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Monday, June 7, 2010

Edition 21: IPL Can Fail

IPL Can’t Fail…It’s Too Big
Alistair Scrutton/Reuters
With its cocktail of celebrities and cheerleaders, the Indian Premier League's dizzy rise to become cricket's richest tournament is under threat, illustrating how politics and business don't mix.
A scandal over Junior Foreign Minister Shashi Tharoor accused of influencing a bid for a team has sparked a tax investigation into the estimated $4.1 billion sport franchise, also signaling the inherent risks in the Asian giant's corporate juggernaut.
It is a scandal that touches much of India, including some of Bollywood's top stars who became team owners, senior politicians as well as some of India's richest executives who have all wanted a piece of the pie since the tournament kicked off in 2008.
"Like much of corporate India, the attitude behind IPL was with globalisation, liberalisation, we can take on the world," said Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, a well-known commentator in India. But the IPL has not been transparent. It has become big business, but a rather murky big business ... and shown the very cosy ties between very rich businessmen and politicians."
Lalit Modi, a 46-year-old businessmen known for his flashy suits and love of the high flying celebrity circuit, formed IPL in 2008, a short form of cricket that won millions of dollars in advertising and upset much of the traditional cricket world.
It was a by-product of an emerging India, when local companies like Tata bought brands like Jaguar and Land Rover for $2.3 billion to reflect the self-confidence of Indian business as it enjoyed one of the world's fasted economic growth rates.
The tax probe has so far revealed little but huge newspaper headlines, and Modi says he has nothing to hide as taxmen visit offices around the country with cameras and lights in tail. But whatever the results of the investigation, few in Indian believe that tournament will be the same freewheeling business extravaganza, and Modi is now under pressure to resign.
The IPL was at the cutting edge of cricket from day one when its use of cheerleaders sparked initial outcry as conservative India questioned whether it was ready for dancers with bulging breasts and gyrating bellies parading in packed stadia.
Modi himself called it all "cricketainment" -- with Bollywood stars watching matches in seats costing as much as $1,000 a game in a country where half the population earns less that $2 a day.
Modi showed that "Can Do" attitude on which Indian business people pride themselves -- the ability to deal with the country's notorious red tape, corruption and poor infrastructure.
When security concerns and a general election threatened the second year of the tournament, Modi simply transferred the whole event to South Africa in a few weeks. But any admiration may not save the IPL. After Modi tweeted questioning the role of Tharoor in a team's $333 million bid, the minister was forced to resign.
India's tax department suddenly announced a probe into Modi and the IPL -- in what many saw in India as a blatant use by the government of tax authorities to win political points. The political ramifications widened.
Suddenly key Congress party coalition ally and union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar was on a collision course with his own government after he infuriated Congress by initially supporting Modi.
Pawar is president elect of the International Cricket Council and former head of the Indian cricket. The fact that a tweet from a businessman sparked worries about the government's coalition strength a few days later showed the nexus between business and politics in India -- and the fragility of both.

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