(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
There was once a young man called Sree,
Who wanted a lot of money for free,
He thought it was novel,
To fix a match using a towel,
But he was caught by the police before he could flee.
Last week, as the outrage cycle around the latest IPL scandal gathered steam, the match broadcast was eerily calm about the most popular breaking news of the day. For the commentators it was business as usual. There was no acknowledgment of the fact that someone they considered ‘one of their own’ had betrayed the very principles they purport to stand for. There was so much denial in that stadium that one expected the commentators to pay tribute to the glorious principles of the Juche republic. The only indication that something was amiss came when the camera spotted a young Aditya Pancholi flying over the pitch in a helicopter.
However, outside the stadium, almost everyone with a soapbox was having a staggering meltdown of epic proportions. While news channels called upon a veritable who’s who of who cares to bloviate, print magazines and websites were commissioning pieces in which the writer gave voice to the anguish they felt at such horrendous treachery. And some people on social media were shocked – shocked! – that an activity in India involving billions of dollars was embroiled in corruption.
This is sort of scandal everybody loves! The politicians got to rail against corruption and crony capitalism, the very systems that they derive their power from. The Delhi Police looks good because instead of holding a press conference to provide justification for trampling on someone’s fundamental rights, they’re holding one to announce something they’ve managed to accomplish. Hell, even the Mumbai Police got a piece of the action when they took a break from crashing private parties to actually arresting someone remotely related to criminal activity. And news organizations got someone new to throw under the bus. Someone who not only seems guilty enough but is also powerless to actually make them pay for their supposed ‘transgression.’ Welcome to the national orgy of ecstatic sanctimony. Angry people get in for free.
So now that we know that our police can follow the trail of illicit money and actually catch people, we should get them to use their superpowers for good - like arresting some of the big ‘kingpins’ who’re responsible for serious violations of the law. Maybe even a couple of people in positions of power who use our social resources for their own personal benefit, to begin with. They don’t have to try very hard to find these criminals. According to an unconfirmed survey by the Ministry of Statistics, every two seconds, a new scam is born in India.
Let’s also stop pretending that participating in a sport is a noble pursuit that remains untouched by the corruption, deceit, double-dealing, dishonesty and trickery that exists in the world? If you believe that, you probably also believe that all those businessmen who spent so much money to get elected President of the BCCI did so because they love the game. They don’t expect to profit from that position at all. “Surely.” I mean, they’re highly successful people who have amassed large amounts of wealth. What do they know about making money, anyway?
There are more cricket channels in India than the number of times Vijay Mallaya has hit on his team’s cheerleaders. If you get the five asshole kids from your neighbourhood to play a match on teevee, some fans will even watch that. However, most sports fans are addicted to the narrative. To them, a match means more than just a match; it’s an allegory for the human condition. It’s where mortals turn into gods, villains get their comeuppance, and the underdog comes out on top. It’s where miracles happen. If you remove the narrative around the sport, then it’s just a bunch of people standing around, throwing a ball to each other, following some arbitrary rules someone made up hundreds of years ago.
So when something punctures this romantic bubble that sports fans live in, they tend to take the betrayal personally. We want our sports competitions to have a picture perfect ending. And yet, we don’t realize that without these ‘outside influences,’ we’re not going to get one. There is no cancer-surviving seven time Tour De France champion without the steroids. There is no Tiger Woods without the sex addiction. And there is no ‘poetic finish to a great day of cricket’ without the betting.
The IPL is sports distilled down to its basic purpose: to make money. It’s a huge payday for everyone involved! People don’t play well because of idealistic notions like “team spirit” or “for the love of the game.” They play well because that gives them more money. They play well because they want to be able to sell you fizzy drinks, washing machines, luxury sedans, potato chips, underwear and energy bars.
After this scandal broke, there were a few fans protesting outside stadiums hosting IPL matches, asking for a ban on the tournament. One of the banners they were holding said that cricket was their religion.
Perhaps it’s time for these devotees to learn that even gods aren’t infallible.