Cricket, and What it Tells Us About the World

IPL also introduced cheerleaders in cricket, a novelty, causing many purists to choke on their tea and scones
IPL also introduced cheerleaders in cricket, a novelty, causing many purists to choke on their tea and scones (Image PTI)

The final of the third edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) was played last Sunday, bringing to an end over 6 weeks of cricket craze in India. From the very beginning the whole thing seemed like a carnival, closer to Bollywood, with its song and dance routines and celebrity presence, than the genteel- village green image of cricket in England. The razmatazz is essential to the success of the IPL, as it has essentially transformed a hitherto visually unspectacular game, into a spectacle that is accessible to a greater variety of people. It is the richest cricket tournament in the world, as has buttressed the position of Indian cricket,  which already controls 70-80% of the games finances.

The league, and it’s founder Lalit Modi, are neck deep in a corruption scandal at the moment. However, the success of the IPL, and the preeminence of India in the sports power and financial structures, reveals a lot about what might be the future of the global sports industry. As with the cricket, non-western states and businesses seem set to be the ones calling the shots in global sports.

Migration has a huge part to play in the success of non-western cricket. I watched the finals of the Intenational T20 championship took place between Sri Lanka and Pakistan at the hallowed Lord’s  Cricket Ground in London. Pakistan won that game, and the gentry of St. John’s Wood, the upscale residential district where the ground is located, found themselves aghast at the ensuing celebrations of the fans.  And when the Pakistani cricket team was forced to cancel matches in its home country because of security concerns,  the Pakistani authorities were happy to move the games to  London citing the local support as an opportunity to profit more.  The presence of a diaspora ensures support and viewership for any team from the sub-continent. It also means that broadcasters find a ready global market for games with these teams, in turn providing greater profits for the national sides.

However, it is not demographics alone; a substantial lot also depends on the willingness of governments to provide subsidies to sports. In India, or Australia for that matter, the state has been subsidizing cricket for the longest time. And by this I do not mean a certain league or format, but the game of cricket itself, passing laws to make it accessible to free-to-air television (deeming it an issue of ‘national interest’). On the contrary, in England, or the Carribbean nations, cricket authorities actively worked towards taking cricket off free-to-air TV, presumably to make more money from broadcasting rights. However, this hurt the potential market for cricket  in these countries, with free to air sports such as football, motor-sports or basketball increasing in popularity.

Lastly, it was the willingness of Asian entrepreneurs to innovate. The format of the IPL is called T20 cricket, where matches might end in 3-4 hours, as opposed to the traditional 5-day long matches. T20, ironically enough, originated in England, in order to increase the popularity of the sport. Puritans in the English cricketing establishment, however, confounded any attempts to popularize the format, deeming it “hit-and-giggle” cricket. Where the English failed, the Indians thrived-creating an immense marketing campaign around T20 cricket, grabbing newer audiences and cashing-in on every advertising opportunity.

We may well see similar processes impacting other global sports. Add to the above factors the  huge media markets available in the developing world, as well as high degrees of player mobility bringing in fresh audiences, and you have a game changing scenario.  Upcoming leagues in developing countries have the opportunity to tap into already established markets, that would like to see more of local talent, and broadcasting that suits local time-zone and sensibilities.

All this means that there is every possibility that African football, South American Baseball and Chinese Basketball would become more popular than their western counterparts. All they need is an entrepreneur, much like Lalit Modi, to come along and shake things up.

“Some Indians Find it Tough to Go Home Again”

keeping it real in the desh
keeping it real in the desh

Blogging and general online activity has been slow since I am in Brussles nowadays looking for work, but I naturally paused and clicked when this headline from the NYT popped up on my RSS-feed.

This article talked mostly about how Indian expat-professionals found themselves disillusioned and disappointed by working culture back home . It provides interesting and entertaining caricatures of Indian bureaucracy and cultural values:

There are no shortcuts to spending lots of time working in the country, returnees say. “There are so many things that are tricky about doing business in India that it takes years to figure it out,” said Sanjay Kamlani, the co-chief executive of Pangea3, a legal outsourcing firm with offices in New York and Mumbai. Mr. Kamlani was born in Miami, where his parents emigrated from Mumbai, but he has started two businesses with Indian operations.

When Mr. Kamlani started hiring in India, he met with a completely unexpected phenomena: some new recruits would not show up for work on their first day. Then, their mothers would call and say they were sick for days in a row. They never intended to come at all, he realized, but “there’s a cultural desire to avoid confrontation,” he said.

