Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He worked in journalism for over a decade, and won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism in 2007. His bestselling novel, My Friend Sancho, was published in 2009. He is best known for his blog, India Uncut. His current project is a non-fiction book about the lack of personal and economic freedoms in post-Independence India.
Who owns cricket in India? That is a difficult question. Legally, only the BCCI can put out a cricket team that purports to represent India. So who owns the BCCI, and who is it accountable to?
The BCCI is not owned by the government, and so is not accountable to taxpayers. The BCCI is not a public limited company, and so is not accountable to shareholders. The BCCI is, effectively, controlled by the regional cricket associations, whose interests are entirely different from that of the cricket fan or cricket player, and which are similarly accountable to no one.
So if the BCCI is not accountable to us, is there any way by which we can make them get their act together? My answer to that is an emphatic “Yes”.
You see, sporting bodies throughout the world have a similar effective monopoly over the sport, and enjoy a similar absence of direct accountability. What keeps them efficient then? Competition does. In most other countries, cricket is not the only popular sport. If English cricket is mismanaged, and the team starts to decline, the fans will watch more soccer. In Australia, they’ll watch more Aussie rules football. Or rubgy league. Or hockey. And when they do that, the cricket board makes less money. Eventually, if the board doesn’t get its act together, the fans will turn away completely. Because that possibility exists, we see that the cricket boards in those countries are actually quite efficient.
In India, though, there is virtually no competition to cricket. It is the only sport that people watch in large enough numbers for it to matter commercially. The BCCI knows that regardless of how well it runs the game, millions of people will still tune in to watch India play. Who is responsible for giving them that sense of complacency? You and I.
Why do we spend our time—and remember that time is money—on watching hours and hours of unsatisfying cricket? How many of us complaining about India’s performance in the World Cup will switch their TV sets on when India play their next series? Do we not need to get a life, and watch something else? The only way we can hold cricket administrators and players to task is by voting with our eyeballs. Nothing else will work. Only commerce matters to our administrators, and the money in cricket comes because we watch the game.
So the next time India disappoints you in a cricket match, don’t whine, because the power to make a difference is in your hands. It’s the remote control.
(Comments are open.)
Posted by Amit Varma in Sport
You have it upside down for England. Soccer is far and away the # 1 sport there. If the soccer clubs mismanage the team, people grudgingly follow cricket.
#1 Posted by venkat on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 6:35:13
most of the fuss that is going on these days is because we have so many ‘unvalidated’ forums to make a comment and be heard. so many channels analysing each and every ball played, each and every crack on the pitch. Each channel has a panel of ‘experts’ - who have played good and bad cricket in their days. Each channel runs campaigns and contests to ‘involve’ the public - including those who dont differentiate between an outswinger and an inswinger; much like that panwaala in the comedy serial thats aired on ESPN (???).
people forget that the so called experts who bash each and every player do not always get it right. (Dean Jones was very confident when he said
‘350 on this pitch; forget it’ during India’s game against Bermuda). Also that they dont get paid for the results of the game they are analysing. Its how sensational they can make it that counts.
And we always have the freedom to make nasty comments while hiding behind the safety of sms, blogs, and phones.
let boys do their studies and the men watch the game.
#2 Posted by sanjay on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 6:52:12
Yes, the national Cricket team has a monopoly, and cricket has a monopoly, but only when it comes to sport. I suppose it is a fallacy to think that cricket is the be all and end all of ‘entertainment’, ‘diversions’, and ‘mass faith-group activity’ in India. In fact, if we include religious practice in India, we have quite a bit of choice when it comes to life’s diversions. Yes, we could do with a little more choice in terms of other sports, and that would certainly help improve our quality of cricket.
But with cinema and politics and al lot else on offer, why do get back to watching cricket anyway? Quite simply because it is probably the only mass diversion/activity/pursuit that we share with the largest number of people in our country.
It would seem like hyperbole, but not since the freedom movement has our ‘nation’ been defined so successfully. And I suppose sport and especially national sports teams tend to do that. All other cultural activities (like cinema) are linguistically/geographically/culturally limited, and can never replace cricket. League/division level sports have a niche, but will never replace cricket (in fact cricket is actually pretty unwatched at the regional level). So to further extend your point, what we need is another ‘national’ sport/entertainment/faith, to really complete with cricket.
