31 December 2018

Money talks, gold rules: are we ok with that?

Lahiru Kumara was fined 15% of his match fee in the recent test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. Apparently the fault was ‘an audible obscenity’.  The ICC has rules and the punishment can vary according to the nature of the breach.  All good. All fair.

Around the same time, India’s captain Virat Kohli indulged in some verbal banter with his Australian counterpart during the second test between the two teams. There was, according to reports, ‘near chest-bumping’ but both captains maintained that ‘the boundary was not crossed’. ‘The boundary’ according to Tim Paine is the use of obscenities.  

Well, that’s just one rule. The ICC has a whole bunch of them, some of them framed by the vague notion called ‘Spirit of the Game’.  That’s pretty subjective. This side of ball-tampering, there are many ways in which this notion can be subverted.  

It is no secret that certain teams get away with a lot whereas others have to be extra vigilant and restrained. This doesn’t make for an even playing field, so to speak, but this is how things are. In short, some are ‘more equal than others’ as the Orwellian observation has it [“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,” the pigs who control the government in George Orwell’s novel ‘Animal Farm’ proclaim].

Some have argued and provided photographic evidence that India’s top spinner Ravichandran Ashwin ‘bends’. The elbow, that is. Now it is par for the course in international cricket for any spinner from any other South Asian country to be ‘called’ or have his action reported. This typically happens to those bowlers who are more successful than others. Of course it is not that all such cases are conspiratorial, but it seems strange that some are given a free hand (arm?) whereas others are not.  

There is a strong enough perception that India is a cricketing bully. India does bully other teams on account of sheer skill. The gap in playing strength gives the impression of bullying, but then India cannot be faulted for such things. The bullying that disturbs is the highhanded manner in which India operates in matters outside the boundary line.  India gets her way. This ‘getting away’ can and at times does have an effect on what happens out there in the middle. Umpires are under greater pressure, naturally.  Subconsciously, perhaps, they don’t want to take too many risks.

A couple of decades ago, this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t the case until India became a powerful in cricket, not on account of playing strength but on new found ability to have a decisive influence on the game’s finances. It’s not one-nation, one-vote in the ICC. It’s the big boys (financially) whose word counts. Others either tag along on account of lacking the clout or are arm-twisted into agreeing to proposals tabled by the ‘big boys’.  

This brings us to the title of this note: ‘the golden rule’. It’s simple, really. Those who have the gold make the rule(s).  

Money talks. Money talks in the NBA. There are rich franchises and poor ones, big markets and small markets. The size, in this sense, makes or takes away bargaining power in the matter of purchasing professionals, concluding trades etc.  Although the NBA has rules to make it a more even playing field, there are realities which permit certain teams to skirt them and get what they want.

How did Kandy SC become a rugby powerhouse? Massive infusion of money allowed the club to purchase the best talent. The infuser, so to speak, went out of his way to ensure that players will not have to worry about the future once they hang their boots.  

Nothing illegal about it, of course and anyway it’s far less pernicious than how India manipulates the ICC to have her interests safeguarded.

Bucks. Talk. In many ways. Period.