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.

To fly or not to fly?

As people in Europe consider the question, take a moment to consider this graphic from the Information is Beautiful Blogplanes_volcanos

I’ll leave it at that for now. Hope all of you stuck out there get back home safe, sound and happy in the knowledge that somehow you’ve contributed to making our planet more habitable. The coming generations shall be grateful.

What does Obamacare Mean for the Rest of the World?

The passing of the health-care reform bill in the US last week seems to be heralding significant changes not just for the US but also for the rest of the world. Coming on the back of heated debate and partisanship, the bill legalized sweeping changes in the US insurance markets, expanding coverage while enforcing strict consumer protection regulations.

Most post-fact analysis have focused on the political impact of health care reform. And aside from debates on public spending, I have not seen much discussion on the impact of these reforms on the global healthcare market. In this context, I feel that this news item that I came across this morning could be interesting:

With the US Healthcare Bill being the latest and most high profile effort to revamp healthcare – Indian hospital chains expect to see more patients being sent here as part of efforts to expand coverage and provide quality services at economical costs.

The US Bill has made US customers cost-conscious; the economy is sluggish and earnings are down. As a result, insurance providers were forced to look at options outside the US in locations such as India, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia, he added.

Making a similar observation, the Apollo Hospitals Managing Director, Ms Preetha Reddy, said that US insurers were scouting around the world for good, economical private institutions. And while Indian hospitals would see volumes of overseas patients increase as a result of cost-control efforts by Governments, there would be competition from places situated closer to the US, such as Mexico and Barbados, she added

The Fortis Hospitals Chief Executive, Mr Vishal Bali, told Business Line that US insurance companies had visited Fortis’ JCI (Joint Commission International, US) accredited hospitals in Bangalore and Mumbai. Fortis was already empanelled by Companion Healthcare, a subsidiary of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, he said.

Frost & Sullivan’s Ms Dipta Chaudhury pointed out that insurers could soon include surgeries done abroad in cheaper locations such as Thailand and India under their insurance umbrella as rising number of insured population added to costs. “This will reduce the cost burden on the insurance companies as well as help the overall Indian healthcare market,” she added.

From this article it seems, contrary to what I had assumed, that health care reform in the US would give a fillip to the booming medical tourism industry. Referring to a Deloitte Consulting report, Wikipedia says:

An estimated 750,000 Americans went abroad for health care in 2007, and the report estimated that a million and a half would seek health care outside the US in 2008. The growth in medical tourism has the potential to cost US health care providers billions of dollars in lost revenue

Further, what could reforms mean for the existing healthcare infrastructure in the US.  Already with the expanded coverage the US maybe facing a shortage of primary-care doctors. Would this mean increase in demand for expat doctors? And as this NYT article points out, it may even mean significant changes in medical school admissions and finance structure.

And what would all this mean for the US as public spending on health care seems to be set to increase substantially? Is there someone out there who could provide some perspective on this? Especially in terms of the impact of these reforms on the US hospitals and medical practitioners?

Hard Power/Soft Power

The Economist’s EU-Affairs columnist Charlemagne has a post up about the future of Europe in world affairs, which I would like to suggest to you. Charlemagne notes the concern of Brussels policy-makers over European states still not being able to ‘speak in one voice’, but wonders if such unity would be enough to make Europe relevant in a fundamentally altered international landscape. Referring to recent ‘snubs’ to US Diplomacy by China, Iran and Israel, Charlemagne writes :

But here is the question that I am starting to turn over in my mind. If our big bet in Europe is that speaking with one voice will make our norms-based, soft power approach work, what lessons should we draw when Mr Obama’s outstretched hand of friendship is smacked away? Because even in a perfect, parallel universe, in which the EU magically falls in line behind Catherine Ashton and the new EU diplomatic service, we will struggle to become one half as united as the American government is. Our 27 countries will always find it hard to match America when it comes to identifying and defending our interests. And though there can of course be differences in the messages sent out by the White House, the State Department, Congress and so on, in general America speaks with one voice to the outside world, in a way that the EU can barely hope to match.

And yet all that speaking with one voice, in defence of agreed, common interests, does not seem to shield the Obama administration from snubs.

The columnist then goes on to wonder if in this new world it would benefit Europe more to stick closer to the US in international affairs. The simple answer would be no. Europe and US indeed have strong historical ties, and have benefited greatly from this transatlantic relationship. And after the crazy Bush years, their diplomatic strategies also seem to be on a similar wavelength with an emphasis on dialogue and engagement.

However, it would certainly not be in a nascent EU’s interest to follow the American line in foreign policy. Surely, America with it’s greater foreign commitments would exert great pressure on Europe to fall behind it. Also, such bandying together on foreign policy issues would not send positive signals from the west to the rest of the world. Europe establishing its own place in the world, separate from the US, is necessary both for Europe and multi-lateralism.

