Live link, and exit line

Right, off blog, and all else, for the rest of the day. Will be live, though, at the usual time — 3.30-4.30 IST — at the usual place.

A happy new year, to all those who celebrate it today.

Onward to the medal podium

I’ve been apprehensive, frankly, about the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Every other day, you hear that the stadiums are behind schedule in terms of readiness, that the cost has escalated manifold, that the selection of athletes is a mess, and so on and on.

While searching for some other information, I happened just now to stumble on some questions raised in Parliament on these issues. Now I feel reassured.

On the readiness of stadiums. On the government’s plans to win more medals for the country. And on plans to improve performance of the Indian contingent [Don’t ask me how items two and three are different]:

To improve the performance of the Indian contingent in the Commonwealth Games, 2010, a Scheme with allocation of Rs.678.00 crores (2008-09 to 2010-11) is being implemented for providing training to the elite sportspersons in all the disciplines of the Commonwealth Games, 2010. Systematic training in India and abroad under highly qualified Indian and Foreign coaches is being given to sportspersons for Commonwealth Games. Besides, infrastructure required for training at various SAI Centres has been created and scientific, sports and medical equipments are being provided. The training to probables of Commonwealth Games, 2010 for all the disciplines is being provided at Patiala, Bangalore, Sonepat, Gandhinagar, Lucknow, Hyderabad, Pune, Chennai, Kolkatta etc. Training proposals abroad were also approved for various disciplines like Athletics, Badminton, Boxing, Cycling, Gymnastics, Hockey, Lawn Bowls, Netball, Rugby. Shooting etc at South Africa; United Kingdom; Malaysia; Indonesia; Bangkok; Belarus, Canada, Spain, Russia ; Australia; Italy, Germany etc.

(c) The Selection Committees of concerned National Sports Federations had selected the sportspersons for training on the basis of performance during the selection trials.

(d) Against allocation of total funds amounting to Rs.300.00 crores during the years 2008-09 and 2009-10, expenditure of about Rs. 291.00 crores has been incurred so far. The discipline-wise details of expenditure are given in the Annexure.

In other words, all is well. Happy now?

The rise and rise of England

Virender Sehwag is Wisden’s pick for the world’s leading cricketer for 2009 — so, all hail.

The real story, though, is the remarkable domination of international cricket by England. Of the five “Cricketers of the Year”, four — Matt Prior, Stuart Broad, Graeme Swann and Graham Onions — are members of the England cricket team. Who knew?

File under M for Modi/Mauritius/Money

More on the man and his machinations.

The story began in April 2008, when the BCCI and the IPL entered into an agreement with Live Current Media (LCM) Inc, a Nasdaq-listed company, for web rights to the IPL and the Champions League till 2017. LCM was given these rights for a whopping $49 million to be paid in instalments.

In March 2009, the contract was revised downwards. Through a novation agreement (legal document that substitutes an old debt with a new one), the BCCI and IPL agreed to transfer the original contract to Global Cricket Ventures (GCV) Private Ltd, headquartered in Singapore for just $20.75 million, raising several eyebrows.

GCV later entered into a joint venture with a Dubai-based company, Netlink Blue Holdings, which had the mobile and digital rights to the IPL. With this, the web, digital and mobile rights to the events came under a single entity.

Around the same time, another company with the name GCV was floated in Mauritius. On August 20, 2009, the Singapore-based firm assigned the original contract to the new entity for a mere $1.75million.

The BCCI and IPL were, however, not made party to this new agreement, in violation of the original MoU. But GCV claimed that it had given prior notice to the BCCI of its intent to reassign the deal to the Mauritian company.

This is when Modi’s relatives entered the scene. In November 2009, Elephant Capital Investments, through its subsidiary based in Mauritius, picked up a 50% stake in GCV for $10 million. Gaurav Burman, Modi’s stepson-in-law, is a director in Elephant Capital. The company’s managing director, Gaurav’s brother Mohit, is co-owner of Kings XI Punjab.

Each additional piece of information merely confirms a growing feeling that the IPL is nothing more, nothing less, than a gigantic shell game.

