The recently concluded Cricket World Cup 2019 was not at all an ordinary event among cricket fans around the globe. The gigantism of cricket as a sport is not something unknown to even those who don’t follow it. The last time India met Pakistan at the World Cup, over 1 billion people tuned in, which equates in viewership to 9 Superbowls, or 52 Game Of Thrones finales. The fact itself is enough to get an idea about the enormity of the sport.
Cricket is one of the few sports (probably the only one at such a large scale) which has been extensively used for international diplomacy. India and Pakistan have used cricket to both ease tensions and as well as inflame tensions. For instance, after the Pulwama terror attack in India earlier this year, it was anticipated that India might seek to boycott their match against Pakistan at the World Cup. Cricket diplomacy has not been limited to just South-Asia. In early 2000’, Fidel Castro got Cubans to play cricket instead of baseball to show resentment against the US. In 2005, China built a stadium in Grenada as a ‘thank you’ for not recognizing Taiwan as a country. The story of Afghanistan tells us how cricket helped redefining a war-torn nation. From playing cricket in refugee camps to playing cricket at international level, they made sure when people hear of Afghanistan, they are reminded of things other than war. The original aim behind cricket was expansion. The British perceived it as a medium of exporting culture and civilising their colonies. Today, all countries which were once British colonies see cricket as a way of getting back at the English by beating them at their own sport.
But the sad part is that today, cricket is becoming less and less inclusive because of corruption and greed. And the worse part is that the country to blame is India. India accounts for 70% of the total cricket revenue generated in the world. In 2017, India accounted for a whopping $1 billion related to sponsorships. And all this thanks to the IPL – INDIAN PREMIER LEAGUE. The IPL is a tournament of the shorter version of the game called T-20 in which players from all around the world (except Pakistan) play for different franchise under 3 year contracts. The IPL is the largest and the most celebrated T-20 league in the world and it has turned out to become a spectacular cultural phenomenon. Started by Lalit Kumar Modi in 2008 with an initial investment of just $25 million, the IPL was worth $4.1 billion in 2010 just two years after it’s commencement. All Modi had to do was to make cricket more exciting. Shorter formats, shorter seasons, celebrity involvement in promotion as well as ownership of franchisee, all this contributed to the commercialisation of the league. Modi was celebrated throughout the cricket world for years and by years, I mean just three. In 2013 he was found guilty on 8 counts of misconduct which included rigging of IPL bids, charging facilitation fees to the effect of $80 million, not disclosing that his relatives had a stake in the company that purchased this for the IPL website and a few more. Modi however denied all the charges and left India to settle abroad, occasionally participating in debates on news channels.
What Modi did to Indian cricket was phenomenal and revolutionary. Cricket revenues exploded thanks to advertisement and sponsorships lured in by the ever increasing viewership. This inflow of money and viewership redefined the way cricket was governed globally. On paper, the ICC (International Cricket Council) governs all the 105 cricket playing nations. But due to the colossal amount of money that BCCI (Board of Control for Cricket in India) makes, the ICC along with all other countries revolve around the BCCI. The influence of BCCI on ICC is something that can’t be ignored. A total of 16 teams participated in the 2007 world cup, which is now down to just 10 (the fewest number of teams in two decades). This is because the less is the number of teams, the more are the matches that the Indian team plays which ultimately means more money for Indian advertisers. In 2014, India along with England and Australia (collectively known as the Big Three) launched a cricket coup to dominate cricket governance and allocation of revenues. Prior to that every member of the ICC was entitled to equal share of the total revenue. But India’s plan proposed greater allocation of funds to the Big Three as it was around these three countries that world cricket revolves. Subsequently, India got 33% , England 8% and Australia 7.6% of the revenues.
It is quite clear that BCCI has a major role to play in cricket governance. But at the same time it should also take responsibility for the expansion and promotion of the sport. BCCI follows a policy wherein it restricts the sport to limited nations and does not let it spread to new regions because that may lead to the dilution of their overall control. Maybe that is why it doesn’t allow Indian players to play for any other countries domestic league even though players from all major countries are a part of the IPL. The BCCI is so stringent in protecting its hegemony over the sport that somewhere it has compromised the potential of cricket to unite and upbring nations. But the best thing about sport is it never dies. And till the time the spirit of the game is alive among the players and their followers, cricket will prevail.