The IPL is, indeed, as much about business as it is about cricket. But its money-spinning speed, the mix of glamour and political muscle is getting too giddy.
Scandal and allegations about murky dealings are not new to cricket. After all, match-fixing and the multi-billion dollar, underworld-controlled betting industry is known to anyone connected with the game. So if Shashi Tharoor refuses to go quietly and demands a full investigation into the structure of the Indian Premier League (IPL), he will be doing the game a big favour. Let’s face it, the sky-rocketing value of the IPL teams is not justified. The IPL teams have a long way to go before acquiring the glamour and dedicated following of the football clubs of Europe or the US baseball and basketball teams. The IPL is, indeed, as much about business as it is about cricket. But its money-spinning speed, the mix of glamour and political muscle is getting too giddy. IPL’s owners, almost without exception, have the ability to hog television prime time and overshadow their expensive cricketers. Yet, Maharashtra chief minister, Ashok Chavan, believes that the high entertainment it offers must not be taxed!
The question is: Will Tharoor-gate or Twitter-gate, as some have dubbed it, shine some light on the ownership of IPL franchises and their funding, or dwindle into a mere Modi-gate. The tax and enforcement departments, which act at the behest of the ruling party, have swung into action—but not to question IPL boss Lalit Modi whose close relatives, apparently, have shares in various lucrative franchises. But what about the Kochi franchisee, Rendezvous Sports World and its previously unknown stakeholders —the Gaikwads (one of them is an RTO officer transferred under a cloud), Vipul Shah (Parani Developers) and, of course, Sunanda Pushkar, the Twitter-happy minister’s close friend, who landed a hefty Rs70 crore worth of equity in Rendezvous? Aren’t the tax authorities also interested in the stunning turnaround in the Sahara group’s fortunes? Just two years ago, in June 2008, the Reserve Bank of India had barred its flagship Sahara India Financial Corporation from accepting fresh deposits (it negotiated its way out of that situation). Two years later, the group drove up the cost of an IPL franchise by over 60% by paying Rs1,702 crore for the Pune franchise.
Immediately afterwards, Sahara chairman, Subrata Roy, was quoted as saying he planned to extract value through an initial public offering (IPO) and also claimed to have received requests for a minority stake in the franchise. By all means, let IPL be a super-successful business, but let’s have some transparency in ownership and operation and not allow it to wrangle undeserved tax concessions.— Sucheta Dalal