Twenty20, corporate leagues and Indian cricket

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It worries me that cricket too is morphing into a clone of American sports culture.

Check out this article from the New York Times: it talks about American cheerleaders coming to Bangalore to hold a national cheerleader training of sorts! Don’t we have enough sexism at home? Do we have to import some more?

The problem is not in terms of the pseudo-“swadeshi” argument of the Hindutva folks and their Vanar Sena apes, but in terms of the sheer economics of it. The commercialization of American sport has had many negative effects:

1. Lured by the huge amount of money in coporate sponsorship that the leagues generate, city governments and town municipalities go out of their way to bring the leagues to their cities and towns. Huge stadiums are built at the expense of taxpayer-funded subsidies. Check out this article from the Wall Street Journal (certainly not a radical socialist newspaper!!) for more on why, and with what consequences. It tells us that, according to an article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives,

Arenas put a drag on the local economy by hurting spending on other activities in the city and boosting municipal costs such as security.

Beyond what the WSJ article lays out, we can also say this: Prime seats in the stadiums are auctioned off to corporate bidders, where corporate CEOs hang out with their politician buddies. Meanwhile, the regular fan, the working-class fan of the game find the tickets priced beyond their reach, because there are fewer seats up for sale. Plus, they now pay $8-$10 for a hot dog that otherwise would cost a dollar, and $8 for a beer that otherwise would cost $4. Taxpayers are promised big returns in terms of jobs; but these jobs tend to be the lowest-paid and temporary service jobs. Meanwhile, money that could have gone for better schools, cheaper healthcare, cheaper utilities, etc., goes to the builders and developers who make big bucks in the process (no offense to builders and developers on this list!!).

2. The game itself becomes a huge advertising billboard for multinationals to sell their wares to the Indian consumer middle class. Reliance, Toyota, Infosys, make the big bucks, while we suffer through a constant barrage of advertising that makes the game into a spectacle. Where there once was a “gentleman’s” spirit behind it, the game now is transformed into what makes for the best advertisement, the best commercial for all the commodities they want us to buy. It becomes a garish, commercialised spectacle, which takes over the spirit of the game. Ruthless competition, celebrity stardom, and an emphasis on charisma rather than talent begins to ruin what used to be a showcase for talent.

(Meanwhile, we become very good consumers. While we shop in our glittering new malls and drink fizzy sugar syrup [yes, Coke] thinking it’s cool, our credit card debts go up along with our diabetes stats. )

3. The sportsmen (and women, although less so) become commodities themselves, bought and sold to the highest bidder. Nothing wrong with that, perhaps, but it has a trickle-down effect on the millions of youth who struggle to make it into the big leagues. The vast majority of them will have their hopes dashed, or dreams deferred, because only the cream of the crop will get the big bucks. The vast majority will make do with crappy, low-wage jobs, playing in some local league which struggles to even stay afloat. They won’t get lucrative contracts or endorsement deals. The result of this is still more ruthless competition, reaching down to the very lowest levels of the game’s foodchain.

Enter steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. You get the drift.

There’s a whole lot more to this, as it affects the local economy, the culture of the sport, and the popular culture as a whole, but I have neither the time nor that kind of knowledge of the business of sports to explain it here. In the Indian context, it becomes even messier, I would argue. The super-wealthy in India are already making fabulous amounts of wealth. Do they need to invade our sports as well?

Why don’t the rich and the multinationals put some money into improving the infrastructure in cities like Bangalore? Or in ridding the countryside of poverty, hunger and disease? The Tatas, the Ambanis, the Hindujas, and their ilk could wipe out rural poverty without even noticing a change in their own lifestyles. If you don’t believe me, go do the research. Find out how much the World Bank or the UNDP says is needed to eliminate rural poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, etc in India–you will be surprised at how little it would cost to do all of this. On a global scale the estimation is something of the order of $40 billion. That’s all.

Why don’t they put this money into high-quality free education for everyone through college? They could afford it. The government could subsidize it using taxpayer money. What’s that you say? Revenues are low? Well, how about raising the tax on capital gains?

Of course, the rich won’t like that, but the rest of India will. And it is the rest of India that the commercial world wants us to forget.

Hell, what do I know? I could be totally wrong on all of this. But check out Dave Zirin’s book Welcome to the Terrordome and his sports column, Edge of Sports. You’ll learn a thing or two about the business of American sports.

Believe me, it ain’t pretty.

So pardon me if I’m less than enthusiastic about this American-ization of cricket.