For the last decade or so, Pabitra Haldar and Prateek Bhonsle (names changed), would keep about four months of their working time blocked for a cricket tournament that has given their respective families a sustainable living over the years.
Haldar and Bhonsle are contract workers in Kolkata and Mumbai, respectively. Over the years, they have learned to do various media and entertainment jobs and are vital cogs in the wheels of vendors who service the franchises that have high-profile teams playing in the world's richest T20 cricket tournament, the Indian Premier League.
Haldar and Bhonsle have school-going children and elderly parents to look after. The IPL has been like a 'permanent' job for them and the loyalty and trust with their employers have only grown over the years. In last two years, the returns have been good.
Ever since the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the owners of IPL, started sharing more money with the franchises, courtesy the record INR 16,347.5 crore five-year global broadcast deal with STAR India in 2018 and the 2,000-plus crore title sponsorship from Vivo, the money has been good too. From 15,000 a month in 2009-10 to Rs 35,000 per month in 2019 was more than a 50 percent jump.
This year has been bad. When the Board of Control for Cricket in India and the franchises were getting ready to start engaging with their vendors, the novel coronavirus struck. From March till July, it has been a dead-end for men like Haldar and Bhonsle, in their early forties.
The BCCI's belief that IPL 2020 will happen at some stage of the year kept their morale up but now they are simply shattered. The IPL is going to the Emirates.
The BCCI has at least 10 different vendors managing everything from ground rights to hospitality. These 10 vendors have anything between five to six sub-vendors each. Every vendor has about 50-60 people working with them for an average of Rs 20,000 per person per month. Effectively, there are about 400-500 people doing errands -- from on-ground activities like billboards, logos, tents to chasing payments, and release orders.
For these 500-odd people across India, IPL is a livelihood. Like a Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni, or Jaydev Unadkat, among the highest earners in IPL, the Haldars and Bhonsles may not be earning in millions, but their few thousands have unbelievable strength and meaning. They help put food on the table. Now the BCCI planning to snatch it away.
Not only the vendors, IPL going away to a foreign land will mean loss of revenue to the state exchequer.
For example, while the local vendors in India will lose anything between 15-20 crores, staging venues, power supply companies, corporation, and the police force can lose more than a crore of revenue per match day. If protecting the local supply chain was the mantra of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's atmanirbharata model, IPL will bludgeon all that for a six!
The inspiring words of "atmanirbharata" or self-reliance by PM Modi in mid-May gave Haldar and Bhonsle a ray of hope. They thought IPL will not go out of India and BCCI will help those 500-odd people make their ends meet at a time when the economy is in acute distress, millions of jobs have been lost and stomachs are going empty.
PM Modi's strong words, 'Vocal for local' is visionary. Coming in the wake of the Indo-China Galwan standoff on June 15, the Prime Minister's words mean that India should be self-reliant in every aspect -- from commerce to industry and from medicine to farming.
In developed countries, sports contributes about 2-4 percent of total employment. In India, it is about 0.5 percent. With IPL going out of India, it will have a direct impact on the GDP, which is gasping for breath, anyway.
Sports is now big business in India and IPL is right up there. With a global valuation of 6.8 billion US dollars, the IPL is among the richest sports properties in the world.
According to estimates, if an IPL doesn't happen, there will be a valuation loss of about a billion dollars. Interestingly, IPL is majorly funded by Chinese brands. Mobile phone makers Vivo (title sponsors), fantasy sports platform Dream11, Paytm, all majorly associated with IPL, have strong Chinese links. Their dealings with the BCCI run into thousands of crores.
It is clear that BCCI does not want to forego an IPL. It can earn anything around 4000 crores from an IPL this year. Despite saying it will review its links with Chinese brands or Indian companies with Chinese investments, the cricket Board has so far done nothing. BCCI's treasurer had said the relationship with companies like Vivo are beneficial to the government because it earns tax and creates jobs in India too.
While it is imperative to protect each and every job possible, IPL going to UAE means more job losses in India. This is certainly not what PM Modi envisioned when he spoke about Atmanirbharata, 'vocal for local' and 'make in India'. Thus the question: BCCI's 4000 crores vs PM Modi's vision for a self-reliant India.
The BJP government has a tacit control over the BCCI. The roles played by three of its Central minister during the BCCI elections last October is very well known. Home minister Amit Shah's son Jay was elected secretary while Finance minister Anurag Thakur's brother Arun Singh Dhumal was made treasurer. Sourav Ganguly was elected president, apparently with support from BJP bigwigs.
Although both Ganguly and Shah have finished their short tenures as per the new BCCI constitution, both are likely to take part in the IPL Governing Council meeting on August 2. The GC is expected to discuss the logistics and travel plans to the UAE, among other things. The tournament has been slotted from September 19 to November 8/10 after the ICC World T20 was shelved due to the pandemic.
The government is yet to clear IPL's passage to UAE. PM Modi is certainly on a sticky wicket. Will he clear the narrow interest of a cricket board that is virtually run by the son of one of his most formidable ministers or let IPL set a good example to showcase his atmanirbharata and 'vocal for local' concept?
More importantly, what message will PM Modi send to the world at a time when the pandemic is stronger than ever and India is battling against the deadly virus? By letting IPL go to UAE, it will be a clear admission that India has been unable to tackle the virus, and cricket is beyond its control.
For, it must be remembered that ICC agreed to cancel the World T20 in Australia due to the virus and the International Olympic Committee postponed the greatest sports event on earth -- the Tokyo Olympics -- keeping in mind the wellness of thousands of athletes and their support staff. Even Wimbledon let go of its fortunes for the healthy sake of the best tennis players and the world's top soccer leagues were played at 'home'. They did not go to Dubai or Sharjah or Abu Dhabi.
Cricket resumed in England with the three-Test series against the West Indies in June. The English cricket board, perhaps not even half as rich as BCCI, did not go to the UAE to protect its earnings. The series was played at 'home' to deliver a message that all was well and normalcy is returning. Why can't IPL do the same?
(Views are personal)