15 April 2008

Is India ready for the IPL? Shweta Bhatnagar, JWT Planning, Delhi

A lot has been said about cricket and its importance in India… but it can never be said enough. The one passion that unites the country, the one love that takes all of us on a roller coaster of emotions, the one religion that makes each Indian, as temporary as it maybe, come together in its beliefs. And where a national anthem before a movie, and sometimes even Independence Day, fail to raise the sense of patriotism one would like to see, cricket is able to bring it alive in almost all of us!
So one cannot deny that in a cricket fanatic country like ours, sports and politics definitely cross paths. The current debate on whether India should withdraw from the Beijing Olympics owing its stand on the Tibet issue is a prime example of this. And let’s face it! How many times have we seen political acrimony spill over during a Pakistan / India match? When Pakistan lost in the T20 world cup they had to go under cover with their families in their own nation. Whether this should, or should not be, is a separate question. But like it or not, the two are inseparable.

So lets take a quick glance at what’s happening in both these fields right now.
The latest on the block is IPL… a great new concept. The gods of our one common religion got bidden for. And the country watched in anticipation. It was a strange but mixed feeling. Put a price tag on Sachin? Who would have thought! But how does that affect me? What does affect me, however, is what will all this lead up to? A cricket match! And hey! That’s always welcomed isn’t it?
And then, lets see the recent mob violence the country saw. Mumbaikars against north Indians. A relatively newer definition of communalism that at least the current generation may not have seen before. We’ve seen religion against religion, a political party against the other, public against the government, terrorists against the public… but region against another region? Beyond just water / electricity disputes? Beyond the murmured stereotypes plaguing each state that may go around many corridors? They first time gathered enough momentum to be so loud as to gather a mob!
And herein lies my question. Isn’t IPL only going to fuel this further? We know pride doesn’t come in a bigger size than when it comes for one’s team. But unfortunately, this time its not for India. Its delhi vs. Mumbai vs. Hyderabad vs. Bangalore vs. ... the list will only increase.
Saurav Ganguly has always been known as the Bengal tiger, but did a non-bengali ever love him any less? How many of us, across the country would say they love Sachin because he is marathi, or because he’s done me and the nation proud, irrespective of where he’s from?
I do not say that IPL was designed to fuel this divide, but from the look of it, does it not seem axiomatic? In a sensitive nation like ours where one radio jockey’s lose comment can anger the whole north-east community, are we ready to handle IPL in a mature manner?
When the similar concept gained enough momentum in England in the late 70s-80s for football, the violence it led to cost many lives, places burnt down, and the emergence of a term called football hooliganism, where each team had a group of supporters ready to kill the others at each win and each loss. Can we really safely say we won’t face a similar situation with IPL gaining force?
As the British contemporary writer Alan Sillitoe once wrote "sport is a means of keeping the national spirit alive during a time of so-called peace. It prepares the national spirit for the eventuality of war".
I ask you to replace ‘national’ in that quote with ‘regional’ once… and tell me what picture you see… Can India handle the IPL :Feast for sport lovers or setting for regional rift
See Jitender Dabas' reply and continue the debate...Voice your views on our comments


  1. IPL - Can it really divide ?

    A cricket fan eagerly waiting to catch some piece of action would pehaps say that we're unduly getting worried. His world view would be " Let's see some hi-voltage action & enjoy the fun." It's just that we need to divide ourselves into 8 teams & how does it matter what they are called as long as we have 3 hours of fun on the ground.

    The players need teams to play & the fans need teams to rally behind. How does it matter if they are divided as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai etc. etc. Atleast it is better than dividing them as Rajputs, Sikhs, Gorkhas. And especially when the teams themselves don't really represent the cultural spread of those regions & are an eclectic mix of trans-national stars & cross region superstars. So where does the question of regional strife come in ? And any which ways aren't all the domestic sports tournaments played on the basis of regional division? Ranji trophy divides on the basis of states. Duleep trophy divides them on the basis of regions/zones. And it is true of other sports as well.

    So what's the worry? Let's not get too serious here...

    But a sociologist perhaps might not see it as an unwarranted exaggeration.

