Cricket’s Second Problem
by Devanshu Mehta
I am fighting a battle within myself that pushes me away from the game. Until ten years ago, I used to follow many sports: NBA, F1, tennis, and cricket. As life intervened, and I found myself with less time, I consciously culled the list down to cricket.
These days, it feels as though cricket is consciously culling me from its fans. The relationship between fans and the game has been perverted at every opportunity. The quantity of quality cricket in 2013 is perhaps the lowest in decades. Add to that the latest reminder of the depth of corruption in the game, and I’m almost ready to give up on the game all together.
There is only one central relationship in professional cricket, and that is between the players and the fans. All other systems exist only to support this relationship– the administration, the media, the infrastructure, everyone else. This is the assumption behind everything I am about to write, so if we disagree here, we may disagree on everything.
I have been writing about cricket for more than two years now, and complaining about it for even longer. And while there are a million different issues I could chase down, almost every complaint about modern cricket can be traced back to this one fact: the support systems of cricket are getting in the way of the sacred central relationship between player and fan. And the reason is hard and soft corruption.
Hard corruption is obvious. It is cricket’s first problem. It’s usually illegal, and involves money changing hands to the detriment of the player-fan relationship. See also: Sreesanth, Butt, Majola, SLC, LKM. It is a problem of enforcement and of perverse incentives. And it is a problem that, for now, I consider beyond my power to fight.
But, let’s talk about soft corruption. Or “corruption” in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money, that it can’t even get a clear and simple issue right.*
The incentives of the media and the administrators of cricket are not aligned with the fans and the players. This is soft corruption. Often legal, but always perverse. Media rights, the role of media, influence peddling, ICC and board power, sponsor and broadcaster power, conflicts of interest and revolving doors, the bastardization of the game.
This is cricket’s second problem. But it’s the only problem that we, the alternative media, can meaningfully fight.
From this point forward, this blog is dedicated to the issue of soft corruption in cricket. Blogging against the machine.
Previously on DeepBackwardPoint.com:
- In Which Mr. N. Srinivasan Interviews Mr. N. Srinivasan
- Why India Needs a Players Association
- Soccer is in Trouble (and so are we)
- The Case Against Cricinfo
- Why We Write
* That’s me paraphrasing Professor Lessig, the founder of Creative Commons, now spearheading an anti-corruption movement in the US. Here, he talks about why governments push ahead with idiotic ideas:
The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or better, a “corruption” of the political process. I don’t mean corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean “corruption” in the sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it can’t even get an issue as simple and clear as [copyright] term extension right. [..] [A]n economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.
Nice post Devanshu. About a squillion years ago (2009) I wrote “the one thing I am sure of is that if we cricket bloggers want to achieve our potential we must move beyond merely celebrating our existence and begin the discussion of what purposes we exist for.” Seems a pertinent time to revisit the debate.
P.S. I often try to work out if blogging (or “alternative media” or call it what you like) is in a better shape now than back when I started, or even a couple of years ago. I tend to think not, but perhaps that is just rose tinted nostalgia.
I’m pretty sure it’s in worse shape. I’m not the only one to have cut down writing long form in favor of tweeting. Which leads to a whole lot of ephemeral words that are easy to dismiss.
The biggest change in blogging I’ve noticed is that people hardly comment on or link through to other people’s posts anymore. That happens almost entirely through twitter. The quality of discourse, not the writing, but the feedback is much lower. But that is a digression from your post…
Really important issue. I don’t disagree with your central premise, which is that the incentives are misaligned. But I’d like to tease it out a bit. I am not sure I do agree that the rest is a means of relating fans and players, for two reasons:
Firstly, administration of professional sport – and when we talk about players and fans, we are talking about an entertainment business, otherwise the fans are largely irrelevant – is akin to the capitalist in the relationship between consumer (fan) and product (player).
Cricket’s early entrepreneurs (the earliest being William Clarke) were, in other sports, the fore-runners of geographically placed teams. But the profitability of player-run XIs from Australia perverted (probably forever) the sport into best vs best tours that create under-capitalised stadiums (they are only sold out once a year at best), and over-capitalised playing rosters (all the stars in one place). The capitalist is an important cog in the relationship, and many of cricket’s problems stem from their uncertain role in cricket.
Secondly, it is much better if the capitalist is not the same as, but paired with the entrepreneur/administrator. American sports understand this relationship much better. There are owners who build (ok subsidised, but still) stadiums, put down cash for players and travel, and assume risks. And there are league administrators who set the rules of the market to maintain equilibrium and competition, and build total market share.
Cricket’s capitalists and its administrators, and the perversion of interests stems from their short-term aim of driving profit to their own ends. If you look at very early baseball, you can see the Red Sox playing many times as many games as other teams. The National League commissioner put a stop to that. Teams play the same number of games to ensure equal(ish) access by fans to star opponents. 140 years on cricket still fails on this score. It fails, utterly, in the creation of meaningful competition for test cricket, and 90% of limited overs cricket (and the world cup is a debacle on that score too).
The IPL might be corrupt to its core, and it still fails to separate the administrator from the owner, but as a feat of entrepreneurialism it is an improvement on most other cricket competitions. That’s what really pisses me off about cricket administration. It takes the greatest game ever invented and creates such banal competition. I could (almost) ignore the first type of corruption if the entertainment was better.