Americas diplomatic failures are not the result of its soft approach, but a combination of factors that involves miscalculations on Obamas part, as well as the newly emergent powers feeling a need to assert themselves. There is no reason to believe that multilateralism would be a bed of roses, and even lesser reason for US/EU abandoning it for a ‘hard’ approach.

Europe’s best bet is to try and be an independent foreign player. Its  failure to show any sort of leadership on the international stage, an opportunity that it so gloriously squandered at Copenhagen, is more of a reason for its international stature than it’s competitive advantages. The big European powers that brought it together are now reluctant to see Europe forward. This is crucial for Europe, as Ashton recognized in her speech, to have a say in its own affairs on the international stage.

Lastly, despite the paranoia about decline that seems to be sweeping the western world, Europe certainly has the potential to be a powerful actor with great resonance in foreign affairs. Its social welfare system is the envy of  powers like China, its universities are host to millions of Asian students, its a great patron of artists, its leadership in infrastructure and R&D recognized world-over. Most importantly, its model for regional governance is one that would serve as an example for non-western powers as they try to achieve stability, security and economic prosperity in their own regions. Its internal diversity, enhanced by its assimilation of immigrants, would ensure that it has influence beyond its borers. The columnist misuses the term soft power, which refers to the influence that societies and cultures have on each other, and something that Europe has bucket-loads of.

It needs to organize itself and pull its weight as a hard power, capable of  protecting its interests and pushing its agenda based on the norms of social-democracy, welfare and respect of civil liberties. Speaking in one,independent, voice, Europe has a lot to gain, and I believe so does the world.

Makkah in the Off-season

Maureen Dowd is not known for tact (she allegedly once wrote that Al Gore was “so feminized…he’s practically lactating”). Which is why her latest column in the NYTimes is such an interesting read. Dowd writes about her disappointment at not being allowed to visit Mecca, to ‘experience the religion’ and ‘understand the complexities of Islam’.

At the same time she seems to come across , as a commentator on the web-page put it, like a fairly large ignoramus: she asks a Saudi minister to let non-Muslims visit Mecca during the ‘off season’ and expresses surprise when she finds out that Abraham built the Kaaba. Her assumption that she could learn more about a religion by being in its cradle seems odd, especially since one hardly goes to the Vatican to learn more about Christianity. She seems flippant about Islamic-Western relationship, and her attitude of entitlement would not do any favours for the reputation of Americans, or journalists, worldover.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and there is little reason why anyone should go there to ‘understand the complexities of Islam’. The country is ‘closed’, not only to non-Muslims, but to all non-Arabs. Thousands of expatriates and immigrant workers face all sorts of restrictions from travel to dressing. Picking up some readings, or traveling to any other place with a Muslim population would probably serve her better, perhaps even NYC.

  • clicking the Kaaba
  • clicking the Kaaba
  • However crassly, Dowd does manage to raise a point about opening places of worship to tourism. Many churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are open to the hordes worldwide. How does this affect people that are actually there to worship? Surely, large tourist groups are a nuisance anywhere the pious are praying. Many places politely ask the tourists to leave at designated prayer times. I confess that I have been a camera-toting nuisance myself, terrorizing priests in their confessional booths with my camera. (after the jump: pic of the priest i terrorised)

    Rebuilding Afghanistan with Rivers and Emigrants

    On a trip to Brussels last week I came across two research papers on rebuilding Afghanistan from the East-West Institute, which point out interesting strategies for Afghan reconstruction and security. Both papers emphasize the need for international co-operation for a regional solution for Afghanistan. The first of these stresses the importance of co-operation on water sharing, already a big security issue in South Asia.

    The almost total absence of bilateral or regional cooperation on water between Afghanistan and its neighbors is a serious threat to sustainable development and security in the region. The ever-increasing demand for water, the unpredictable availability of water, and the inefficient management of water resources combine to form a complex but solvable challenge to regional security and development. Currently there are hardly any spaces in which to cooperatively address trans-boundary water issues. There are hardly any forums for dialogue or bilateral or multilateral agreements, and possibilities for data sharing or joint action are limited. (Full report here)

    The other report points out how Gulf states could contribute to development in the region by promoting immigration from Afghanistan, especially for blue-collar workers, a lot of whom they already draw from South Asia

    The potential of remittances to enhance economic development in poor developing nations is highlighted by the many successful examples of remittance flows to Asian countries, whose workers are based in member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In that context, the volume of remittances sent home is, for many developing countries, the largest source by far of external capital. In many cases migrant labor contributes considerably to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of recipient countries. (Full reports here)

    These reports point to sustainable development strategies that are often ignored in conflicts. Water scarcity which feeds conflicts from Darfur to Kashmir, and addressing it is one of the easiest ways for the international community to alleviate them.  And while I have yet to come across previous evidence of it, immigration has proven to be helpful in poverty reduction and hence presents an opportunity to ensure human security.


