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Oh, Insider Punters' League!

Last updated on: May 27, 2013 09:57 IST

Oh, Insider Punters' League!

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Shreekant Sambrani

Chennai Super Kings owner and BCCI President N Srinivasan should formally distance himself from the IPL and BCCI until his son-in-law is cleared of wrongdoing in the spot-fixing scandal, feels Shreekant Sambrani.

A month ago, I wrote admiringly of the fantastic plot twists in the Indian Premier League 6 as being far more outlandish than any a TV soap could dream of ('Hooked on IPL').

Little did I then realise that a far worse, and by far the nastiest, twist was yet to come.

What could be more devastating than the team led by that straightest arrow of Indian cricket for two decades, Rahul Dravid, to have on its rolls three shyster (but mercifully minor) members (I cannot bring myself to sully the name of that fairest of all games by calling them cricketers) who sold themselves and their team for pieces of silver?

Ever the gentleman with the mot juste for the occasion, Dravid likened the situation to bereavement. That is exactly how the millions of genuine fans of IPL have felt for most of the week following revelation on May 16 of the spot-fixing shenanigans of Messrs Shantakumaran Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan.

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Image: Demonstrators in Ahmedabad burn a poster of Shanthakumaran Sreesanth after the spot-fixing scandal became public
Photographs: Amit Dave/Reuters

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A few bad eggs do not mean condemning 250

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We told ourselves in a dear-departed tone that a few bad eggs do not mean condemning 250 of the cream of world cricket, nor call the shortest format of the game itself into question.

There was no way that Kieran Pollard's hat-trick of dropped catches was an instant of fixing, because that would involve too many players.

Similarly, Chavan may bowl a loose ball, but it still needed a Glen Maxwell to hit it for a six.

We went through the motions of watching the remaining games, although we did not share the forced gaiety of the commentary box. We exulted in the power hitting of Bengaluru which kept their prospects alive.

A day later when Hyderabad pulled out a miracle to make it to the playoffs, we shared Alan Wilkins's homily that hope was what IPL was all about.

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Image: Ankeet Chavan, one of the Rajasthan Royals players accused of spot-fixing
Photographs: BCCI

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Srinivasan's obvious conflict of interest

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Not any longer. The game-changer (puns are still irresistible!) is the disclosure on May 22 that Gurunath Meiyappan, the CEO of the Chennai Super Kings, has been associated with Vindoo Dara Singh, a small-time Bollywood personality and apparently private bookie.

Meiyappan is a scion of the family that owns the AVM studios in Chennai. He is the son-in-law of Mr N Srinivasan, the president of the Board of Cricket Control of India, director and a major stock holder of India Cements, the company that owns CSK.

We had so far looked the other way when confronted with Mr Srinivasan's obvious conflicts of interest. We had paid serious attention to his dour and stone-faced arguments about the role of the BCCI and his own person.

But 24 hours after the outing of the Randhawa-Meiyappan connection, no action, nor any explanation, has been forthcoming from the seemingly model corporate citizen. To say that it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth is like saying that the ocean is salty.

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Image: Vindoo Dara Singh with Sakshi Dhoni at an IPL match
Photographs: BCCI

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Fixing of sports is neither unique nor new to India

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Fixing of sports events either by outcome or development at a stage (spot-fixing) is neither unique nor new to India.

We have chewed over ad infinitum the earlier match-fixing with Hansie Cronje and Mohammad Azharuddin as its centre-pieces. The lifestyle of a player or his flings are also often talked about.

Worldwide, hundreds of millions of dollars are bet everyday on myriad sports events legally or otherwise. Boxers are known to have thrown bouts, including world-title fights.

The Chicago Black Sox scandal of 1919 led to a thorough house-cleaning of American baseball with commissioners of unimpeachable integrity now overseeing the so-called national pastime of the United States.

But a Pete Rose still surfaces 70 years later as a star player and manager indulging in gambling, including betting on the team he managed.

Football action in Europe is constantly under surveillance. Even the award of the Olympic Games or the conduct of heads of international sports bodies are not above suspicion.

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Image: Protesters set fire to an effigy of Mohammad Azharuddin who was banned for life following the match-fixing scandal in 2000
Photographs: Reuters

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Indians love to bet on anything and everything

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To put matters in perspective, the high-risk high-reward nature of modern sport makes it a natural target for speculation.

There is also an underlying realisation that money and sex can outdo competitive spirit as the motive force in sports. These factors together make sports contests natural targets for gambling.

Bookies may have originated in shady dives, but these days, they are mostly parts of gigantic syndicates, often controlled by organised crime. That is the reason for legalising sports betting in some countries, because it offers some supervision and protection against extortion. It is another matter altogether that illegal gambling flourishes even in countries that have legitimised betting.

The talking heads of electronic media have expressed their shock at the prevalence of gambling in the IPL, but if they are honest in doing so, they are only deluding themselves.

Indians love to bet on anything and everything. The Mahabharata would not have happened if Yudhisthira was not a habitual gambler. The most God-fearing grandmother merrily gambles during Diwali. And every election brings forth reports of vast fortunes bet on the outcome at all levels.

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Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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We will find ways and means to bet on IPL 7

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So here is my speculation, and I am sure no one will offer me any worthwhile odds to bet on it. The IPL controversy will wind its way down in due course.

IPL 7 will entertain us in 2014 in ways yet unforeseen, with undiscovered stars. And we will find ways and means to bet on it and the election that will happen around the same time.

That brings me back to my outrage at the India Cements-CSK-BCCI combine.

Apologists for Mr Meiyappan say he comes from a wealthy background and does not need to make money from betting. That is a ridiculous argument because it means that only poor people bet and that too for pecuniary gain alone.

The rush of adrenaline at the prospect of anticipating an uncertain future spares no one.

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Image: Apologists for Mr Meiyappan say he comes from a wealthy background and does not need to make money from betting. That is a ridiculous argument
Photographs: BCCI

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Mr Srinivasan should return to the IPL and the BCCI only after the matter is cleared

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At the very least, Mr Meiyappan's supposed involvement in gambling is akin to insider trading. It could be much worse.

Propriety would demand that he and his father-in-law formally distance themselves from the IPL and BCCI until the matter is cleared and return only if they are exonerated.

A major area of speculation and illegal fixing is the stock market.

I had occasion to make observations on the role of that tarnished star of Indian origin, Mr Rajat Gupta and his trial in India Abroad.

Pedigree mattered little, because they do not come any more highly placed and reputed than Mr Gupta.

The conclusion from that essay, a quote from the poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe who wrote a classic play on Faust's selling his soul to the Devil, applies to these IPL leaders as well: 'The deed is everything, its repute nothing.'


Image: BCCI President N Srinivasan
Photographs: Getty Images

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