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India and the Cricket World Cup
|by K. Gajendra Singh|
Cocktail of Gladiators & Moolah with Racial Overtones
"The last positive thing England did for cricket was invent it." Ian Chappell.
Although in audience reach Cricket World Cup does not match football but in passions, racial overtones, money making and cheating it is like a heady sports cocktail, brewed since Greek Olympic Games and Roman gladiator combats.
In the current 2007 World Cup, the stunning exit of India and Pakistan left passionate billion and half followers of the game in the subcontinent in a daze and disgust triggering Tsunami like disaster for the commercial operators nurturing and feeding on the game. It was as if Germany and Brazil were ousted by India and Pakistan in football World Cup preliminaries.
"Cup loses fizz as big teams fall " wrote Scyld Berry in Sunday Telegraph adding "Nobody is going to watch the advertisements designed for the hundreds of millions of Indian viewers aspiring to a mobile phone, a motorbike, a fizzy drink or a refrigerator."
Ever since cricket was transformed by Australian TV entrepreneur Kerry Packer from organized loafing by clad- in-white fools, wherein even five 6-daylong Test matches many times produced no victors, into a daylong pulsating combats by multi colored gladiators in former British colonies and a few other centers, this repetitive spectacle has morphed into a cash cow for marketers of white goods, consumer items, TV channels and advertising giants.
Including non-resident Indians from the poorest to the rich, India now contributes 70% of the game's revenue, the pie everyone wants a slice off.
Following the corporatization of cricket in the era of consumerism , the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) ,the apex organizing body netted annual revenues of Rs 500 crores.( $1 million= Rs 4.4 Crores ) Last year, it sold telecasting rights for Rs 2,750 crores! Air Sahara sponsorship rights for four years at a price tag of around 300 crores, Nike became Indian cricket's official kit sponsor for five years by spending a cool Rs 196.66 crores. The TV rights with Nimbus got Rs 2,714 crores. Indian Government Doordarshan channel made another Rs 160 crores.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) sold broadcasting rights for the current and the next World Cup for an even higher $1.1 billion (Rs 4,950crores). Sony Entertainment Television sold advertising at Rs 5 lakhs for each10-second spot, raking in an estimated Rs 350 crores to Rs 400 crores. But all these mega deals have almost been washed away in Caribbean waters. The sponsors are now wary of long term agreements. After all it is business, people are not watching cricket. Disgusted a council of 20 villages in the Indian state of Haryana banned watching cricket.
Dwarfing this is the money invested in betting, which is illegal in India. Called satta it takes place on the sly, made easier with internet and cell phones (which also helped nab match fixers and the corrupt players.)Estimates of betting in India vary from US$5 billion a year to as high as $40 billion. An India Pakistan match can exceed $250 million. For the World Cup, with 51 matches the estimates were up to $4 billion.
Now take India’s star players. Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid make Rs 12crores to 20 crores a year for endorsing products ranging from biscuits, shoes, cosmetics, cars to life insurance. Ganguly charges an annual fee of close to Rs1.5 crore per endorsement. Even newcomers like Mahendra Singh Dhoni become multimillionaires overnight. But after the Caribbean debacle, for a match recently in Baroda, top Indian cricket stars were booed.
So you can imagine the losses all around. Instead of the 'scheduled' India-Pakistan encounter on 15 April, from south Asians, who did not cancel their reservations and turned up, Indians, supported Ireland and Pakistanis Bangladesh. Ireland won.
West Indies' exit midway dampened even local interest. On its eight islands where the matches are being staged, the financial investments in infrastructure are being rendered in fructuous and could perhaps temporarily halt the game's march as a spectator sport to new centers, which the expected revenues would have funded. Bangladesh, the new boys on the block, who stunned fancied India and later even beat South Africa, bring exuberance and enthusiasm but little money in endorsements or to the games common kitty.
As Greg Chappell rightly commented it is the people of India who drive the game and the business in India and the world. If the Americans had learnt cricket before they threw out the British colonists, it would have become another ball game altogether. Yes, the Yanks do play, but a simpler and less sophisticated version of cricket and call it baseball.
Cricket fever affects even political life in India. Politicians are wary of cricket matches being played during election time. Attendance at election rallies simply dwindles. But the problem has been resolved by installing huge TV screens at venues to attract voters. Some years ago Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani on a tour of India found little audience because of a cricket tournament. Advani's rath (a specially designed bus with state-of-the-art comforts and technology) was quickly fitted with TV screens to telecast the matches live. Viola! In trooped the crowds.
