IPL's integrity is at stake
It may seem like a distant and unseemly squabble but the scandal engulfing Indian cricket and Lalit Modi, the suspended chairman of the Indian Premier League, matters.
Why? Well, two reasons.
The first goes to the very heart of cricket. India is the powerhouse of the world game, generating more money than the rest of the planet's cricket boards put together, and the extraordinary growth of the IPL since its inception in 2008 has only strengthened the country's commercial and financial grip on the sport.
Modi was undoubtedly one of the principal architects of this new phenomenon, which has attracted England's best players but is yet to really capture our imagination.
He said when he first joined Indian cricket's governing body, the BCCI, it collected just £195,000 in revenue per match. Now, the 65 IPL games a season each bring in an average of £19.5m. This is no surprise when one considers the 138m viewers who watched this season's competition, which finished on Sunday.
SET India, now known as Multi Screen Media and the rights holders in India to the IPL, paid £1bn for a nine-year deal to show the competition, which is reportedly worth £2.6bn. These are figures even English football's Premier League would be proud of.
But it is this remarkable economic growth which has caused the IPL's problems. It has grown without any checks and balances, and, in the race for cash and TV rights, the BCCI was either unable, or unwilling, to keep a sufficiently close eye on what its lucrative spin-off was doing.
Ever since Modi sparked the scandal a fortnight ago by using Twitter to claim that the alleged girlfriend of a junior minister had received a share in one of the IPL's newest franchises (the junior minister had acted as an adviser to the consortium which won the bid), it has been almost impossible to keep track of the frenzy of allegations.
Cricket and Bollywood go hand-in-hand in the IPL. Photo: Getty Images
Politics and cricket have always been intertwined in India but throw in a dash of big money and Bollywood and you have a heady mix the world is unable to resist. Even the New York Times carried a lengthy report on the affair on page three of its main section last week.
The main charges against Modi - which he has been given 15 days to respond to and which he strongly denies - essentially boil down to the following:
1. A lack of transparency over the ownership of teams, some of which are part owned by companies registered in the offshore tax haven of Mauritius;
2. That a "facilitation fee" was paid to help Multi Screen Media hold on to the Indian TV rights to the competition. The company was sacked before last year's IPL for breach of contract but renegotiated the deal for this season after paying a £52m fee;
3. That documents relating to three teams which missed out in the franchise auction for the IPL's first season in 2008 have gone missing. It is claimed Modi has them.
Separately, there have been reports that investigators have collated a list of 27 names involved in alleged match-fixing in the IPL has been collated by investigators, although cricket's ruling body, the International Cricket Council, says its anti-corruption unit are not investigating any claims.
India's cricket authorities are determined to clean up the IPL. They have appointed Chirayu Amin, a little-known industrialist and head of the Baroda Cricket Association, as the interim chairman of the competition. Former players Sunil Gavaskar and Ravi Shastri have also been brought in to help restore the IPL's integrity.
But serious damage has already been done, and this leads me to the second reason for the scandal's wider significance.
Even before the affair broke, it emerged that some of the IPL franchises were partly owned by the people responsible for overseeing the league, or by their families.
A large stake in the Rajasthan Royals, the team which is captained and coached by Shane Warne, is owned by the husband of Modi's wife's sister. And a company controlled by the husband of Modi's stepdaughter owns rights to show league games on the internet and mobile phones. He also holds a stake in the Kings XI Punjab.
If there is even the slightest suspicion that a small group of officials or businessmen hold stakes in a number of teams, how can the competition's integrity be guaranteed?
What the "bloodgate" and "crashgate" scandals in rugby union and Formula 1 showed us is that we need to believe in what we are seeing or sport becomes meaningless, an illusion cooked up for television.
With Modi promising to take others in Indian cricket down with him, "IPL-gate" is far from over. And coming so soon after English cricket paid the price for jumping into bed with Texan businessman Allen Stanford, who is in jail awaiting trial in fraud allegations in America, the sport's reputation cannot afford many more episodes like this one.
But the IPL and Twenty20 cricket is here to stay. Its commercial success will see to that.