Are franchise owners the 'Holy Cows' of the IPL?
The sting operation brought to light the worst kept secret of the billion dollar league - franchises are not shy of paying players under the table to lure them into signing a contract. But will the IPL take action against the all-powerful franchise owners?
Every day I walk into work, I am asked to show my Identity card by the security guard standing at the front door of my office. A practice that irritates me no end. Surely, the guard who's been watching me come to work every day, for over 10 years, recognises me by now. But he still chooses to question my identity? Well, maybe he does know exactly who I am. But to be fair- He's just doing his job.
Here's the truth- We in India don't like being told what to do. Especially, if the directive comes from a person who's way below us in the economic hierarchy of the society. So, India may be one of the fastest developing countries in the world but 'classism' is embedded in our system. How many of us lose our cool when the waiter in the restaurant takes an extra minute to bring the dish to the table? How many of us scream at the guard outside our Gymkhana Club when asked to show the club's membership card? So, as I read it, Shah Rukh Khan was just being one of us at the Wankhede the other night.
Now imagine, the biggest superstar there is in the country being asked by a security guard to step away from the playing field. Or, as we are told, Shah Rukh's children, along with their friends, being asked to move out of the greens of Wankhede. Of course, shoving and pushing ensued. But, it was a 55-year-old security guard asking a group of affluent kids to stop playing on an international ground that sowed the seed for an ego fight, which of course later escalated into a full-fledged brawl.
Let's forget the Wankhede incident for a while and go back even further, to the time when SRK was detained by the US immigration. "Whenever you want to take a star out of a superstar, you need to visit the US" is how SRK described the incident at the Newark airport. Clearly, a man used to getting a preferential treatment in his own country, hurt at being treated as a commoner abroad. And why just Shah Rukh, I have had various relatives and friends treated the same way in the US and it was certainly a bitter pill for them to swallow. After all, they come from a country where a phone call to an influential relative is enough for them to get a clear passage out of any sort of scrutiny and get the security personnel in charge fired from his job.
Now let's go back to the fight between Shah Rukh and the MCA officials. When I think of the Wankhede, I think of one of India's premier cricket grounds. An oval that has witnessed some of Indian cricket's greatest moments, including the recent World Cup win. Now, watching a group of 12-year olds playing football on the hallowed turf of Wankhede, as if it were a community park, is sacrilege according to me. I would never allow it even if it were my own kids. I've had the pleasure of travelling to most Test venues around the world and report on some of the biggest battles in cricket. But while doing my job as a TV reporter I've made it a point not to step onto the cricket ground even after the match is over, choosing to do my 'Piece to Camera' from beyond the boundary line. Call me old fashioned or rigid, I believe disrespecting the sanctity of an international venue is as good as disrespecting the sport itself.
Now, before you think that I am leaning towards the officials of the Mumbai Cricket Association, it's worth mentioning that I have been the recipient of some high-handedness from the MCA while covering cricket matches in Mumbai. Anyway, taking sides in a fight I didn't witness would make me no better than Mamata Banerjee, who feels that the ban on Shah Rukh should be lifted simply because he's the brand ambassador of her state.
Of course, Shah Rukh was right in behaving the way he did after his kids were manhandled by the ground security. But the situation wouldn't have arisen had he been a strict father at the ground. Or then maybe, the fault lies with the IPL for allowing team owners and their friends to parade onto the ground right after the match is over and sometimes even whilst the game is on.
By the way, here's another question for the powers that be in the IPL. How were they so quick to ban the 5 players caught in the TV sting, but haven't moved a muscle on the Shah Rukh Khan issue even after 5 days, let alone take some action? Ditto for Preity Zinta, who was caught on camera walking onto the ground, during a match, to argue with the umpire - a grave violation of the rules, yet the IPL turned a blind eye to that. In fact if you ask me, there wasn't anything in the TV sting that pointed towards spot-fixing in the IPL or that the players were being dishonest to the sport. Instead the sting brought to light the worst kept secret of the billion dollar league -franchises are not shy of paying players under the table to lure them into signing a contract. But will the IPL take action against the all-powerful franchise owners? Come on, you can't expect every security guard to be fearless and question the top brass at his work place.