The world controlling organization Imperial Cricket Club founded in 1909, morphed into International Cricket Conference in 1989. It now has 97 members; 10 full Members that play official 5 day long Test matches, 32 Associate Members, and 55 Affiliate Members. But the control is still manipulated by the white man (or his proxy). But India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh now provide half the top teams and should become the decider region.
Even before the Second World War, as US economic muscle grew, the international financial center shifted from London to Wall Street, New York. Washington with 25% contributions to UN income bullies it to toe its line. The HQ of ICC has already moved away from London to Sharjah in UAE towards the sub-continent.
The unspoken simmering tensions between the whites, the former rulers, and brown-blacks, the subjects, erupted into an almost open split a few years ago in South Africa after white umpires and arbiters unduly penalized Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan players, while white players were let off lightly for infringing the rules. India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have won the Cup once unlike the English, the New Zealanders and South Africans. West Indies twice and Australia thrice, the latter are the firm favorites for 2007.
A tragic element was added by the assassination of Pakistani coach Bob Woolmer, a white South African, soon after Pakistan’s shock defeat by Ireland. Like other East West conflicts say in Iraq or Palestine, Western media hacks started coloring up the truth and accused Pakistan players by innuendos. Yes, there have been accidents and unsavory incidents. Umpires have been beaten up in the past sometimes, in the West Indies, when a local hero was given out. But an English eleven on a Pakistan tour, a few decades ago, took the cake. Unhappy with the Pakistani umpire's decisions, one evening it cornered him, smothered his head with a towel and bashed him up. Now only one of the umpires is local in bilateral games while neutrals stand for other games. The abrasive Australians while touring India with its media launch aggressive campaign against Indian umpires in the media. The gentle and timid Indians end up erring in their favor.
It was heartening that London's the Guardian, which is quite objective on Arab- Israel dispute, Iraq, and even Iran (not when British James Bonds intrude into Iranian waters), took a balanced approach to the Cup happenings. In "This innuendo about the Pakistan team is a disgrace ", Mike Marqese wrote on 26 March --that the reaction has more to do with stereotyping and hyperbole than the facts.
"It is a serious matter - as umpire Darrell Hair found out - to accuse a team, purely on the basis of supposition, of cheating to win a cricket match. It is an even more serious matter to accuse a team, or a player, of taking bribes to lose a match. But to accuse a player or a team of being involved in the death of their coach raises the stakes by several orders of magnitude." Hyperbole may be the bane of sports journalism but "The rush to judgment here is fuelled by that other bane of sports journalism, national stereotyping."
A quick verdict on Woolmer’s death would have taken away whatever attention remains from the Cup so it is as well that investigators are taking their own time.
BBC and MK
But trust Tony Blair's BBC, which gave only 2% time to the opposition viewpoint on the US-K led illegal war on Iraq with its objectivity when analyzed being the worst of the western channels i.e. CNN, ABC, DEF and others, to keep up the usual refrain.
In a piece titled" Is India’s slip good for cricket? "on BBC website of 27 March, 2007, wrote one Mukul Kesvan (MK) [ Author of 'Men in White' - a book on cricket , what else] , that purging of Pakistan and India, the dysfunctional giants of South Asian cricket would act as a tonic to the Cup and make it a happier, less toxic tournament.
Continued MK "The arena-like excitement of ODIs was tailor-made for that great South Asian sport, chauvinism." "Defeat, especially at the hands of the old enemy, led to a suspension of cricketing relations (India stopped playing Pakistan in Sharjah after a sequence of defeats led to allegations of foul play) [The cheating etc. is well established and the atmosphere generated only hate between Indian and Pakistani spectators–something West loves. But how Indian spectators clapped Pakistan's victory in Chennai and Pakistanis almost to a man stood up earlier cheering an Indian win, in hot spot Karachi, when the two resumed playing after many years in 2004.]
"The rise of the bookie and the phenomenon of match-fixing which nearly destroyed cricket's credibility as a competitive sport was a by-product of the new South Asian audience for one-day cricket. – "The corruption that bookies have brought to the game has had foreign recruits like the late South African captain, Hansie Cronje, but it remains a sub-continental blight.
“And these bookies, these villains are South Asian - located in India and Pakistan for the most part, countries where the criminalization of betting has driven the betting 'industry' underground.--Cricket will buckle under the weight of the sullen, thin-skinned nationalism that Indian and Pakistani fans bring to the game and it can certainly do without the bookie-driven corruption that feeds off this perverse enthusiasm."
