People should always matter more than products. The product that is the Indian Premier League needs to be scrapped as India wrestles with a health crisis that shows no signs of abating, writes RYAN VREDE.
‘Oxygen is the new currency on India’s morbid new stock exchange,’ Arundhati Roy wrote in a jarring and excellent Guardian piece detailing India’s current Covid-19 crisis. That line struck me to the core. It drove home the desperation of a country in the grips of a pandemic that has claimed in excess of 200,000 lives.
On 1 March India reported 12,286 new cases. On 1 May that figure is likely to be in excess of 350,000. Virologists predict that number will climb to 500,000 per day in the next month. They predict the death toll will pass 500,000 and no credible scientist has ruled out the possibility of a million people dying, such is the dire state of India’s healthcare system.
This while the IPL continues with almost no word from organisers or franchise owners about the gravity of the situation outside the tournament’s bio-bubble. Their silence is deafening and, consequently, one is left to conclude the product and its sustainability is more important than the health of people who consume the product.
Four players have opted to leave, citing the virus’ exponential spread and the associated risks thereof. This forced the tournament’s leadership into fumbling public support of these players’ stance, while also subtly stressing they are outliers who have taken stances other players are not even considering.
This is presumptive, at best, deceptive at worst. It also ignores the fact organisers and franchise owners are in an incredibly powerful financial position. Players who opt to leave will undoubtedly jeopardise their future participation in a tournament that will secure their financial future. In the case of the elite players, it will jeopardise generational wealth. In this context, one can understand any player’s reluctance to leave. I wish they were braver. I wish they had more of a moral conscience. They clearly aren’t and don’t.
Yet, it is not this line of argument that should vex most. There is a far more sinister rhetoric being peddled: that Indians, and the broader cricketing world, needs the IPL because of the pandemic.
Take, for example, the senior IPL official who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity on Wednesday. ‘It’s probably more important now to hold the IPL, when there is so much negativity around,’ the official said. ‘We should not underestimate the power of sport to spread positivity. At least fans are absorbed in it at home. Otherwise many of them will step out without masks.’
In an email sent to the league’s eight franchises on Tuesday, presumably because the IPL executive is acutely aware of the deep unease among players, acting chief executive Hemang Amin dialled the sales pitch up to 100.
‘While you are professionals and will play to win, this time you are also playing for something much more important … humanity,’ Amin wrote.
In this context, I struggle to think of anything more inhumane than a suit appealing to players’ sense of humanity.
Professional sports has long exploited most fans’ propensity to be emotionally connected to their favourite sport, particularly their favourite team in that sport. They’ve sold the idea that the team or sport transcend the field of play in influence and intention with relative success.
Those in the boardroom know that once you hook fans at this abstract but highly emotive level, you are able to sell them anything, and often do so for the duration of their lives. Critically, you’re even able to sell them lies – like a cricket tournament continuing in the midst of a crippling pandemic being a service to humanity.
In sport, as in life, a devoted lover wants to believe the best in their partner. This is the emotional conditioning the IPL’s leadership has exploited. It is vile. It is reprehensible.
Cricket does bring joy to millions, but, in this context, its importance has been grossly overstated by those completely out of touch with the people they claim to care about.
While the bio-bubble is relatively impermeable to coronavirus, those inside are vulnerable to being infected by other dangerous viruses: self-importance and greed.
The engineered utopia inside the bubble couldn’t be more different from the humanitarian crises outside it. Hyperbole, you say? Let Roy’s words paint the picture for you.
‘Hospital beds are unavailable. Doctors and medical staff are at breaking point. Friends call with stories about wards with no staff and more dead patients than live ones. People are dying in hospital corridors, on roads and in their homes. Crematoriums in Delhi have run out of firewood. The forest department has had to give special permission for the felling of city trees. Desperate people are using whatever kindling they can find. Parks and car parks are being turned into cremation grounds.’
This while IPL organisers tell players, whose financial futures they control, that they’re playing for ‘humanity’.
People should always matter more than products