The IPL T-20 series started in 2008 with a bang , with millions of dollars being spent on the game of cricket made possible by the fusion of two of India’s best selling brands: Cricket and Bollywood. The IPL formula was a sure winner. Everything about the series was larger than life, it was a grand extravaganza. The team managements put every effort to reach out to the masses with theme songs being launched and team merchandise flooding the markets, all marketing made sure that India was hooked to the television sets last summer. The games were gripping and the results were unexpected with the underdog Rajasthan Royals storming to an unprecedented victory. There were the purist critics last year who damned the IPL, challenging it on ethical grounds, there was trouble brewing about the cheerleaders, with politicians calling them “immoral” and “un-Indian”, there were rumours about a rift in many teams between the owners and the players. Yet all those troubles could not stop this entertainment bonanza from being a huge hit with the Indian masses. The story in 2009 looks a lot different with the series running into trouble regarding security issues.
59 IPL matches are due to be played in up to 14 Indian cities over a six-week period. The Lahore attack on cricketers on 3rd of march has raised concern about security of national and international players within the country. This, together with the national elections that are to be held in five phases from April 16th to May 13th, is creating havoc in this year’s “recession-proof” business opportunity. Lalit Modi, the IPL Chairman appeared confident last week in every interview that he gave to the media and yet after numerous meetings with the government officials, the deadlock has still not been broken. The states are not ready to sacrifice any of their own forces during the election period and have also demanded paramilitary forces from the center. The response of the center has been far from encouraging as it says it cannot sacrifice any of its forces. The parliamentary election of the largest democracy is indeed taking a toll on the game and it is not just a game … its about millions of dollars at stake. Thus the frenzy and the media attention. The question now is that which will take precedence? If the series were cancelled then losses would amount to millions for the franchise owners, advertisers and the players themselves .The question is, are these millions more expensive or important than the security of human lives? Do we want to re-do a Lahore or witness another 26/11? Perhaps not.
Matters are now taking a political turn as the opposition party claims that cancellation of the game would send out a wrong message to the terrorists. It would mean an acknowledgement of their influence and acceptance of our fear if the IPL were to be cancelled. This stance however looks ridiculous and also insensitive if one views the situation from the perspective of the Mumbai blasts. The risks are too great to take and this attempt is a cheap ploy to politicize the issue of sport. If sport is secondary to the nation’s security then manipulative political maneuvers are also secondary to sports, this is however not to deny the influence of politicians in sport. The influence being entirely unwanted is another matter of course.
All we can now hope for is that a possible solution to this deadlock is arrived at. The cricket fans or people like me who do not mind a power packed entertainment bonanza just pray that the issue would be solved without compromising on national security. Efforts are being made with the rescheduling of the matches and changing the venues to smaller cities. Even in this context something funny occurred, while Cuttack was being thought of as a possible location, one point raised against it was the lack of five star accommodations. It seemed amusing that an issue as petty as this was given so much of emphasis while more important issues were at stake. No person with any iota of sanity would give more importance to a game than human lives, leave alone hotel accommodation! Cricket in India means crowds and cricket with bBollywood in India means madness, so the decision that lies ahead is a tough one and the challenges to be faced are many. Meanwhile all we can do is keep our fingers crossed.
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