Also read this interview:

Why did you disclose the names of the Kochi team owners?
Because many people in the consortium itself were not aware of who owned the side.

Why did you not disclose the names of other franchises?
They are in public domain. If required, I will disclose them.

“If required”?! They are *not* in the public domain in detail. And as a member of the public, can I “require” it, please?

Non-responsive responses… and a flashback

Someone with his best interests at heart needs to tell Lalit Modi that his best procedure, right now, is to shut the hell up and let the dust settle. What he should not do, IMHO, is speak in his own defense — it is just too easy to take him apart.

Consider this sequence: Satyajit Gaekwad of Rendezvous Sports World alleges that Modi offered the consortium $50 million to get out of the game. Modi’s response is a classic:

“I can’t bribe somebody to give me the franchise because I am not a bidder in the first place,” he said. “There is no reason for me to give them the bribe because automatically, it would lead to the cancellation of the tender and it would lead to a new tender. So I don’t know where they are coming up with this imaginative figure.”

A lot of words do not become an answer. This one is too easy to take apart. (1) No one said Modi offered $50 million to be given the franchise — the allegation is, the bribe was offered to get out of IPL. Which ties in to the larger allegation that Modi was working to tilt the auction process to ensure that Ahmedabad got the second franchise. (2) He says if Kochi got out, it would lead to the cancellation of the tender. Precisely — that is what some of us have been saying all along: that the game was to get Kochi to get out of the IPL, paving the way for another auction, which could be suitably tailored to favor those Modi was in favor of.

All he has really done with this “response” is to confirm the commonly held suspicion.

Incidentally, such manipulation is not exactly without precedent. Remember the ruckus in mid-2009, when the IPL boss abruptly cancelled the television broadcast deal with Sony, a year after the broadcaster had leased subcontinental rights from holders WSG Mauritius? The Board had initially sold the rights for the Indian territory to Multi Screen Media [earlier known as Sony Entertainment Television] for Rs 220 crore. A year later, in an abrupt move, the Board signed an agreement awarding the rights to WSG Mauritius, for Rs 335 crore. When Sony dragged the IPL and BCCI to court, the Board lawyer’s argument was simple: We did it because we are getting more money from WSG, he told the court.

And while on that, here’s a classic example of Modi’s penchant for making up reasons as he goes along. Guess what ‘complaints’ the BCCI advocate, appearing to file the IPL’s response, cited as reasons for terminating the contract with Sony? Here, this should — in context of ads that appear in between deliveries, commentators who have replaced standard cricket terminology like sixes and catches and dismissals with DLF Maximums and Citi Moments and Karbon Kamaal crap — hand you a laugh:

“Despite making frequent complaints, Sony failed to respond to the IPL’s concerns,” Virat Tulzapurkar, the BCCI counsel, said. The complaints included prematurely cutting to breaks, commercials inserted during a live match, replays and other on-field actions and audio soundtrack drowning the match commentary. The BCCI claimed they had made Sony aware of these points in May last year, during the inaugural IPL season.

The firestorm, meanwhile, has produced commentaries and editorials by the score, all arguing for a clean-up of the BCCI, with some measure of government intervention. And that triggers “deja vu all over again”, as Yogi Berra once said.

Ten years ago, the BCCI was similarly mired in a series of allegations — mismanagement, financial irregularities and a deliberate attempt to sweep match-fixing under the carpet being the chief among them. The BJP was in power then, and Sukhdev Singh Dindsa [who, incidentally, has been head of the Cycling Federation of India for 14 years and counting] as sports minister played an activist role in turning the screws on the BCCI.

Dindsa had at the time summoned Jagmohan Dalmiya and his cohorts to a meeting, read out the riot act [the immediate provocation was that Dalmiya refused to accept a CBI inquiry into match fixing, and argued that the board as a private body could not be so investigated; that argument was repeated in court on a subsequent occasion five years later, and got shot down], and threatened to take the BCCI under government control.

The Board honchos all but went down on their knees, promised to clean up their act and, as a token of good faith, said they would present the government with a “vision statement” outlining what it would do for the betterment of Indian cricket.