    Further reading on Af-Pak: I would also like to point to two blogs that I find extremely informative for their detailed analysis on main-stream media reports, as well as military strategy in AfPak. The Afghan Analysts Network Blog, from the eponymous think-tank in Kabul, provides analysis and reviews of Western policy in Afghanistan on the basis of ground reports and research. provides excellent analysis of media reports on Afghanistan based on the authors experience of Central Asia, and a sustained engagement with Western policy in the region. Both these, IMO, are excellent advocates for the need for military strategists to engage with academic research, especially ground-based anthropological and sociological research, something which has been consistently been found to be lacking in AfPak.

    Previously: A Video, and My Two Bits, on Afghanistan

    Too important to be left to historians?

    This is the question that an Indian chemical engineer asked of history to Barbara Metcalf, president of the American Historical Association. She discusses her views on this in her article “Historians and Chemical Engineers” from which I quote extensively:

    I have recently had e-mail correspondence with an Indian chemical engineer who wrote me because of a comment I had made in a general introduction to the modern history of India.1 In the book’s first chapter, an overview of the centuries of Turko-Afghan and Mughal dynasties, I had noted that the rulers in this period, who were of Muslim background, had no program whatsoever of mass conversion. Indeed, for the rulers, the forms of ritual, and the transmission of sacred knowledge on the part of their subjects, were, in fact, matters of indifference. (The political loyalty of their leaders was not.) This comment is unexceptionable to professional historians but it flies in the face of colonialist and indeed nationalist stereotypes about “despotic” and “fanatic” Muslims.

    My correspondent cited an older secondary source that confirmed his viewpoint. I tried to explain to him the status of different kinds of sources and the challenge of interpreting them. In a later exchange, I suggested a few titles that he might enjoy reading that illustrate the use of primary sources and that counter the stereotypical accounts of Muslim rulers. (One of my suggestions was the marvelous Somanatha by this year’s new Honorary Foreign Member of the AHA, Romila Thapar.2) It’s been a few weeks since I’ve heard from him, but in his last note he signed off in style, asking whether I agreed with him that history was too important to leave to historians. All I could say in reply was that I felt quite confident that he, in fact, would not want to entrust some challenging problem in chemical engineering to me.

    My answer was somewhat disingenuous. History may in some ways be primarily the purview of professionals, but it is also an intimate part of personal identity and a critical element in social belonging. It is learned in multiple dimensions of everyday life. Scholarly publications, and arguments communicated in a variety of settings by professional historians are, at best, only one source of anyone’s convictions about the past. This is because arguments from history become justifications for, and explanations of, public policy and public life more generally. My correspondent, the chemical engineer, bases his views of Muslims on history. I argue back that in postcolonial India, the Muslim citizens of India have suffered grievously in part precisely because of faulty misapprehensions about the past.

    West Bank Story

    The Na’avi characters from James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar, a visually spectacular (if cliché ridden) allegory of imperialism, seem to be becoming an icon of protest.

    In the village of Bil’in on the West Bank a group of Palestinian, Israeli and Arab activists protested against the building of an Israeli barrier by costuming-up as the blue-skinned Na’avi  from the blockbuster movie (albeit the women wore hijab) . The protesters at Bil’in, who consider the barrier a land grab by Israeli security forces, equated their struggle to the intergalactic battle for Pandora, the Na’vis homeland which humans try to forcibly occupy for its mineral resources.

    Via The Lede:

    Batsheva Sobelman of The Los Angeles Times reported from Jerusalem that last month “a screening of ‘Avatar’ erupted into a small ruckus in a suburb when one moviegoer loudly announced that the Palestinians should learn from this movie what to do to the Jews, causing a commotion and angering others in the audience.” Ms. Sobelman explained that the “opinionated moviegoer was Juliano Mer-Khamis,” an actor who was “Born in Nazereth to a Jewish mother and Arab father.”

    Mr. Mer-Khamis told the Israeli newspaper Maariv:

    No one dares to make the real analogy. ‘Avatar’ is one of the bravest films made. It portrays the occupation, but people aren’t making the analogy. Many would like to be like the blue people but don’t understand the meaning. This is why people got angry at the movie theater. It is no secret that I think the Israelis are occupiers and the Palestinians occupied. Israel sits forcefully on lands that belong to others and this is exactly what the movie is talking about.

    Check out the video. Also, there are reports of state-meddling in the screening of Avatar in China since the government considered the movie to be close to ‘sensitive issues’ in China. However, other reports suggest that this maybe simply because of the Chines governments policy of helping local cinema by keeping Hollywood blockbusters out.