Vantage point

Friday, May 16, 2008

IPL as Liberalization?

Amit Varma and Neelakantan have made the point that the emergence of IPL is analogous to the liberalization of the Indian economy in the 1990s. Both have also said that a lot.. LOT more needs to be done.

I am not as optimistic as them (maybe I am overstating their optimism here). Yes, the IPL has brought money into the game for players. Yes, it has given chance for some players to shine on talent, and not be selected based on political issues. But to me, he IPL seems more like a previously corrupt and completey autocratic dictatorship relaxing its grip and throwing its citizenry some carrot slices. Not unlike Cuba allowing people to have cellphones (gasp!).

For all the apparent good that the IPL had done to the game, there is perhaps an equal if not heavier ill that it has inflicted. Think about how the BCCI is muscling out the ICL using unethical and even illegal (according to the English court judgment) means. Also think about the fact that underneath this apparent veneer of professionalization and corporatization, the fact remains that BCCI still calls the shots. Yes, we have people like Asnodkar and Gony benefitting, and it might seem like the monopsony in cricket is broken. On the other hand, you have the case of Shoaib Akhtar, who was banned by the PCB for political and Draconian reasons, and had to jump through a lot of hoops before the BCCI benevolently made his participation in the IPL possible.

The only real good that has come out of the IPL is that it has given cricketers a big share of the pie, has opened up newer avenues for them, and made it somewhat easier to be judged on merit. But I fail to see it having any real impact on what is wrong with Indian cricket. BCCI office bearers are still elected through shady horse-trading practices. The BCCI is still not accountable to anyone. And selection for the Indian team will still be driven by regional biases, because the IPL circumstances don't have any impact on the skewed incentive structures there. In fact, the IPL might take BCCI politicization to newer levels. What if team owners or their proxies run for BCCI office, and win? Just like past BCCI Presidents have pushed players from their own states or zones, a Mukesh Ambani proxy would push for players from the Mumbai Indians, and a Malya proxy would push for players from the Bangalore Royal Challengers.

If anything, the IPL has just enabled the BCCI to stmap out dissent and competition, further strengthen its monopoly as well as monopsony, but cloak it in a friendlier garb. Hardly liberalization.

The real liberalization in my opinion is the emergence of the ICL. ICL is a real competition to the BCCI. ICL is accountable to the shareholders of Essel Group and IL&FS. Everything that you want in terms of liberalization is on offer from ICL, as well as the competition between ICL and IPL.