Nowadays, cricket is no longer a game. It has become a business or a profession of sort for Indians. No longer do cricketers have to search for alternate sources of income like they used to in the old days. The same shall become true for hockey and football in India if the current trend continues. The commercialization of sport is a newer phenomenon for Indians. Gone are the days when sports was only about international rivalries, nowadays club culture dominates cricket as well football (to some extent) in India.
One can attribute all this to the Indian Premier League (IPL). It started as a spectacle. It began pitting players of the same nation against each other and establishing mouth-watering permutations and combinations to allow players of different nationalities to play together. From the outside, it promoted the entry of youth into this much-revered sport. From the inside, it turned out to be money-churner. Its lure was too much to ignore for the cricket bigwigs. Revenue flowed like the Ganges to the BCCI and the cricketers. Controversies continued unabated. It has been blamed for deterioration of test cricket and turning the game into a mere money-machine. The recent controversies surrounding former BCCI chairman and India Cements owner, N Srinivasan doesn’t help the tournament’s image either.
While this was the ugly aspect of sports commercialization, it didn’t turn out like this for the Pro Kabaddi League. Kabaddi, a rural sport with little international relevance and even lesser audience took off like a fever. As stars descended on the kabaddi scene, Indians found the link to their roots. Little known kabaddi stars became household names overnight. He game got a huge fillip. It was a shot in the arm for a dying game. So far, kabaddi has represented the most successful transformation into a commercial event with the least number of controversies and the greatest success for the game itself.
A study in contrast to both IPL and Pro Kabaddi League is the Indian Super League (ISL) which started this year as an exquisite football competition. It managed to attract a few aging international stars and along with vast celebrity visibility, it became another money-churner. ISL has been criticized for doing little work at the grassroots level which matters for a dormant footballing nation like India. Exposure of local Indian players to stars like Nicholas Anelka and Alessandro Del Piero can do unimaginable wonders for the game. Although it is at a nascent stage, it has attracted crowds like football never before did in India. ISL must make sure that it doesn’t end up the IPL way and instead promotes the game to Indians like it never before did.
Little known leagues include the Hockey India League, which failed to draw a lot of interest in the national game. Although it attracted international talent, Indians still remain oblivious to this league whose commercial success may be bleak. Also falling in the same category is the Indian Badminton League which also is the new kid but has had its fair share of controversies thanks to Jwala Gutta. The newcomers have been International Premier Tennis League and the Champions Tennis League. The success of both shall be seen as time progresses.
Overall, what we are seeing is the pumping of money into sports other than cricket in India. While Pro Kabaddi League and ISL show promising signs, they must not go the IPL way and remain strictly professional games. IPL has tarnished the image of BCCI and cricket for people all around and its focus on money leaves out the critical aspect of the game, which is to promote new talent. With commercial leagues in hockey, kabaddi and football, for the first time we can say that Indian sports stars are being given their due. No longer do we have to read about their glories in obscure corners of the sports editions. They have made their mark and are here to stay. If they can promote viewer interest without increasing focus on commercialization and revenue generation, they are here to stay for the long-haul as far as the common Indian is concerned. With more than 1.2 billion people, India can become the next sports powerhouse if it manage to give fillip to such leagues without making them mere revenue machines.