Super Leagues Leading To….


Bollywood celebrities, sports icons and a slick marketing campaign, India is mushrooming up with the next big thing in sports through the super leagues of various sports. Football, hockey, kabbadi, badminton, tennis and cricket leagues are promising India a place in the FIFA World Cup or the opportunity to host a tennis event on the scale of a Grand Slam. But these are clearly farfetched and misplaced notions as the question remained, will these private leagues help Indian sports grow?

indian-badmintonIndia’s 1.25 billion population today is getting the mighty attention of the sports club owners and organisers, especially its rising middle class and huge numbers of youth, for a windfall in the long term. Not only are they hoping crowds will flock to stadiums, but also buy merchandise and lure more sponsors.

Although, In India cricket has always dominated the sports pages in the newspaper and given a special section in the news hour, English Premier League and the football competitions are a major drive behind the growth of satellite TV in foreign land. Following the same road map, Indian billionaires, top cricketers and Bollywood celebrities have stated pumping in money in this money making business and brought us the new entertainment genre filled with glamour, glitz and glory. Ahoy ‘Super Leagues’.

We are Cricket Phobic
India is a country where people love to play cricket in every nook and corner of the space and for Indians, cricket is not just a game but a religion that they worship. In such a cricket-obsessed country peddling dreams and gaining attraction for football, tennis and hockey is not a smooth road.

With the engagement of so much money, BCCI (the richest cricket body in the world) was/is cashing on this fanaticism by launching Indian Premier League, which monopolized the TRP market & boomed with greater success than was expected. Regionalization of Cricket teams and Cricket Stars, stirred the love for cricket even in those who had hitherto been not turning the sport pages in newspapers. The monetary outcome was larger than that for the international matches and the product of game was successful. But the process of the creation of the product had reduced these tournaments to-Business!

What the super leagues have done, however, is that they have made sportspersons in these relatively unglamorous sports earn decent money.

While the IPL serve as money bank the questions still remained, will young batsmen now be coached only to play power cricket, without facing upto the technical and mental challenges that the art of batsmanship throws up? With short boundaries and only four overs in a match per bowler, will any young bowler really learn the craft of bowling? And more worryingly, will franchisee sport ‘commodify’ players and reduce their commitment to a ‘nationalist’ ethos, something that has happened to most American sports?

In recent days IPL has become Indian Paisa league and betting rackets have emerged where match fixing and spot fixing related issues have emerged where players like that of Sreesanth and few more have been arrested by Delhi Police and Mumbai Police. Now match fixing links have reached to house of team owners and BCCI supremo. So we will have to wait and watch how IPL is affecting Indian cricket moving forward.

Super leagues have globally become big facilitators of respective sports. In India too, these leagues are a big step towards making the game more professional and provide a platform for talent. But in the process, a different, and opposite opinion has emerged according to which, only money will drive the players and they will lose focus with their national teams. Are super leagues all about glitz and glamour sans the glory of the game? Is there a choice between the money and the soul of sports?

Are Leagues Beneficial?
The recent Asian Games at Incheon gave us a realistic assessment of Indian sport. India emerged with 11 gold  medals, two of them in kabaddi, behind China’s staggering 151, Korea’s 79 and Japan’s 47. Even Kazakhstan, with a population smaller than Kerala’s, claimed 28. The difference is huge, not to mention the disparity in facilities.

Meanwhile, Super leagues are born out of the desire for change because of the pressures of a lifestyle that places premium on time. Watching a five day cricket match that could conceivably end in an honourable draw is seen as a luxury that today’s generation can ill afford. Like page 3 parties, super leagues has given us the newest form of the sport. In the process, it has also engendered a breed of sportsmen who are too focussed on sports entertainment instead of the traits of the game.

The business and cinema world was roped in to lend glamour and money, and attract the youth. On offer was an entertainment package of game, song and dance that proved a roaring success in the very first season. Spectators flocked to the venues and these leagues turned even mediocre cricketers into household names.

Post IPL success, the business of sport has been buzzing like never before, forcing the administrators of other sports like hockey, kabaddi and football to sit up, take notice and emulate the success. And the formula of repeating success of IPL in their respective sports has remained unchanged — a heady mix of business and Bollywood.

Cutting-edge coverage from Star Sports saw hitherto lowprofile sports such as kabaddi,  football and hockey challenging cricket for prime-time attention.
It could not have been imagined in non super league era. The TRP ratings are reportedly encouraging and all appears hunky dory. The players are basking in national attention, signing brand promotion deals and infrastructure is improving. The sponsors and team owners have little to complain  about. Viewers are happy. But how does this help the sports develop?

Well – known football commentator Novy Kapadia prefers to be optimistic — “The ongoing ISL has attracted the crowds back to Indian football stadiums; 35,000 in Mumbai and 30,000 in Delhi are impressive figures in cities which do not have fanatical fans. Hopefully these fans, many of them new to Indian football, will continue to support the domestic game when the I-League starts in January next year. Also, Indian players seem to be learning by observing the level of commitment and training of the foreign stars. The eight franchises should seriously develop grassroots programmes and academies in the near future.”

India’s success at the inaugural T20 World Cup was followed by the launch and success of the IPL. But IPL can hardly be credited for the country’s successful showing in the shortest format of the game. West Indies great Michael Holding put it candidly, “IPL can’t improve anyone’s cricket.” What the super leagues have done, however, is that they have made sportspersons in these relatively unglamorous sports earn decent money. As the former hockey great Zafar Iqbal said about the contribution of hockey league to the , “It has helped lift the profile of hockey. It keeps the game in the news and some foreign players come and compete with our youngsters. Importantly, hockey players can earn money, too, which was not so when we were playing.”

The success of ISL, IPL, HIL, ITL (tennis) or KIL (kabaddi) will not have any impact on India’s progress in the international sports arena. The franchises
will pick the best and offer attractive contracts to bolster their respective teams, but will they invest in developing talent at the grassroots level? That responsibility is with the government and that role remains unsung. For the 2012 London Olympics, the government spent Rs 260 crore on the preparation of sportsmen. I don’t think any corporate would spare that kind of money.

Moreover, while it is exciting to play against or watch the likes of a Roger Federer or Del Piero, it is equally true that merely competing with stars past their prime cannot lead to improve skill. For all the success of the ISL, India will struggle to earn a football ranking below 100. Despite the IPL, Indian cricket continues to fare poorly overseas. It would be naïve to expect that the IPTL alone will be enough to throw up an Indian tennis Grand Slam winner.

Sometimes it is even felt as these leagues faces the same dilemma: what might have started off as a harmless ‘distraction’, threatens to become the staple diet. Across the sports world, there is a clamour for more: after all, this form of slambang games will bring in new audiences, and more revenues. But, on the flip side, it could also lead to a ‘dumbing down’ of the sport severely damaging some of unique elements, on and off the field.