#3 Posted by Anand on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 6:59:39
And how is the BCCI going to know that the boycott is on? That should be a concerted public campaign. If advertisers have to think twice before sponsoring the brodcast of a match in the face of a declared boycott definitely pressure will mount.
#4 Posted by Tasneem Khalil on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 7:02:52
And yeah, the whole ‘boycott’ that seems to have cropped-up seems fairly unnecessary and unworkable.
#5 Posted by Anand on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 7:08:06
This is too much effort, India should just buy out ICC and all the teams. Simpler.
#6 Posted by vatsan on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 8:04:32
Well, until there is a reasonable alternative that people can follow, I don’t think it’s possible to just *stop* watching Cricket. It’s too ingrained.
#7 Posted by Vi on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 8:40:57
Too simplistic argument. Probably a little emotional(After effect of endless argument with friends? :) )
Without commercial involvement, there is no chance a sport can get exposure.
Football(Soccer) is slightly popular US schools, but when it comes to exposure in media, it’s almost nil.
College sports or even school sports get TV time(ESPN, no less). Basketball, football(american).
If there is no future in other sports, there is little incentive for any individual to be interested in that.
Remember it’s a career path for these teens, who had ditched school(most of them).
Other sport development at this point has to be a combination of top down and bottom up approaches.
Invest money and indentify talents. Heck, a reality show on this would probably be a good idea to start with.
#8 Posted by Pari on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 8:46:41
Venkat, I know soccer is the No. 1 sport in England, my point simply is that if the cricket slips too far there, the fans who watch it will start converting their cricket-watching time to soccer-watching time.
Sanjay, don’t get me started on the media…
Anand, good point. Thus, even more despair comes.
Tasneem, I’m not suggesting a boycott. I’m just saying that we all make our individual choices. I’d rather not watch cricket at all than watch and whine, which serves no purpose.
#9 Posted by Amit Varma on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 8:49:59
What is the simplistic argument, Pari? Your comment seems to have nothing to do with my post… :o
#10 Posted by Amit Varma on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 8:51:48
so the point of this post is that i should not watch cricket because we are doing badly. in other words we shud try to lose interest in indian cricket. this lack of interest will “spur competition” and hopefully result in better performances and then i shud get back to watching indian cricket.
two problems with that (for me).
1. I can’t be like a switch that can toggle between OFF and ON modes.
2. That’s not how true supporters are. root for them when things are hunky dory, and ditch them when not.
you may argue that you are making a case to stop watching (or lose interest in) indian cricket altogether. if that were the case, u shud not be concerned abt it’s welfare either…which is what u r trying to do in this post.
#11 Posted by Arvind on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 10:03:31
Arvind, that isn’t the point of my post at all. By all means watch cricket. My only point is that the only impetus that will make the board reform itself is dwindling viewership. All the other whining we do, demanding change and suchlike, is just noise.
#12 Posted by Amit Varma on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 10:12:41
And all my life I thought HOCKEY was our national sport??
But grew up to belief Cricket was religion….it shows it shows - in the reactions of people….communal riots in Godhra and Dhoni’s house and many other players’ houses lives family’s being all at stake, is the same!
It is an emotionally over charged country, which has learnt how to ignore ( maybe talk about it sometimes) corruption (and be a part of it), rape ( just read in the papers and ask your daughter to be back home before 6…like there is a time for somebody to pick up a girl and rape her), murders n killings (and you say ‘Oh One has to be so careful in today’s world and beware of enemity) around you but not a bad performance…huh…
#13 Posted by Nabila Zaidi on Sun, March 25, 2007 at 11:49:59
couldn’t agree more. You can’t control or change what others do. You can change what you do. Whining and ranting just gets it off your chest and accomplishes nothing.
Some people do find pride in their ability develop new interests. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks but you can, to humans.
#14 Posted by aj on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 12:04:45
Way to go. Formula 1 rocks. Now let us turn attention to Narain Karthikeyan and help him produce some great F1 drivers from India.
#15 Posted by Yuppieeee on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 12:38:30
I agree but then again, by that logic hockey should have got that message (of falling popularity and declining TV ratings) and would have started improving. Instead, it is getting worse. How can you explain that?
