Cricket is like a religion in India, it is said especially by Indians, who take almost as much delight in their love of the sport as in the contest between bat and ball. Nothing, they suggest, unites their vast and varied country so much as its devotion to what was once an English summer game. That is one reason why the epic mismanagement of Indian cricket matters. The other is that it gets to the heart of the cronyism and high-level abuse that plague India more widely.
Every cricket season brings news of a fresh scam or intrigue including, on May 16th, the arrest of three cricketers and a dozen bookmakers for alleged match-fixing in the country’s most popular domestic tournament, the Indian Premier League (IPL). Investigators in Delhi hint that the players were paid indirectly to underperform by the Mumbai gangsters who control much of India’s enormous illegal gambling industry (betting on cricket is against the law in India). If they are right, the nexus between racketeers, bookmakers and greedy cricketers, exposed in 2000 in one of the biggest scandals in modern sport, remains in place. This would not be surprising: India’s Government and the men who run cricket there have done almost nothing to dismantle it.
They are often the same people. In recent years politicians have flocked to join the Indian Cricket Board, which claims a monopoly on the game in India, and earns about $200m a year. Yet its rulers appear to spend more time jockeying for position than cleaning up the mess. They also provide a miserable example of governance: the current President of the Indian board, a Tamilian businessman, N. Srinivasan, also owns an IPL team, the Chennai Super Kings.
India’s mismanagement is bad for cricket elsewhere. The financial dominance of India has given its rulers a de facto veto on how the game is run globally. But India takes no responsibility for the Indian bookies corrupting cricket. The Cricket Board appears to view the collaborative culture of international cricket mainly as a threat to its interests.
As the global field most marked by India’s economic rise, cricket is worryingly indicative of how the country conducts much of its official business. Negotiations on trade, energy and climate change, in which India is increasingly important, have been similarly buffeted by the intransigence of the elite.
More than just a game: What is to be done? As so often in India, the solutions are easy to state and hard to enact. The Government should legalise betting on cricket, in order to control and regulate it. The cricket board must also be regulated more tightly, as the commercial operation it is, not the volunteer organisation it claims to be. It should recognise that the longer it fails to stamp out corruption, the more tightly it will be controlled. It should start by cracking down on the alleged cheats—not, as in previous scandals, seeking to exonerate them after the dust has settled.
Such reforms would be opposed by the same powerful people who aspire to run everything in India, from politics to cricket to banking (see article). That is why they are so important. International confidence in India’s ability to uphold the rule of law and fight corruption is at an all-time low. To improve their country’s reputation, its rulers should start by cleaning up their favourite game.
– The Economist