Archive for April, 2010

IPL – The Ultimate Fixing

As the country wallows in cricket mania my views on the Indian Premier League, or IPL will surely bring brickbats my way. I firmly believe that the IPL extravaganza, is that it is no longer cricket. After betting and match fixing 5-10 years back (remember Hansie Cronje in 2000), this is the ‘ultimate fixing’ by Cricket Administrators and Players.

What prompted me to write this column is the controversy over ownership of Kochi IPL team is not because of my domicile, but my understanding as a footballer, of the ownership structure of the English Premier League, or EPL clubs on whose lines is Indian Premier League was formed.

The EPL is a professional league for football clubs, born out of the success of The National Football League, or NFL the highest level of professional American football. Together the NFL and the EPL are two of the most profitable and popular sports leagues in the world. Their respective league rules however mandate contrasting ownership structures.

The NFL, arguably the most lucrative and successful professional sports league in the world, has a somewhat unique ownership structure, one which allows it to maintain strict control over management and ownership of teams. Unlike other leagues, there is absolutely no corporate ownership allowed, and the ownership groups must contain 24 or fewer individuals. The general partner and his/her family must together own thirty percent or more of the team, and any change in ownership is strictly regulated. The reasoning behind this is also linked to ensuring focused management with a singular vision as well as consistent and long term ownership. The ownership of the 32 teams for the most part is transparent, and for all intents and purposes, above-board.

The 43 club EPL is the exact opposite, where size and influence mattered. The sale or purchase of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal are frequently debated, and due diligence and background checks that have been conducted are sometimes questioned with respect to their thoroughness. The ownership guidelines have been questioned, too, along with their implementation. The EPL faces, as well, questions about the nature of foreign investment in its clubs. While foreign investment has propped up the league and made it a global powerhouse, many of the clubs are debt-ridden, and the cleanliness of the funds and ownership has been a subject of mass speculation.

Globally, there isn’t a hard and fast rule that describes the structure of professional sports leagues; nor is there any such rule when it comes to the ownership pattern of the teams within them. Also, it is true that the fact remains that ownership in professional sports leagues — especially where there are large consortiums owning a particular team — are hard to regulate and verify. While foreign ownership in the US leagues hasn’t been much of a factor, the EPL on the other hand has seen a mass influx of foreign investment, and there are concerns as to whether or not the ownership guidelines would need to be tweaked for curbing foreign investment. But what the debt-ridden EPL clubs desperately need is equity financing.

Other professional sports leagues follow different patterns. Some leagues own their teams outright; investors then pay for the rights to manage and host a particular team’s games. There is no clear-cut formula for how leagues are owned globally.

While the ‘tweetter war’ between Sashi Tharoor and Lalit Modi goes on and much is being talked about on the equity ownership of the new Kochi franchise. While it would be premature to speculate on whether or not the ownership of the ten franchises is of questionable antecedents, there seems to an iron curtain when it comes to information on team and ownership. To complicate things further a smoke cream and charade is also created with the Icon Players and the Bollywood Celebrities. The fact remains that IPL is one of the only global sports leagues about which so little is known when it comes to the stakeholders.

Until the Kochi franchise fiasco, equity ownership was a non issue for the IPL Czar, Lalit Modi; but suddenly he is taking of transparency in ownership. So as the first step towards transparency, let Modi come out with a clear-cut guideline of ownership which would stipulate the ownership eligibility criterion. Also let him down the iron curtain and disclose the funding and ownership of the other ten IPL franchises and the two new additions. Let us discuss ownership of Dabur sion and brother of Modi’s step son in law in Kings XI Punjab and Nigeria based businessman and Modi’s brother in law in Rajastan Royals. Let him also disclose his Mauritius to India channels into Kolkata Knight Riders and ‘facilitation fee’ of $80 million paid by Multi-Screen Media to World Sports Group to re-acquire the telecast rights of the league.

IPL after all, is about to enter the next phase of its existence. Investments in the teams are imminent. So are changes of ownership and of control of the franchises. Prior to these contracts taking place, there should be a clear cut methodology in place that governs how the league does its due diligence when it is to induct new ownership. Let us no longer hide behind celebrity actors, celebrity players and of course the cheerleaders. Let us learn from EPL and emulate a good model.

Are you game Mr. Modi. Really wish the Ratan Tata anointed ‘good M’ will not answer this question.

Cartoon Credit: Satish Acharya

General Motors Reply to Bill Gates

At a recent computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated,

“If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.”