#16 Posted by Patrix on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 1:11:48
Patrix, simple: the hockey federation is run by the government, and normal commercial pressures don’t apply to them. Their sustenance does not depend on their making profits: taxpayers’ money insulates them from pressures of the market.
Indeed, that is also why no sport run by the government has been successful in India. Even when successful sportsmen have emerged in other sports, they’ve succeeded in spite of the system, not because of it.
#17 Posted by Amit Varma on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 1:21:32
Everything wrong bad negative is so synonymous to our Government.
I strongly agree with you Amit!
#18 Posted by Nabila Zaidi on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 1:40:05
Hmmm…Hockey run by the government is unsuccessful and so is cricket run by a private organization. Damn! Should we be playing any competitive sport at all?
#19 Posted by Patrix on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 4:38:05
The hidden assumption behind your post is that BCCI has put up a team which is not good enough. Atleast thats what I make out from “Legally, only the BCCI can put out a cricket team that purports to represent India.”
Do you really think thats an issue? I dont think all the ‘whiners’, given a chance, would have picked a cricket team that is radically different from the current WC team. I would disagree that we dont have a team that “purports to represent India”. The problem, like you had pointed out in your earlier post, lies not in ability but in execution. Thats where the coach and the captain came a cropper. Everything remaining same, a more efficient BCCI wouldnt necessarily have produced a different result.
#20 Posted by Jitendra on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 9:00:37
I think India and Pakistan should play a five match ODI series now. Maybe games on the day of semi finals and finals of the world cup would also not be a bad idea.
#21 Posted by sundharp on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 9:16:29
Face is, we ourselves as fans do not know where we stand. And the media does not know where to stand either, as they are desperately trying to figure out what we want, and try to support whatever it is.
Do we want our team to be the world’s top team or not? If we do, we have to go by sheer performance, not by past glory. Anyone who does not perform has to be chucked out, and will have the option of being taken back in when he has proven himself in domestic cricket. This would mean that a lot of our favorite players will be out of the team. That includes Sachin Tendulkar too, purely based on consistency and current form. Ruthlessness is the name of the game, then. Remember that Matthew Hayden was asked to leave the team when he was playing better than any Indian player at that time.
Or, we could be a nice and happy soap-operatic team like we had earlier. Past glory will be glorified, current form only one of the many factors, regional representation would be important so we could all have our own boys to root for, captains may have very little voice in selection, players may or may not listen to the captain publicly. But it would still be our team, drama and all, and we would sometimes win matches and sometimes not. What do we want?
If we try to look at the media or the fans fans for a reply, the answer is we want both. No Can Do.
If we go by performance, we won’t talk about Sachin back as captain after his duck. Or Ganguly would not have clung to the captaincy when his batting was the pits - he would have gone by himself back to domestic cricket, and back when he has regained his form. If we go by performance, Dravid would resign the moment he is back in India, as he has been consistent as a batsman only, not as a captain. Sehwag would be asked to go back to domestic cricket till he has regained some form and consistency.
If our players or fans can’t stomach that, we should appoint Sachin as captain forthwith and watch him ‘encourage’ young players, ‘earn’ their respect everyday, and ‘mould’ them into future matchwinners. Hopefully.
#22 Posted by Matt on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 9:45:35
The hidden assumption behind your post is that BCCI has put up a team which is not good enough.
No it isn’t. Indeed, I don’t have a problem against this team per se, though it is evident from their fielding and the number of dot balls they played that their preparation has sucked. But it’s clear that the game needs to be shaken up in the country: domestic cricket needs to be reformed, age-group cricket needs to be better organised, the academies need to kick ass, none of which is happening. Where will the incentives to reform come from? The market. And who is the market? We are.
Matt, good points. One question I have, though: what “past glory?” One World Cup and World Championship of cricket does not past glory make. We’ve sucked since 1985, both in terms of overseas wins and ODI tournaments.
Patrix, as I pointed out, the BCCI may be private, but it doesn’t exactly function in a free market, as it is effectively insulated from competition. Nevertheless, it makes more money than all the government-run sports put together…
#23 Posted by Amit Varma on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 10:08:12
By past glory, I meant the individual accomplishments of some of the team members. The team, ah, not much glory there I am afraid!