Culture Choc

Arabic Chocolate Letter

Having spent most of the last three months in South Africa, a minor culture shock was to be expected when I arrived back in the Netherlands last week. As beautiful a country as South Africa is, it is still dealing with the aftermath of apartheid; while racial segregation has legally been abolished, it persists in socio-economic terms. This in turn feeds into continuing socio-spatial segregation, as the ability to make use of certain amenities is inextricably linked to income. Moreover, having spoken to a bunch of white and black South Africans myself, it is clear that divisive attitudes are still in place, as a large portion of the black population lament their unrelenting marginalization, whereas many whites are fearing a Mugabe-like policy of land and income redistribution that will ‘rob’ them of opportunities. Thus, in de facto terms, South Africa is still by and large an apartheid-state.

The Netherlands, on the other hand, is internationally renowned for its tolerance towards pretty much everything. From hash to hookers to homosexuality, the Dutch condone seemingly everything and anything. While this is something that I am proud of, it has to be said that this widely held image is often a gross exaggeration. The Netherlands itself has been grappling for decades with issues of immigration and integration, and a growing xenophobia has been reflected my the make-up of the Second Chamber (the Dutch version of the House of Commons). Nonetheless, generally speaking, the Dutch remain relatively tolerant and are dedicated towards multi- or even polyculturalism.

This contrast between South Africa and The Netherlands became particularly clear to me when I was doing some groceries in a quintessentially Dutch store, the HEMA. There I noticed that the store was already full of chocolate and candy for Sinterklaas, a Christian holiday that is held every year on December 5. While the name itself, which is derived from the Dutch for Saint Nicholas, already indicates that this holiday has its roots in Christianity, religious elements have over time been eroded and has become much akin to Christmas in spirit and materialism. Despite this, it is not very common for Dutch Muslims to celebrate Sinterklaas. That is to say, they don’t watch the arrival of Sinterklaas with his steam ship; they don’t put their shoes near the window sill and fill it with sugar and carrots for the saint’s horse; they don’t get presents from a dirty brown bag; and they don’t get candy from the white saint’s helpers, who are called Black Peters (oh, the irony of this if you just spent some months in South Africa).

Between Same Sex Contact and Identity: Politics of Homosexuality in Contemporary World

In an article published in this blog ( ‘Delhi out of the Closet’ on 07.05.2009), we have learned that New Delhi’s higher court “overturned the gay sex ban.” The article says:

“Homosexuality became illegal in 1861 when, under British rule, Section 377 of the Indian penal court was passed that prohibited ‘carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal’.”

What strikes me here is that the law was approached as colonial legacy, a reminder of the British rule that left its mark on the Indian society. This approach, however, misses an important point ; What was the situation before 1861? We can conclude from the above sentence that it wasn’t codified before 1861. Legality or illegality probably was not a matter of discussion. The right question may be how the society treated the issue; tolerant, indifferent or discontentful? Maybe it wasn’t a public issue at all. Perhaps the issue belonged to the private sphere as people didn’t see it as something to be publicized.

The rule has reminded me an interesting argument by Joseph Masad on the project of universalization of ‘gay rights’. I will simplify this sophisticated claim: What he calls ‘Gay International’, a group of organizations, discourses that have a ‘missionary’ role of saving and protecting human rights of the people who are discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation in especially non-Western world, led to the incitement to discourse in these countries. (in Arab Muslim countries) One outcome of this ‘incitement to discourse’ is the emergence of anti-homosexual law and harassment of these people by police, while before this discourse there wasn’t any law against same sex contact. Gay International’s mission is to “liberate Arab and Muslim ‘gays and lesbians’ from the oppression under which they allegedly live by transforming them from practitioners of same-sex contact into subjects who identify as homosexual and gay.” (Masad 2002, p.362) According to Gay International, same sex contact does not make the person a gay, rather they consider this kind of person as ‘not yet caught up in liberatory Western gay model.’

Distinction between same sex contact and homosexuality / gayness as identity makes the tolerance argument futile…

‘This Isn’t Us’

Check out this video produced by a number of Pakistani pop-musicians that is all the rave in Pakistan. ‘Yeh Hum nahin’ which means ‘This is not us’ in Urdu is a song aimed at condemning terrorism. What fascinates me about this is the attempt at redefinition of identity that goes in procliaming ‘this is not us’.

This song became a sensation in Pakistan giving rise to the a campaign against terrorism by major artists and TV personalities. The YHN campaign has currently got 62.8 million signatures for a petition condemning terrorism, surely making it one of the biggest petitions in history.

It also represents an positive in the debate on terrorism in Pakistan. The website of the foundation that is behind the YHN campaign asks ‘Are we the ones depriving mothers of their children? Are we the ones destroying our own future?’.  This tacit admission of terrorism being a very much a home-grown problem is refreshingly distant from the past attitudes of Pakistanis who, following the state, would blame India, America or Israel.