anupam goswami | February 3, 2010
Each year the Indian Premier League brings forth new complexities to cricket. This is only natural, just as been the experience for all modern sport. However, in India this experience is turning out to all the more complicated for a variety of reasons.
The latest controversy in the IPL is, of course, all about the exclusion of Pakistani players from the most recent round of player auctions conducted by the league. This embargo has attracted strong comment from many quarters. Governance Now too has aired its strong views. Crucially, the focus of these views has been on the conduct and motivation of the founder-honcho of the IPL, Lalit Modi and the proprietors of the franchisee teams. There has also been debate whether these personalities were influenced by some signal from the government, or not. All this is about the administration of cricket in this country, and a very important public matter. Yet there is a greater concern which is all about the governance of games people and nations play in a globalised world.
This has two aspects. First, the spectacle as well as the process of modern sport provides obvious opportunities to overcome the status quo as well as the logjams of politics. This is particularly so for the international sphere. Participation in the Olympics – and the Olympic movement – is a way for countries to signal their participation in the comity of nations. Just right now the XI South Asia Games are going on in Dhaka. It is obvious that the purpose of these games is not to show which South Asian country runs or jumps faster, higher, and stronger; but to demonstrate that we are all in it together. Of course there is the case for the sporting prowess at the individual, or team, or national levels; but each of these acquires meaning and dimension only when all nations come together to play the game. This point has been proved again and again specifically by cricket in the sub-continent.
The second aspect is all about the projection of national prowess beyond the sports field. This is obviously tougher. As the IPL itself shows, much of modern sport is all about making it easier for pinch-hitting the proverbial sixes. But it is important for nations to carry others along with them too. The US is a global power not merely because it has the ability to carry out bombing missions in Afghanistan and Iraq (though this helps). It is strong because it exercises a great semblance of participatory leadership with nations on its immediate borders and surrounding region. And, of course, a number of sports events and leagues in the US and the region help in this framework. Thus, there has never been a case that the players of any South American country are barred simply because some drug cartel might be based there, or its top political leader may be eschewing cigar-smoking venom at the US.
So, modern sport has to be a necessarily an inclusive affair with an ever increasing radius of participation. This applies to the logic of the sport itself as well as the games that nations play with it. Just think. In order to become a bigger and sustainable game in terms of fans, players, teams, finances, and revenues, cricket generally and the IPL specifically will have to reach out to new geographies and populations. Most of this expansion will be fed by people of our sub-continental origin. How will this square with the exclusion of any particular country’s players from the IPL?
Then there is of course the case of India’s ambitions at the WTO, the UN Security Council, or any global stage. It will be seen as an international player only if it demonstrates a strong ability to carry along others, particularly its neighbours, in a variety of arenas and fields. For this reason the IPL cannot be allowed to prevent or ostracise any one; even if it is conducted on some grounds within the country. There is clear governance issue involved and that is all about the playing to participate.
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