#24 Posted by Matt on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 11:04:20
Matt, thanks, I get what you mean. Immense sighs scamper.
#25 Posted by Amit Varma on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 12:45:25
It irritates me to no end to see both Rahul & Chappell on TV- These guys keep on promising that they will bring the best game into the park.. I have a problem with so called sophisticated english speaking dravid types, who does not deliver anything but keep promising for future. I understand Greg was given a whopping 20 odd crores for coaching… and finally we hear that coaches cannot do much.. then why a coach in the first place.. why not gentlman cricketer like GR vishwanth be appointed coach emiratus and pay him handsdown.. atleast nobody feels bad about him getting the money.. resulsts in any event cannot be worse than this? any takers???
#26 Posted by yelandurmadhu on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 5:01:44
Interesting theory there Amit; I tried to apply it to Pakistan Cricket, which if you take into account poor managing of cricket is not much different from the BCCI (same problems at the domestic, various age groups and school level cricket), though the stakeholders of the PCB, unlike in the BCCI, aren’t the regional organisations…we’re basically run by a bunch of members of an ad-hoc committee that compromise mostly of Musharraf’s best buddies, that have little or no knowledge of the game it self, and have been hand-picked by Mushy simply because they’re in his good books. And this is all despite the fact that the PCB is actually listed in the Pakistan Securities and Exchange Commission as a private body (our taxes, hence forth, don’t go into the players’ incomes).
That’s the main problem for us…yet some how I don’t think even if it were to be solved and the PCB were do function democratically with its CEO being elected from amongst its regional cricket organisations heads, like it is with the BCCI…your theory of decreased viewer-ship = competition = better management could work. Why? Take test cricket for example. Most grounds are empty in Pakistan when the five day version is played, my understanding is that TV ratings aren’t so low, but it is nevertheless decreased viewer-ship when compared to one-day cricket – this should have, if your theory was right, led to competition and better management by the PCB for at least test cricket, but that hasn’t been the case.
Besides, even if some how the theory could work, I don’t think I could adhere to it, I watch Pakistan play firstly because I like the game of cricket, secondly because they are Pakistani representative team. I am not as fond of hockey and therefore don’t watch all of Pakistan’s hockey matches. You can’t ask people who watch the sport because of the love of the game to stop watching a favored team when its performances subsides, I would consider, at least my self, incapable of doing so.
#27 Posted by Zainub on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 8:00:09
It will not be possible for any other sport in India to compete with Cricket, at least not in the short term. But there is a solution, the only sport that Indians will watch instead of cricket is… Cricket itself.
Ok to be more clear, why don’t we separate the regional boards from the BCCI and allow them to build an infrastructure that will promote regional (county) cricket. I.e. make a big fuss about the Ranji trophy, find some sponsors and telecast it on the TV. This will have two effects, having a better homegrown competing ground will ensure that more players surface early in their careers and help the seniors to find their form, secondly, it will take the pressure exerted by the advertising revenue collection off the big international games.
Furthermore, this will allow for enough quality (one hopes) cricket for the Indian viewer, which in turn will exert less pressure on the international players to perform in big games, hopefully allowing them to play a more natural game without fear set in their hearts.
#28 Posted by Girish on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 8:25:23
I have a revelation for your assertion that Sachin Tendulkar has not performed well in the last year,
Here are Sachin’s statistics in 2006
Matches: 16. Innings:16, Runs 628, out of which he has been not out twice,
Highest score: 141 not out,
Average:44.85, at a strike rate of 77.05,
Two half centuries and 3 centuries!
That is a very good record! Comparing it with the highest averages in 2006 we see that Sachin is very much at the top. Now lets look at his career averages: Sachin has played 374 innings scoring a huge 14847 runs at an average of 44.05 and a strike rate of 85.73.
Notice something? His average has not changed in the last year compared to his overall average, indicating that he could not have suffered the great loss in quality and capacity as the media portrays. Sachin remains one of the highest scoring and highest averaging batsmen in the world.
#29 Posted by Girish on Mon, March 26, 2007 at 8:30:27
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