    What I see IPL as is the first professional organised attempt at replicating the club model of sports in India. ( They've tried that in Hockey with PHL & NFL in football but they never had the monies or following enough to make it big)
    Taken to its logical conclusion it should end up where English Premier league is today. And for that to happen the rivalries will have to be as legendary/fierce as a Man U vs Chelsea vs Liverpool. That's the only hope for IPL to succeed.
    Any sport becomes big on the PASSION of its followers. The PASSION that makes them live & die for their teams/clubs.
    And in professional leagues monies are spent by teams to stoke this passion. Campaigns are made to flame the passions.

    That's where the danger lies with IPL. For the first time huge monies will be spent trying to create loyalties for the teams. They will have to if IPL has to be successful in the next few years. Never was money spend in Ranji Trophy by teams to invoke Sikh pride or Maratha pride to generate support. But now every year there will be huge multi-media campaigns that will try to whip up loyalties ( i dont see it going any other way. You just have to see the development of club football in any part of the world) . Now when that starts to happen that will be a first for this nation. As the format progresses through the years such campaigns are quite likely to become sharper & therefore divisive. You can already see traces of aggression in some of the team campaigns this year already & it will have to increase over the years for the teams to build a loyal franchise.

    And let's face it. We are fairly parochial in our loyalties even when we support our national team. Doesn't the eastern metropolis fume when 'dada' is dropped from the team ? And the Delhities have an extra glee on their face when Viru scores a triple.

    Therefore the question that is to be asked is how would a nation/society which is easily fracturable on the basis of regional/caste/religious basis would take to commercial fanning of city-based loyalties over next few years. And if a far more homogeneous English society is prone to club loyalty led soccer violence then it is not unwarranted to worry about where it would lead us to. Esp. when we have more & enough regional poltical parties trying to divide by raising the issue city loyalties.
    I also feat that they might give a completely new interpretation to the terms 'mumbai Indians' or 'kings of Punjab'.
    Not necessary but something that definitely cannot be ruled out.

  2. I agree shweta, the format is risky in a country like India. BUT,
    i think it might benefit Team India in long run and ofcourse the individual players for sure (not just because of the monies that they are getting).

    I say so because,

    Take for. e.g. Dhoni's Chennai team which has former new zealand skipper Stephen Flemming as a player.
    Sachin and Shaun Paullok (former south african skipper) are in same team.

    Hence, when Dhoni - Flemming / sachin - Paullok sit together to discuss starategy, there will lots of learnings that they will exchange on strategy, mental strength, tips on feilding etc. Similarly in other teams where young Indian players sit and discuss strategy and tips from the like of Shane Warne, Chanderpaul etc.

    So, i feel the format will benefit individual players in their skill, startagy etc. immensly.
    Taking a long term n an optimistic view the same learnings can come handy when team INDIA players other countries.

    But, i agree the 44 days for which IPL goes on are definately risky for INDIA.

    (taking your example of radio jockey ... and putting it into a future context...

    Imagine after Delhi daredevils have been beaten by Mumabi -
    The Radio City mumbai jockey says, Mumbai Indians ne to Delhi darevils ki "Bajja di".
    and the next scene could be .... stone pelting and police controlling the mob at Radio City's office in delhi)

  3. Here is a perspective from another cricket mad part of the world - Australia.

    IPL is an interesting challenge to the way we Australians think about cricket.

    It provides new financial incentives for our best players to move their focus away from refining the subtle and strategic skills of test match cricket, towards the showmanship of 20/20 "big hits".

    Of course the One Day format of cricket started this journey away from test matches, and Australian TV helped to drive the adoption of the ODI format and the increasing commercialisation of cricket.

    So, the development of 20/20 and IPL should seem a natural progression - but for many commentators in Australia it is seen as a threat to the viability of test match cricket and the 4 day domestic game.

    Why would a young player, their logic goes, go through a few years of playing domestic cricket in the hope of joining the national team, when he can make much more money going to the IPL ??

    Is this an example of the lack of faith of the games' elders in the next generation ? Perhaps - but it's also an intersting, and unexpected side effect to the development of the IPL, shwoing it's influence is being felt well beyond India.

