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The Betting Mafia

The Crisis in Globalized Cricket

by TARIQ ALI

Globalised cricket – epitomised by the Indian Premier League with its billions, its imported cheerleaders, its shady business deals, its manic marketing – is enmeshed in crisis. The seventh surreal season of the IPL is currently taking place in Dubai and Sharjah, an emirate that was once considered out of bounds for Indian teams because it is the centre of the betting mafia that dominates world cricket. But India is in the midst of a general election and the politicians of the Indian political leagues have priority as far as security is concerned. Hence the shift to the Gulf, where there’s easy money and a bubble world perfect for keeping reality at bay.

Back in India more trouble is brewing. The first CEO of the IPL, Lalit Modi (who told its PR men that his beaming face had to be seen on the screen at regular intervals chatting to some of the famous Bollywood stars – Preity Zinta, Shahrukh Khan, Shilpa Shetty – who had bought franchises for teams in the league), was sacked for misdemeanours including insider dealing in the allocation of franchises. One case involved Sh’ashi Tharoor, a leading Congress politician and former UN apparatchik – we once, a long time ago, crossed swords on the letters page in this paper.

Last year three cricketers, including the test-player and fast bowler Sreesanth, were charged with spot fixing (fixing a particular part of a game rather than the whole thing), found guilty and sent to prison. This was followed by allegations of match fixing against the IPL’s most successful side, the Chennai Super Kings. The Supreme Court set up an investigation headed by Mukul Mudgal, the former chief justice of Punjab and Haryana. His report, which was submitted to the court in February, confirmed the allegations. This caused a sensation because the team is owned by Narayaswami Srinivasan, president of the BCCI, not the bank that laundered money, but the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the governing body of Indian cricket. Srinivasan’s son-in-law, Gurunath Meiyappan, was named as the intermediary with the betting mafia.

It’s clear enough that throwing a match requires the collaboration of the captain and a few senior players. The captain of the Super Kings is M.S. Dhoni, who is also captain of the Indian cricket team; his deputy is Suresh Raina, who also plays for India. We should find out soon which players are involved. Mudgal gave a sealed envelope with 12 names in it to the Supreme Court. One is said to be a very big name. The informant, a journalist, refused to go public. The reason, according to the Mudgal Report, was that ‘in spite of repeated requests to put the name of the said player in a sealed cover for perusal before the Supreme Court, the journalist appeared terrified and was very reluctant to do so and pleaded that it would be dangerous.’ Who can blame him? The betting mafia is known to bump off those who testify against it.

Nothing much seemed to happen after the initial excitement. Srinivasan went swanning round the world and succeeded in setting up a new ICC oligarchy by proposing that the England and Wales Cricket Board and its Australian equivalent form a triumvirate with the BCCI that would make all the key decisions in world cricket. The one member, one vote system that had dethroned Britain and Australia in the first place was ditched, with the ‘lesser’ countries acquiescing in their demotion. Indian money had won the day. Giles Clarke of the ECB seems to have learned nothing from his dealings with another crook, Allen Stanford, who soon after signing a huge deal with the ECB was arrested in the US for fraud and sentenced to 110 years. To add to all this, Srinivasan is due to take over as chairman of the ICC.

The 2014 IPL season began last month; late in March Srinivasan temporarily stood down as head of the BCCI after a Supreme Court judge declared that the thought of Srinivasan retaining control of the IPL via his position in the BCCI ‘nauseated’ him. The Super King was replaced in the IPL by the cricketing legend Sunil Gavaskar. The Supreme Court then instructed the BCCI to appoint a panel to investigate corruption in the IPL. The BCCI suggested a collection of its favourites, one of whom was the bullying and boorish commentator Ravi Shastri, a well-known apologist for the IPL. The court rejected the names and brought Mudgal back to head a new inquiry with more powers and investigative help from the police. Meanwhile two former chairmen of the BCCI have demanded that all IPL matches be investigated. And there the matter rests for now.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).