The man who created that document was Rajiv Shukla — journalist [and former colleague during my Sunday Observer days] turned television producer turned Congress leader turned BJP inside man turned Congress ‘strongman’ [I might have left out a few turns there — inevitable in a man whose career has had more hairpin bends than your average ghat road]. Shukla, incidentally, is the person currently interfacing between Sonia Gandhi, Shashi Tharoor, sundry members of the Cabinet, Lalit Modi and the board, to find a way out of the current imbroglio.

What Shukla produced, on that occasion ten years ago, was the ultimate sham [Here’s an analysis we had done at the time, and the transcript of a chat with Harsha Bhogle on the Board and its ‘vision’].

We’ve been here before; we’ve seen all this before. And that is why, persuasively though the likes of Jayaditya Gupta have argued the case for a comprehensive clean up, I have no faith that it will ever happen. I mean come on — back in 2000, Jagmohan Dalmiya was at the helm, and the involvement of politicians in cricket was restricted to an Arun Jaitley or two. Today, politicians or ‘administrators’ closely affiliated to various political parties are at the helm of the national board, as also a large number of state bodies. A government-sponsored clean up? Fat chance.

PS: Since the theme of this post is largely nostalgic, here: when the BCCI released its ‘vision statement’, we had — just to show the board up — written up our own version and posted it online in the space of a few hours [not that the document took hours to write — merely that a night intervened]. Here it is.

And since Lalit Modi, as the “brainchild behind the IPL”, has been claiming to have invented the greatest thing since sliced bread, here’s a slide for your consideration [note that this was written in the days before T20]. The relevant clip:

On paper, India has a much more structured domestic cricketing set up than most other nations. In fact, the Indian domestic structure alarmingly fails to throw up fresh talent in sufficient numbers.

This clearly indicates that there is something terribly wrong with the domestic structure, impressive though it is on paper.

The board will therefore do away, within a set time frame of two years, with the present state-based structure of domestic cricket. The board recognises that some states have an abundance of talent, others are equally poor. To make them play one another is sheer folly. Tinkering with the existing structure by splitting the national competition into two groups is not a long range solution of promise, either.

Therefore, the board will put together a comprehensive proposal to introduce a professional league in the country, at the expense of the existing system. While the board proposes to get an expert, qualified committee to draft the comprehensive proposal, the broad outline is as follows:

The board will open for bidding, rights to field teams at the national level. The twelve highest bidders will then be picked, and given the right to field teams flying their individual colours. Each team owner – the term ‘owner’ to include both individuals and corporates, provided they come in the 12 top bidders category – will have the right to recruit players from any part of the country, irrespective of ‘zones’ and other geographical boundaries. Further, each team owner will also have the right to recruit a maximum of 2 foreign players to enhance the standard of his team.

It will be made mandatory for all national players to participate in this national league – international schedules will be so drafted that they do not clash with the domestic competition.

The 12 teams will clash for in a ‘Test’ style five-day competition. The games will be spread over all cricket centres in the country, in order to broadbase its appeal and to ensure that all associations benefit from attendance. The games will, further, be telecast live on the national sports channel, and the telecast will be carried out by professional broadcasters.

This Test-style competition, which should evoke enormous interest since all team owners will ensure, in their own interests, that they field quality teams, will be followed by an equally intense one day tournament.

This structure will ensure that teams of closely matched strengths are pitted in competition. To further enhance the league, no points will be awarded for drawn games, thus ensuring that teams will go flat out to win, and play at their highest powers towards that end.

Not only will such a structure enhance the appeal of domestic cricket, but it will go a considerable way towards bridging the gap between domestic and international cricket. Today, a domestic champion, fed on a diet of soft bowling on dead tracks, finds himself at sea when he plays at the highest level. Under the new structure, he will be playing in a highly competitive, international-standard league during his formative period, with the added plus that international stars will be ranged against him. The transition, thus, will not prove so traumatic – and the results can only be beneficial to the national team and its results.

In passing — not claiming to be the originator of this idea, either. Merely pointing out that anyone with half a brain would have known what to do, a decade before the BCCI actually did it — and most folks with a modicum more sense, and a tad less greed, would have done a far better job of it, too.