The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team near the Gaddafi Stadium at Lahore in March this year might have brought the security arrangements for the Sri Lankan players, who were promised the highest security in Pakistan, into question. More importantly, it queered the pitch for the Indian Premier League (IPL)-2 matches that were slated for take off in April.
Following the attack on the Sri Lankan players, the Indian Home Minister, P. Chidambaram, urged the IPL organisers to postpone the matches as he did not want to juggle security personnel between elections and matches. Originally, the IPL twenty20 matches were scheduled to be staged in 14 cities (then it was brought down to eight cities) from April 10 to May 24 which overlaps the Lok Sabha elections (elections to the lower house of parliament) scheduled to be held in five phases across the country from April 16 to May 13.
The IPL series is a compact version of the One-Day International (ODI) matches which has its origin in Kerry Packer’s ‘World Series Cricket.’ The format of IPL cricket is Twenty20 which means that each team gets 20 overs to prove its mettle. It is a war of nerves between two teams which sends the adrenal of cricket fans racing and rivets them to their seats from the time the first ball is bowled to the close of the match. The twenty20 match draws top guns from the world of cricket. The performance of Indian cricketers has seen a complete turnaround after the IPL twenty20 matches last year. The twety20 match draws more spectators on the ground as well as television viewers than any other format of cricket.
Royal Challengers (Bangalore), Knight Riders (Calcutta), Kings XI (Punjab), Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Dare Devils, Rajasthan Royals, Mumbai Indians and Deccan Chargers (Hyderabad) are the eight teams participating in the 2009 IPL-2 event. Each team is owned wholly or in part by business tycoons and Bollywood (Cine Capital of India) celebrities.
Coming to the economics of the IPL, the main moolah comes for sale of television rights to Sony Television and World Sports Group amounting to rupees 8,200 crores (USD 1,822 million) for nine years; franchisee over rupees 3,000 crores (USD 666 million) for 10 years; and title sponsorship of 3,000 crores (USD 666 million) by DLF. Other sources of income include gate money (from tickets), ground sponsorship, team sponsorship by individual franchisees and sale of franchisee merchandise.
The total prize money adds up to rupees 14 crores (over three million USD). The IPL has introduced auction of players into cricket for the first time.
Though the Union Home Minister insisted that India is safe for playing cricket, the Federation of International Cricketers’ Association’s chief, Tim May, said that 88 percent of foreign IPL-contracted players wanted stepped up security and 83 percent asked for assessments made by independent security experts.
Since no compromise formula could be worked out among the Union Home Ministry, the state governments and the IPL, the venue had to be shifted to South Africa. The IPL was opposed to postponement of matches as it would be difficult to find another window in the crowded cricket calendar where both Indian as well as international players would be available for IPL. Describing the venue shift in a tongue-in-cheek fashion, an FM radio channel said the IPL (Indian Premier League) has become the NRI-PL (Non-Resident Indian Premier League)!
The change of venue of IPL twety20 will result in colossal losses to Indian hospitality industry and advertising agencies. The revenue from air tickets for domestic travel, hotels, local transport, food, boost in tourism etc. that accompanies IPL type sports events will now go to South Africa. This is something that should have been avoided at all costs considering the economic slowdown the entire world is facing. But, the economic loss may not end here.
Citing change of IPL venue as evidence of India being unsafe for sports, the venue for other international sports events may also be sought to be shifted though the current security problem is mainly due to overlapping of IPL schedule with the election schedule.
The bottom line is that this shifting of venue is going to cost the IPL 10 million US dollars. The IPL will foot the bill and recover it from the franchisees. But, the IPL might hit another roadblock there because the prevailing RBI ruling permits a maximum expense of one crore rupees for such an event. That works out to 0.2 million US dollars. So, the IPL may need to pit its wits to work a way around the RBI ruling for the balance 9.8 million US dollars.
All said and done, this shifting of venue is going to result in a huge financial loss to India. It has also stolen the spirit with which the IPL was conceived. When the IPL twenty20 was launched, we thought India would become the hub of international cricket which is fast emerging as the most popular sport in the world. It was also designed to enhance city loyalties and fan following as each team is identified with a particular city of India.
All this makes one think…the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team…was that just a terrorist attack like any other? Was it just a coincidence? Or, was there a sinister design to scare the international players and sabotage the most prestigious cricket tournament in the world thereby dealing a major economic blow to India besides snatching away the thrill and happiness of the Indian fans?
There has never been an attack on a cricketer team before. The timing of the attack which was just a month ahead of the IPL-2 also raises suspicion. While addressing the security concerns of the players is important, this is one line that merits investigation.
There is one other thing about the attack on the Sri Lankan team that should make us uneasy. The assailants were armed to teeth with automatic weapons and grenade launchers as evidenced on the Closed Circuit Television footage. They went unchallenged after they killed the six policemen and they even had a safe passage which was quite disquieting.
While seven Sri Lankan players, an assistant coach and a match official were injured in the shootout on March 3, six policemen and a driver were killed. Though the Lashkar-e-Toiba is being blamed for the attack saying it was meant to be a warning to the Pakistani government, the fact that no player was killed in spite of the terrorists having a free run after killing the six policemen raises some uncomfortable questions: Was this a surgical strike? Did the assailants have a clear brief on how far to go? Was the purpose of the attack to create a fear psychosis and spread panic among international players for the IPL-2?
The fact is that the Lahore attack has resulted in an extra expenditure of one million dollars to the IPL. Whether it was 9/11 in the USA or the attack on the Mariott Hotel in Islamabad or 26/11 in Mumbai, the ultimate target of these attacks was the economy of the nation under attack. Was the greatest money spinner in cricket—the IPL-2 which is designed to bring megabucks, power and prestige to India—on target?