  4. Hi, this is not in direct response to the other comments, but my answer to MidDay's question as to whether excessive marketing and advertising is overshadowing the spirit of cricket in the context of IPL. Here's what I feel about it, after having gone to the ground on the opening day of IPL ...

    Baseball On Steroids!

    The actor Robin Williams had once, perhaps a bit unkindly, described cricket as “baseball on valium”. If he had happened to be at the Chinnaswamy stadium the other night, watching the NFL cheerleaders, the stilt walkers and the fireworks – the combustible type as well as those that flowed from the bat of Brendon McCullum – he probably would have ended up redefining cricket as “baseball on steroids”! Well, if Om Shanti Om was the biggest blockbuster of 2007, I have no doubt in my mind that the DLF Indian Premier League would be the greatest entertainer of 2008.

    Which brings us to the question - is this ‘cricket’? Or is IPL all about pure entertainment? Is it just about a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing? Is it about marketing big bucks overshadowing the spirit of the game? True, the SRKs and the Mallyas are trying innovative things to draw the crowds, but let me assure you that in the long run, no amount of good marketing and advertising can sell a bad product. The English Premier League has lasted for more than a decade and it did so because of the quality of football that has been on offer week after week. And the same will hold true for the IPL.

    Attractive promos can only get a brand trial. (Talking of promos, Goafest 2009 should have a new category called The Worst of Advertising – I am pretty certain that all the IPL ads will easily get nominated under that category!). However repurchase happens only when the product experience is good. And that will be the true test of IPL going forward. And so long as a Shane Watson comes back to uproot Sehwag’s stumps and gives him a glare after getting clobbered for three successive boundaries, so long as the biggest cheer on a cricket field which has the likes of Vijay Mallya, Shahrukh Khan, Katrina Kaif and Shilpa Shetty - is reserved for one Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar - all’s right with the spirit of cricket. Amen!

    Navonil Chatterjee

  5. I feel the chosen topic is not worthy of a debate at all.

    It's like picking a topic to stand at an end where no one's looking - why be there.
    Cricket in India is religion and an agency handling Pepsi would validate this with enough experience.

    Regional divide it will never create.

    What it has created is utter confusion in 'Who is the Hero of each team'. 1/Is it the star cricketer in the team, or 2/ Is it the star owning the team or 3/ is it the state/region which is the hero.

    Lets wait and watch. We still are to discover.

  6. Food for thought.... Arsenal Football Club regularly field a team in the English Premier League containing not a single Englishman. Do Arsenal supporters feel any less passionate about their team? No

    Imagine in 10 years. say, the Chennai Super Kings feilding a team without a single Indian...

  7. Rs. 1600 crores is lot of money to be invested in an activity which has no significance in the context of a country's immediate priorities.
    But the positive that i see of this is that openned the doors of economic opportunities to even those from our neighbouring countries like pakistan which will go a long way to establish peace and prosperity in this region.

    I see this as a symbol of friendship, openness, fearless and peace. In an era of pseudo protection enacted through various economic trade barriers and patents we are again proving to the world of our belief of sharing and open mindedness.

    To this extend IPL is worth.

  8. I feel that the IPL format is unique in its own way. If there are apprehensions regarding IPL becoming a tool of regional rivalry, they are apt because we have still not able to live with our diversified society. Actually it is not our fault as our society has been always like this. What the intelligential of the country tried to do was borrow the concept of nationalism from countries which have a history of few hundred years and impose upon the people.

    India is a unique country and with so many differences we still are united.Sehwag hitting a triple ton at Chennai got same cheers as Kumble at Kotla striking all 10 wickets .
    Also there is difference in the cricket and soccer. Soccer involves more intensity and energy both on the field and off the field. Moreover IPL is a two month event whereas EPL (ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE) lasts much longer. There is enough of international cricket to create a national spirit for the game.
    A lot will depend on the marketing strategies employed by the franchisee owners. The offensive campaigns will surely create rift among the public. If the owners will be reaping profits with cricketing sense only then it will not affect public opinion much. We should be thankful to BCCI for evolving a format into which a Dilliwala(ISHANT) plays in Kolkata's team and the Mumbai crowd cheers for Aussie batsman’s blitzkrieg even if it means defeat for Mumbai…