Amritbani: Cricket as a killer

New Delhi:

Recently, Bank of Baroda announced they’d signed Rahul Dravid as their brand ambassador. Few days later a terse communication came from the bank, this time announcing the decision to terminate their 12 year old sponsorship arrangement with Koneru Humpy, WGM, ranked four in the world. Reason? It is simple, the statement said explaining the maths, now that we have Dravid there is no need for Humpy. This is shockingly insensitive and completely tactless, a classic instance of an organisation shooting itself in the foot, scoring a self goal. No doubt sports sponsorship is governed by economics but surely goodwill and image also matter.

Developments like this will re-ignite the old allegation that cricket, like smoking, not only just hurts but actually kills other sports. Consider the evidence: TV networks pledge $308 million for 4 years of Indian cricket which means a whopping IRs 330 crores every year. Flush with these funds, the BCCI is able to pay obscure Ranji players, in Jharkhand/Jammu and Goa, upwards of IRs 30,000 rupees for a game. Compared with this, India’s hockey captain’s earning from an international match is not enough to buy a decent pair of running shoes!

Earlier we heard horror stories about Leander Paes, Col Chilly Rathore, Abhinav Bindra and

others who struggled to fund training/coaching, their parents knocked on doors, begged corporates for money — and were rudely rejected.

In Indian films Shah Rukh Khan and sex sell but in Indian sports only one product has buyers; cricket alone counts. The situation is so depressing that talented persons in other disciplines might as well take a walk, go fly a kite or sit at home. The case against cricket is it monopolises young talent, seduces them with a powerful dream that promises crores, cars and contracts. Cricket sucks up all sponsorship, companies have no budgets for athletics or hockey, no money to give to shooters/golfers/squash players.

Marketing wizards say economic reality is such only cricket delivers millions of eyeballs on

TV, connects with consumers and has the total support of every saas every bahu, every chairman and chaprasi. Naturally, cricket’s total domination sparks howls of protest. Suresh Kalmadi, IOA chief, is a vocal critic who notes, with extreme regret, that we are a country with cricket and more cricket.

Others, even more hostile, suggest cricket should be taxed, made to pay for promoting Olympic disciplines. Through this shrill criticism one point is missed — it isn’t cricket’s fault that it is popular, that it has cleverly marketed itself and caught the attention of fans. Why should cricket be penalised for its success, forced to pay for the incompetence of others, offer doles to sports who failed to manage themselves?

Cricket can’t be blamed for the slide in hockey or the mess in football. Similarly Dravid is not responsible for replacing Koneru Humpy despite the cold, unemotional accounting of the Bank Of Baroda.

Amrit Mathur is Media Manager at BCCI