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August 22, 1997


Prabhakar, Lamba join ranks of unemployed

Amrit Mathur

Cricketers are a privileged and pampered lot - remember Michael Ferreira's tirades?

The way it goes is, in India cricketers really have it easy. While prominent achievers in other sports struggle, cricketers receive goodies on a platter -- they land jobs easily, make serious money, get plenty of exposure and, of course, social recognition is never a problem.

Attracted by cricket's popularity, private companies and sundry sponsors scramble to attach themselves to the sport. As a result, in every major city across the country, companies provide jobs to players of varying merit, merely to play local tournaments and project its image.

Such recruitment involves a big expense, but for the mileage-hungry organizations it matters little. Obviously, they reason, the tab is well justified on the basis of publicity and advertisement accruing from the presence of stars under their banner.

This cosy arrangement -- of unending corporate support - was recently shattered when Escorts, an established patron of cricket in Delhi, pulled the plug.

In a sudden move, they disbanded their cricket team, packed off their players. No more cricket, they decided.

The move shocked everyone - but surely a rethink on such matters stems from sound economic reasons. Sustaining a cricket team costs a large amount of money, and the return is often questionable. Moreover, what does an organization in these times of financial stringency do with a big group of unproductive, untrained, unemployable personnel once their active playing careers are over?

Among those affected at Escorts are former test players Manoj Prabhakar, Raman Lamba, Chetan Sharma and Vijay Yadav plus a host of Ranji players. Strangely the company had only recently inducted fresh players - just shortly before deciding they were closing shop and discontinuing the team.

The sacked players have received termination benefits in cash, but the money hardly compensates for the accompanying pain. Many of those players have passed their use-by date and are, thus, unlikely to find alternate employment elsewhere. Wailed one dismissed cricketer: "I can't play, I can't get another job! I don't know what to do!"

In a way, both employers and the players have contributed to the latter's misery. Quite often, companies rush into cricket without sufficient thought, decisions are taken not as a consequence of well thought out vision but on the whim of the cricket-crazed chief executive. The role of cricketand the players is not merged into corporate strategy - players are recruited, given fancy salaries/ perks only because the boss desires the proximity of a cricket celebrity.

Often, the financial results from such patronage are meagre. As club cricket and local tournaments are disorganized, a corporate team participating in them and doing well hardly matters - two inches of mention dumped in one corner of the sports page is hardly worth the company's while.

Moreover, what major publicity benefit can a controversial cricketer like Manoj Prabhakar provide? Given his track record of hitting the wrong buttons instead of projecting the association, a sensitive employer careful about his image would rather hide the fact.

Usually the companies don't know what to do with players they recruit. Cricket keeps them occupied for a while, but rest of the time they are allowed to waste themselves. There is no policy to integrate them into productive jobs, no training to upgrade skills, no move to place them on the corporate ladder. Strangely, compared to the so-called well managed, modern private sector companies, the Railways - the oldest patrons of sports in India -- display greater foresight.

They insist that all sportsmen on their roster undergo training to acquire necessary skills in order to fit into regular cadres. Deadwood is thus reduced. True, not every pehalwan becomes a good officer, but most manage to do their duties reasonably well. Wastage is thus minimized, and integration of sportsmen with others is accomplished smoothly. In most private companies, there is no such vision -- cricketers just play, learn no other skills, and visit the office only to collect salaries.

The Escorts move has sent shock waves through the community because, if this can happen to cricket, the fate of other sports can only be more harsh. The disbanding of the cricket team shows that ultimately, the balance sheet triumphs, decisions are made considering profitability, the MD's weakness to show off a cricket celebrity is only a passing thing.

In the end, all have to reassess the cost of supporting sports and expensive sportsmen. Escorts - and other organizations - will sustain sports only on this yardstick. Which is why talk of sports promotion, as a national or social obligation, is pure rubbish.

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