In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release Stating:

“If GM had developed technology like microsoft, we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics (and I just love this part, esp 7th point and 10’th point):

1. For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day.

2. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car.

3. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this.

4. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine.

5. Macintosh would make a car  that was powered by  the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as  easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the  roads.

6. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed an Illegal Operation” warning light.

7. The airbag system would ask “Are you sure?” before deploying.

8. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna.  (Read CTR-ALT-DEL)

9. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car.

10. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off. “

All Fart and No Shit

India is a country of contradictions. According to Zafar Adeel, Director of United Nations University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (IWEH), “It is a tragic irony to think that in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones, about half cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet.”

India the world’s second most populous country, have access to a mobile telephone than to a toilet, according to a new UN study on how to cut the number of people with inadequate sanitation. India has some 545 million cell phones, enough to serve about 45 per cent of the population, but only about 366 million people or 31 per cent of the population had access to improved sanitation.

Statistics can be deceiving but who wants a ‘potty’ when we can have ‘verbal diarrhoea’ though the latest gadgets. Makes me wonder if India’s new found Global Super Power status is ‘all fart and no shit’

Courage of Conviction

April 12 and 13, 2010 saw an unprecedented Global Nuclear Security Summit being organised in Washington. Leaders and top officials from 47 countries attended the largest summit hosted by a US President in more than six decades, agreeing to strengthen existing international safeguards for nuclear material and to enhance security. The countries that participated in the deliberations including the leaders of Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Germany, Spain and France.

Starting with his presidential campaign, Obama has pushed for a tighter safeguarding regime to secure all vulnerable nuclear stockpiles and material within four years, breaking up black markets, using financial leverage and interdicting transport of dangerous nuclear material. As part part of a series of efforts in his administration to reduce the nuclear threat, President Barack Obama set out the contours of  disarmament and outlined his vision for a nuclear-free world in a speech at Prague. This Summit took place a year after that famous speech.

Nuclear technology has long been recognized as capable of both tremendous benefits and tremendous destruction. His predecessor George Bush, had launched the the Proliferation Security Initiative or PSI in 2003. More than 90 countries currently support PSI. These countries resolved to cooperate in intercepting illicit shipments of nuclear technology and other dangerous items. President Obama strengthened  the PSI and the International efforts to curb the danger of nuclear material winding up in the wrong hands and to bring other international initiatives together to take a more comprehensive approach toward addressing the threat.

But the Non Proliferation lobby that advocate for a reduction in nuclear arms and enhanced security believe the goals of the Summit fall short of thoroughly addressing the real problem. But while applauding the effort, the general feeling at the Summit is that more stringent measures are needed to prevent terrorists from accessing nuclear material and launching a potentially devastating attack. When both US and Russia continue to have stockpile of thousands of kilogrammes of highly enriched uranium, it makes it more difficult to persuade smaller countries to abandon their stockpiles. The tendency is for other countries to say “don’t tell us to get rid of ours, you need to do more to get rid of yours.”

And the debate will go on and it’s only fair. But what goes unnoticed is the conviction with President Obama has achieved a drastic shift in US defence policy with a pledge broaden the long standing efforts to take back the dangerous fuel and convert civilian reactors to low-enriched uranium, to give a greater role in the effort to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear monitoring body and pushing the policy not use nuclear weapons against countries that do not have them.

Tiresome Theatrical

The Shoaib Malik, Ayesha Siddiqui and Sania Mirza I’affaire has ended with the parties reaching a settlement. Hopefully we will now be spared headlines on the front page of newspapers of these theatricals and also the interminable discussions in electronic media about the bizzare episode.

Really pity the media, the so called watchdog of democracy, which covers all these tiresome theatricals and histronics. I wonder if there were no national issues of interest and concern to our people? It is also curious how those who were not affected by the controversy plunched into the fray.

True to form, Shiva Sena Chief Bal Thackreray ordained that Sania Mirza should no longer play for India after her marriage to a Pakistani even though she is keen to do so. This Cartoon and Cartoonist (all in one), like the Taliban can dictate the lives of others in a matter as private as marriage.

Not to be left behind Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi assured Shoaib of all assistance. He is not aware that the Indian Judicial system has layers who would extend full legal support to Shoaib irrespective of his nationality.

There sure is no shortage of ‘nuts’ in our country that we have to import them. We as people, seem to have lost our sense of priority, or maybe that is what our national dailies and electronic channels make us believe.