IPL Preview: A Question of Security

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Security issues are part of modern life.  IPL3 is no different.

Evolving Eras of Cricket

Cricket can arguably be split into eras of historical or social importance that have defined the playing, administrating and commercialisation of our celebrated and loved sport.  There was a period in cricket’s history as a sinful and riotous game, the sport was rebranded by the Victorians to become a gentleman’ s game and later, an era of professionals and amateurs. Packer commercialisation, West Indian domination. Australian ruthlessness on the pitch, Indian hegemony off it. We must ask what era we are currently in; perhaps we are entering an age of freelancing cricketers, T20, franchises, celebrity, an era of Lalit Modi?

We must remind ourselves of a time when cricket found itself in the centre of a crisis in the 90s, as the influence of bookmakers and match fixers became heartbreakingly evident.  Heroes, legends and icons, those worshipped by cricket fans were exposed, cricketers wasting their talent by lining their pockets at the cost of what was seen as an honest sport.  Despite this problematic period, when the game was threatened to a critical existence, cricket has flourished since. But cricket is now at risk by issues similarly divisive and worrying, in the name of terrorism and security. Where match fixing was in many ways an internal predicament, the current era of security is not a cricket specific problem.  It is a problem for contemporary society on the whole.

Contemporary Society’s Constant State of Terror

Associations between terror and airports are commonplace, so to bombs and backpacks, but the skill, entertainment and accomplishment of our favourite players to be associated with terrorism less so.  Sport has always been a target for those with a political or religious point to prove.  Sport promises news, and a constant flow of coverage with often global reach and so too an opportunity to hijack and ruin.  Think of the Olympics; 1972 as Israeli athletes were held hostage, the 1992 Atlanta bombing, even horse-racing’s Grand National in 1997, the 2008 Dakar Rally.  And cricket is not a new target for terrorist activity. The 1996 World Cup was struck by bombings in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo. England’s cricketers were threatened by the ‘Sons and Daughters of Zimbabwe’ ahead of the 2003 World Cup, preventing their participation in Harare. Not to mention the numerous pitch invasions and crowd riots throughout cricket’s recent history.

Yet a number of events have shaken the world.  New York’s 9/11, London’s 7/7 and Mumbai’s 26/11 completely altered the global security climate.  Such events made security a problem for everybody, threatening privacy, freedom and lives.  Such events with a global resonance, contributed to a shroud of anxiety across those who are peaceful and completely innocent.  Within the cricketing community, this anxiety was exacerbated by the ambush of the Sri Lankan team as they came under fire in Lahore a year ago.

And so security blights the sub continental region as news of roadside devices and suicide bombs are reported with regular occurrence in Pakistan and Afghanistan, tainting the reputation of the area. Sensationalist coverage does not help, as the security and general safety of those in the area is questioned. Indeed, whilst meeting with a number of academics at a university in London only last week, and discussing the abundant sporting schedule in India over the coming months and years, the issue of ‘instability in the region’ was cited as a problematic and a barrier to sport in India ‘becoming big’.  Yet while the Mumbai terror attacks raised a question mark over India’s viability as host, the IPL can set a precedent for an Indian representation of insubordination to terrorist threats.

Situating the IPL as a Statement of Indian power, of Influence and of Competency

The IPL finds itself, intentionally or otherwise as a global icon.  In combining arguably India’s strongest current exports, in business, film and cricket, the IPL is a statement of Indian power, of influence and of competency.  At the opening ceremony of the inaugural IPL in 2008, Lalit Modi addressed an eager audience,

“There has never been a more talked about sport or entertainment event in India and the Indian premier league is going to deliver you that. The eyes on the world are upon us today.”

And these very eyes on the IPL make the tournament a perfect platform for India to showcase its ability as a host of global sporting events and as a nation of capability.  The IPL presents an ideal opportunity to build trust in India and the region.  There is no doubt that the IPL is marvelously organised, despite the detractors of the event complaining about timing and scheduling. In spite of quarrelling over the possible bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh, disagreements having already affected the Telugu film industry and business in the area, the ‘back in India’ IPL 3 must go on.  Deccan Charger’s home games have been moved from Hyderabad.  Due to Telegana issues in 2009, an ODI was relocated within a matter of days for Sri Lanka’s visit. IPL2 was famously moved to South Africa in a matter of weeks.  Indian cricket’s administrators and organisers have adapted and rescheduled, bringing games to the ultra modern stadiums in Navi Mumbai and Nagpur, both truly world class venues for a world-class tournament in modern India.  This is testament to the very organisation of the IPL and a statement that India can host world-class events.

However, the “eyes of the world” make the tournament an equally ideal platfrom for those with political or quasi-religious beliefs, keen on making a statement.  A threat had emerged from a group named the ‘313 Brigade’.  With suspected links to various terrorist outfits, and an ‘operational arm’ of Al Qaeda, the organisation warned the international community of ‘consequences’, urging them not to send their athletes to the Hockey World Cup, the IPL or the Commonwealth Games.  This ‘warning’ surely cannot prevent IPL3 taking place, not from a dubious organisation and sent by email.

Bal Thackeray, head of far right political party Shiv Sena warned that his party would not allow Australian cricketers to play in India prompting much coverage. In a spectacular U-turn withdrew his ‘ban’, presumably to prolong his spell in the limelight.  Thackeray even ‘banned’ ShahRukh Khan’s latest film, ‘My Name Is Khan’ in light of the actor’s support of Pakistani cricketers in the IPL.  When the Kolkata Knightriders owner remarked that Mumbai ‘is for all Indians’ Thackeray promised “dire consequences”.  The film, featuring an autistic Muslim man finding love in post-9/11 USA has since been a widespread success internationally. To repeat their 1999 and 2006 vandalism of cricket pitches could possibly make a statement, but more likely provoke enormous unpopularity.

It will soon become the norm, if it has not already, for every sporting event to be subject to such threats from terrorist outfits, regardless of their religious, political, regional or national cause. The issue is how credible each threat is, and the precautions taken in maximising safety of those involved.  A blanket guarantee of safety is impossible.

Issues over security and the dark cloud terrorism are a feature of contemporary life.  It is the very era that we live in, charachterised by a question mark over our safety. In the UK, the threat of terroism is currently, according to the Home Office, ‘severe’, warning that a terror attack is ‘highly likely’. The British (despite not wholeheartedly in agreement) have become familiar to being watched on CCTV, phone calls and internet use monitored. Yet there are no police on every street corner, armed forces patrolling, metal detectors and masses of private security. This does not however suggest that the area is any safer.

It is evidently an issue of perception.  Is India perceived to be anymore dangerous and susceptible to terror attacks than a Western nation? Is there a perception Indian events are not as well organised? How well can Indians manage a world-renowned sporting event?

To borrow Lalit Modi’s words from his passionate opening ceremony speech back in 2008, “Cricket as we all know, is India’s passion, and I firmly believe the people of India deserve to have the world’s best cricket league based here for everyone’s enjoyment, in our own stadiums and on our TV sets. I have no doubt that the people of India will love the IPL. I also want this league to be the stage to show to the world what an exciting and colourful, dynamic place the modern India is”.

Those who view India as unstable and unsafe must be proved wrong and convinced.  To host IPL3 in India is to display the determined spirit that has characterised the acquisition of hegemony within the cricketing world. The IPL can show the world how capable India is and how defiant the nation has become, even beyond sport. All in spite of the perceived terrorist threat, unfortunately an intrinsic element of life in this era.

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