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Last updated: February 12, 2014 6:35 am
The Indian Premier League has attracted millions of fans, but also its fair share of controversy, aggravating cricket purists who believe it has tarnished the image of the sport. Wednesday’s player auction is the starting bell for a new season which again threatens to be hampered by scandals, writes James Crabtree in Mumbai .
What happens at the auctions?
More than 500 players enter the two-day bidding process. Not all are sold, but the most talented and highest profile often attract bidding wars, as with Australian Glenn Maxwell, bought by the Mumbai Indians for $1m, last year’s highest bid.
This year’s attracted higher offers, among them England’s explosive Kevin Pietersen, who was sacked by his country this month in a move that some analysts link to the batsman’s apparent willingness to prioritise playing for the lucrative Indian league rather than his country.
Why is the IPL so controversial?
The IPL has long aggravated cricket purists, who dislike its brash, money-grabbing image. However, the event’s troubles are more deeply rooted in its popularity with India’s growing and cricket-obsessed middle classes.
Huge television audiences attract mega sponsorship deals and pay handsome player salaries. But they have also prompted management power battles and brought unwanted attention from betting syndicates, who have allegedly paid some players to fix elements of matches.
What are the latest allegations against the league?
This week’s report from a Supreme Court-appointed panel probing possible corruption detailed multiple allegations of impropriety relating to betting and match-fixing. In particular, it accused a one-time senior executive at the Chennai Superkings of passing information to bookmakers – an important claim, given the executive happens to be the son-in-law of N Srinivasan, head of the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the governing cricket body. Both men deny wrongdoing.
The report raises questions over conflicts of interest relating to Mr Srinivasan, whose considerable power stems from his position at the BCCI, which owns the IPL, and his role heading India Cements, which owns the Chennai team that employed his son-in-law as a senior executive.
Which companies have been caught up in the scandal?
Many IPL teams are owned by India’s more colourful tycoons, including billionaire Mukesh Ambani and liquor baron Vijay Mallya, while sponsors have included UK-based mobile group Vodafone and India’s Yes Bank. But the latest scandal proved a particular embarrassment for beverage group Pepsi, which struck a $74m title sponsorship deal in 2013 as part of a plan to overhaul rival Coca-Cola in India.
Has the IPL done anything to improve its image?
Sort of. Last year the BCCI launched “operation clean-up”, which included headline-grabbing efforts like getting rid of glamorous pitch-side cheerleaders and banning parties during the tournament. Some critics had suggested these parties provided betting groups with an opportunity to ingratiate themselves with players and managers. At a deeper level, however, critics suggest the BCCI has done little to improve accountability or end management conflicts of interest.
What happens next?
The IPL runs from early April until late May, although doubts remain whether it will even be held in India this year, given that its timing clashes with the national election. The last time the league was held at polling time, in 2009, overstretched police resources in India forced it to decamp to South Africa.
This week’s corruption report, meanwhile, will now be considered by the Supreme Court, which could in turn demand action on the findings later this year.
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