata have the largest number of corporate and VVIP boxes among all the IPL stadiums and their collection is an astounding Rs 4-5 crore per match. Apart from this, the massive revenue generated from television/radio spots, advertising, commercial sponsorship and other outdoor promotions, will also take a beating.

So how does the BCCI resolve this current crisis? Given the Lodha Committee recommendations, the pressure is on the board to find a permanent solution to the problems plaguing the multi-billion slam-bang show. Perhaps it must find a new window period for IPL. As the tournament is played in the months of April-May every year, the drought situation will always be a recurring theme. In the days to come, more PILs could be filed in states where a water crisis looms large. Cutting down the size of the tournament could also be a possible way to reduce public fatigue. IPL is played on a home-away basis which makes the tournament inexorably draining for both the players and the spectators.

 This format is quite unlike the one adopted by foreign T20 leagues like the ‘Big Bash’, Caribbean Premier League (CPL), and Bangladesh Premier League (BPL), where every team plays the other team only once.  Reducing the size of tournament will give respite and succour to everyone involved whether it be the players, viewers or the organisers. It will also reduce the heavy load-shedding which occurs along regional grids when these matches are played.

The most interesting aspect of this controversy is that most cricket grounds are watered throughout the year, or else the grass on the field would perish. It is only on the day of the cricket match that grounds are not heavily watered. Critics believe that shifting the matches because of a drought, which experts are citing as man-made, seems to be a facile and ephemeral solution at best. One could also argue that if the courts have decided to target the IPL for water wastage, then why are they not going after the biggest culprit of them all: the sugarcane cooperatives controlled mostly by politicians across the spectrum? Sugarcane, grown extensively in Maharashtra, is a water-intensive crop. Each kilo of sugar requires 2,000 litres of water. Considering that the total output of sugar from Maharashtra is 10 billion kilos, the total water consumption would amount to 20 billion litres. If the consensus is that water should not be wasted at all costs, then, perhaps, the wise thing would be to regulate the powerful sugar mafia in Maharashtra. And create long-term solutions to save water, under and over the ground. Now, that would probably lead to a happy wala India. 

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The Indian Premier League finds itself in a soup once again, this time because of the water crisis
Sandeep Kumar Delhi 

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