IPL saga: India’s gladiator games

The nature and scale of the crisis engulfing Indian cricket, the country’s passion and also described as its only secular religion, makes one cast the mind back to the origin of games as a spectacle – to ancient Rome and the massive Colosseum, its rear stands still standing high in the heart of the eternal city.

A recent recreation of those times was British director Ridley Scott’s film “Gladiator”. The Roman Empire by that time had come to include various groups of people in the Mediterranean region while the gladiatorial blood sport spectacles also served to unite these diverse people under Rome in a common pastime.

The utter popularity of the games, where the gladiators were slaves and criminals and the spectacles served to instill the virtues of order and discipline of a militarized society, had provoked the Roman satirist Juvenal to comment: The people, who once bestowed imperium, fasces, legions, everything, now forgo such activities and have but two passionate desires: bread and circus games.

Juvenal was speaking of the use of sport as spectacle to keep the populace content. Like the Indian Premier League (IPL) when it appeared six years back, taking cricket to new heights of popularity. Also, like the IPL, ancient Roman gladiator games had their sponsors in the provinces, while the Emperor was the biggest of them all presiding over the arena in Rome.

All major political parties as well as the National Conference are present in the persons of members of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Its composition ensures the ruling class oversees India’s most popular sport, whose early patrons were the princely families.

Thus it is also understandable that the BCCI members tread softly in speaking against their president, when he has “done no wrong” in managing a sport that plays such a vital role in social life. However, the initial silence, now broken, will continue on its inexorable logic till the issue of N. Srinivasan’s conflict of interest in cricket’s governing body is resolved and professional principles and practices are finally instituted in the organising of cricket in India.

This is the heart of the present darkness – that things have been undefined for long, or never been clarified. To the extent that many of the alleged wrongdoers perhaps also feel that they haven’t done much wrong by selling an over, some balls or runs to bookies. In fact, the authorities are now scrambling to enact laws to deter corruption in sport.

The criminal investigations apart, principles have to be defined for the BCCI once and for all, and the conflict of interest of the president as an IPL team owner has to be resolved. The criminality surrounding cricket provides the opportunity to establish principles of professional management, leaving no scope of conflict of interest or generalizations based on the phenomenon of corruption in Indian life.

Srinivasan’s dogged refusal to relinquish hold can also be explained by his belief in having done no wrong. The struggle to establish principles is generally long, but the countdown to his exit has begun.

(02.06.2013 – Biswajit Choudhury is a senior journalist. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at [email protected])

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