Greed infects the gentleman's game

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Indian Premier LeagueThe media scene is awash with off-the-pitch games played in the name of cricket. Meanwhile, technology and media have begun to further fast-track the game, producing abridged versions of bonsai cricket.

Off and on during past months, things got rather ugly with racial overtones and ethnic snide during matches with visiting Asian teams. If the recurrence is ugly, it isn't quite a surprise. Slurry soundbites are not an unseemly pastime among equals, whether it be in a pub or parliament, except when backslapping turns to back-stabbing.

The same is true of the playfield, especially when the sporting spirit is overtaken by greed. Commercialised sports and sponsorship, the glare of the media spotlight and advertising hype have reduced one-time level playing fields to a new gladiatorial amphitheatre. And the recent increase of abuse, on and off screen, has been perceived as part of the arsenal in an Australia-India duel for world supremacy in cricket.

Yet a new type of match-making in the name of cricket seemed to momentarily deflect attention from the slur-slinging. The Indian Premier League's 20 February Mumbai auction of the world's best cricketers for some $45 million brought together lions and lambs.

By design or accident, players who strode high in the snide game won the highest bids in the auction. Dozens of the elite players of world cricket were auctioned to the highest bidders in a new form of bonded labour.

While a letter in India's Hindustan Times said economists suggest the same system be adopted to select CEOs, an editorial in Sri Lanka's Daily News asked whether cricket would come to be regulated on the stock market of the world.

Most believe the IPL, which pools teams worldwide, will change the face of world cricket forever. Speculating on how eight franchises will battle for millions in prize money, an editorial in India's Asian Age swooned, predicting that the IPL will make India the cricket capital of the world. Not everyone was so optimistic. Pakistan's Dawn quoted coach Geoff Lawson asking where these leagues will be in two or three years' time.

As of now, millionairing has creamed world cricket in the gamble for bigger bucks. Of course, cricket has not always been altogether a gentleman's game. Scandals such as match fixing, doping, secret commissions and money laundering have plagued cricket just as the greed games swindled other sports including baseball, basketball, football, rugby, tennis or cycling all the way to the Olympics.

Last November, presenting a paper on corruption in sports, Jens Weinreich told the Play the Game conference in Iceland that the fight against corruption has to be one of the main topics at next year's Olympic Congress in Copenhagen. Such probes could as well begin with this year's Beijing Olympics and the backdoor games already underway behind a smooth façade of benign business and sleek diplomacy.

Indeed there was a time when sports played a proxy role as diplomacy. The Beijing Olympics will be an appropriate occasion to recall the role of US-China ping pong diplomacy of the 1970s. The Olympic diplomacy between North and South Korea in the 1980s, India-Pakistan cricket diplomacy from the 1980s onward, as well as US-Cuba basketball diplomacy of the 1990s had the capacity for international bridge-building beyond mere competitive play.

In 2005, the Vatican's first-ever international conference on sports explored ways to further promote values in sports and athletics. The theme is due to be followed up at a similar event next September.

Like all sports, cricket has the potential to promote healthy competition and good will. Particularly as the premier sport of Commonwealth nations, cricket has a morale-boosting role vis-a-vis that international family's cherished democratic traditions. Fair play has always been the soul of the sporting world and if cricketers are able to look beyond the lure of the millionairing game, they can continue as ambassadors of genuine humanism.

Indian Premier League

Hector WelgampolaHector Welgampola is former chief editor of Sri Lanka's Catholic weeklies, Messenger and Gnanartha Pradeepaya. He was Executive Editor of the Hong Kong-based regional Asian Catholic publications UCA News and Asia Focus, before retiring to Brisbane.



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Existing comments

Why do we continue to romance cricket and project its role in international diplomacy well beyond its reality? Rightly or wrongly, well before the Packer circus of the 1970s cricket was more about individual and nationalist glory than diplomatic cohesion. Whether the IPL lasts or not, cricket has not changed, only the stakes have.

Tom Cranitch | 16 March 2008  

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