As a cricketer, money and fame may come easy to you in India today. But, notoriety may not be far behind as fast-bowler Sreesanth and two of his team-mates from Rajasthan Royals learnt last week.
Arrested and charged with accepting bribes, Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan were offered between Rs. 40 lakh and Rs. 60 lakh to give away a pre-fixed number of runs in a given over. At least 11 bookies and middlemen have also been arrested in the case.
Sreesanth was only getting Rs. 2.2 crore for a seven week contract to play the Indian Premier League (IPL). But he appears to have been willing to risk his career, future and reputation for much less.
In India, the legal process is often long and cumbersome and there’s many a slip between being arrested and convicted. Whatever happens to those charged, the simple fact is that the IPL and cricket in India stands tarnished.
Little cricket and much more entertainment, IPL is designed to attract money, more money and even more money. Its lusty hitting arranged to suit television and advertising schedules, with a lot of money for players.
And, just as everyone thought that the Chris Gayle innings might have been the highlight of this edition of the IPL, the cash-for-runs scam broke. There’s every indication that it will remain the defining moment of the IPL.
But what about the context in which these things happen?
In India, many trot out the explanation that “underpaid and overworked” police personnel are corrupt only because wages are low and they have to put in long hours.
Clearly, that logic doesn’t apply to the charges against Sreesanth and his friends. They can’t take the line that I-am-poor-so-I-accept-bribes line.
The fact is that corruption is central to the workings of the Indian system. Whether it is policemen, municipal officials, politicians, senior bureaucrats – everything operates according to a parallel system that thwarts the functioning of the real system.
Many young cricketers come from small town India. If they make a mark in the game, the first thing they find are corporate sponsors lining up to use them for cold drinks, chips, cars and whatever else they can get them to endorse.
The money is excellent and the inducements are real. So, a young, impressionable cricketer soon receives a lot of money and attention if he does well in his career.
The IPL, needless to say, has multiplied these opportunities. A young lad from poor or lower middle class family can make more money from IPL today than many cricketers might have made in their careers yesterday.
They are also transported into a heady party scene. Power brokers, senior cricketers, young women, alcohol – all this and more are “available” at the IPL.
It’s in this culture that bookies and middlemen thrive and can contact players easily. While Sreesanth and Co. must get their day in court, the context in which all this wheeling-dealing goes on is important to understand.
Last week, well-known sports writer Sharda Ugra pointed to the sexist culture the IPL was encouraging at a time when India is dealing with rising and horrible instances of crimes against women.
Let’s not have the IPL at all if this is the kind of sexist culture it generates.
Returning to the larger issue, it’s time that law enforcement authorities send out a strong signal to the cricketing community, bookies and middlemen.
There must be penal consequences for match-fixing, spot-fixing and whatever other “fixing” these people indulge in – a policy of zero tolerance.