Of course MK’s book, advertised above will sell to even whites if written in a similar vein and BBC is delighted a brown man is trashing South Asians. He would even be invited to well-paid seminars in the West. But MK is either being to BBC what Tony Blair is to George Bush or exposing his ignorance about the world of sports in which West dominates or tries to by hook and mostly by crook. Sports and arena combats remain vehicles of chauvinism and nationalism since the days of ancient Geek Olympics and Roman gladiator games.
On England's loss to New Zealand, commented Simon Hattenstone, "In September 2005 Andrew Flintoff was a national hero. England had won the Ashes and Freddie went on the lash for 32 hours. How we cheered when he told David Gower, the morning after the night before but not yet halfway through his epic bender, "To be honest with you, David, I’m struggling. I've not been to bed yet and the eyes behind these glasses tell a thousand stories."
"We celebrated with him, we laughed at the story that he urinated in the garden at No10, and we marveled he was still upright as he walked off the bus, the word "twat" scrawled on his head.
"Eighteen months and one Ashes whitewash on, Flintoff is a national disgrace. After spending the night drinking following World Cup defeat by New Zealand, "borrowing" a pedalo (now known as a Fredalo) for a jape, capsizing and nearly drowning, he has been relieved of the vice-captaincy and ousted by the management team as a serial drinker with a problem. Am I the only one confused? What are the rules - you can only drink when you’re winning?"
After the match fixing scandals exploded, top Indian cricketers like Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja and others were banned from playing. In 1994 Salim Malik was accused of attempted bribery by Shane Warne and Mark Waugh but they themselves accepted payment from bookies for providing information, an incident which was downplayed by Australian authorities. South Africans are wary of letting some of its stars investigated in India.
Does MK watch proletarian but immensely more popular football game? He has perhaps not heard of English football fans, the hooligans, any day much worse than the Indian fans .They acquired notoriety across the continent and gave nightmares on match evenings to European police till they were tackled on a war footing by combined EU forces. Teams and venues where fans indulged in hooliganism were punished. The Turks in Istanbul were ready when fans of an English club came over to play, injuring and even killing some of them.
English footballer Beckham, past his prime, is still hero worshipped at home, even when he was benched by his Spanish Football Club, which bought this brand, shelling out tens of millions of Euros. Now the 'Bend like Beckham 'brand will play football, where else but in USA, the mother of all brand names, where the game is called soccer.
As for money, match fixing and corruption, the dictator- coaches (Compared to English coach Ferguson and others, poor Greg Chappell is but a lamb and Wright only a kid when dealing with the Indian matador cricketers .Or Woolmer was allegedly slapped by Shohaib Akhtar), not only football but most games like boxing, tennis, cycling, athletics et al are brimming over. But so much money is involved that no one dare expose the corrosive truth. A few revelations only indicate the tip of the tip of the iceberg.
Some controversy was added when Sunil Gavaskar rightly criticized the uncouth behavior of Australian cricketers who now are at the top in both the Test cricket and ODIs. West Indies ruled cricket for a decade black washing the Australians time and again but they remained gentlemen players. Unfortunately the Australians have reduced the game to fishermen brawls or miners quarrels. While Sunil's example of Australian cricketer David Hookes who was killed in a brawl outside a nightclub was unfortunate, for which Sunil, the gentleman, soon apologized but whole of Australia came down on him heavily.
Recently after the Australians had won and received the Champions Cup in Mumbai, India from BCCI President Sharad Pawar, a senior Minister in the Indian Government, they pushed him off for a photo op, in full public view, causing great consternation and anger in India. Would Australian footballers imitate their abrasive and foul mouthed cricket champions in bruising and abusive play in Istanbul if their level got that advanced?
But this kind of behavior is only to be expected from the Australians, including their politicians, diplomats and journalists. In fact the Australians glory in being boorish and uncivilized. Recently Prime Minister Howard criticized Obama, an Afro-American Democratic presidential candidate, and injected racial overtones. An Australian newspaper commented that Howard would normally cross the road to insult a political opponent but this time he crossed a continent. He was properly dealt with by Obama which in cricket parlance would mean hit for a six.
It is said that English captain Sir Wally Hammond would avoid shaking the Australians by hand, with some persons implying because of his distaste for Australia being a former Penal colony.
To eliminate coarse and unbecoming behavior many sport associations have taken stringent measures, especially in Tennis. Swearing, shouting even hitting the ground with the racket, called racket abuse, is penalized. Such measures must be introduced so that the gentleman's game of cricket does not descend to a wrestling arena for exchanging abuses.
The Greek victory over Persians at Marathon in 490 BC, which the colonial and neo-liberal historians claim the first of the West over East, is now rubbed in as the Marathon race in Olympic Games. Is it not a celebration of racism? What if an Iranian won it? Nowadays athletes from Ethiopia and Kenya dominate it. How about naming some equestrian event as Manzikert Cup to celebrate Turkish horsemen victory over the Byzantine cavalry in 1071 near Lake Van, which took the Turks right up to gates of Vienna?
There is an old cricket story about Sir Ranjit Sinhji (Ranji), a petty Indian Prince of Kathiawar, who invented the leg glance and played for England. After he had executed an elegant leg glance against arch enemy Australia, an English Lord remarked proudly-'one of our own Princes'. Ranji was out the next ball. “Dirty nigger", exploded His Lordship. The English are jolly good sportsmen when winning but not when losing. The national Indian cricket championship honors Ranji who some claim did not even deign to don Indian colors.
The football players from impoverished Africa, physically fitter and hungry for wealth and fame, now dominate many Clubs in Europe and national teams. Look at the French, the English and the Dutch teams color compositions. But racism, which has surfaced afresh in European society after the demise of secular and egalitarian communist and socialist block, is becoming a cancer in Europe. Many teams have been warned after their supporters indulged in racist chants and actions. Of course racism is not chauvinism. As for south Asian chauvinism, what is Western nationalism but official racist chauvinism?
Doping of Athletes
Doping or administration of drugs to enhance athletic or other performances is an ancient practice. Roman gladiators used stimulants such as strychnine to pump themselves up for a battle. Some skeletons when examined confirmed this. In modern times the word appeared in the early 1900s. Doping is done through gene therapy i.e. by inserting genes into a cell which instruct the body to produce large amounts of a hormone, protein, or other natural substance that enhance performance. With the hope that these doping drugs would not be detected.
There have been complaints of doping of cricketers. Drunkenness with allied activities among British cricketers are well documented and reported with glee and envy in English tabloids. Before the current cup two Pakistan fast bowlers Rawalpindi Express Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Asif were withdrawn at the last moment. They had flunked the dope tests but were then cleared. Australian leg spinner Shane Warne was banned only for a year, when his mother administered him performance enhancing drug (always blame the poor mother) and not two or three, otherwise how could he have established the record of highest number of wickets. Sri Lank spinner Muralitharan, who is likely to overhaul it was harassed and no balled by Australian umpires and not others to make life more difficult for him.
There are numerous examples of doping in recent history from other sports, specially athletics. Sprinter Marion Jones of USA, who won five Olympic gold medals, allegedly used drugs. Once the testing methods improved and someone blew the whistle on dope makers, her performance slipped dramatically. And of many others. Boxer Jason Giambi of New York says he turned to steroids beginning in 2001. Ken Caminiti, once an 'Outstanding Player' insisted half the players in baseball shared his steroid weakness, he died at 41 of a cocaine overdose.
Of course Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who lowered the old 100-meter mark at the 1988 Olympics, was found using illicit testosterone. But Carl Lewis, his rival and supposedly Mr. Clean and a loud one for two decades, had reportedly failed drug tests before the '88 Olympics (the charges came only after his retirement).
And of course the ever popular Diego Maradona from the slums of Argentina - the Pele of the generation- was expelled from the 1994 World Cup after testing positive for too many drugs to count. Apart from American Tour de France star Lance Armstrong since 1999, Richard Virenque of France, Italy's Marco Pantani (dead) of a drug overdose last winter) and, most recently, Tyler Hamilton of the United States have all tested positive for steroids or blood-enhancing EPO.
Reminds one of many western politicians and media, with CIA chief claiming a ‘slam dunk' proof of Iraq buying Uranium from Niger, weapons of mass destruction and Iraq’s linkage with Al Qaeda, as the causes belli for attacking Iraq. All turned out to be lies and spins. USA remains a superpower in manipulating world sports and inventing better masking of drugs than Canada, so Lewis gained over Johnson. Soviet Union and the East bloc nations did well in sports and games and were often accused byte Western media of doping. But after the fall of the Berlin Wall, athletes and sportspersons from those nations are doing very well, with Russia producing an array of female star tennis players, some very attractive ones too. Impoverished US Blacks do well in athletics and sports (and music) because of better physique (and sense of rhythm) and also because these are the only fields left open to them.
The list of doping is long and endless. It is like a cat and mouse game, with big powers helping out their athletes and players. I am convinced that majority of sportsmen and women use drugs.
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