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abhijeet

Abhijeet Kulkarni

Abhijeet Kulkarni worked as a sports journalist for over a decade and is currently associated with LAKSHYA, a non-governmental organisation which identifies and nurtures sports talent at the grass-root level.

IPL-style League or IPL-style disaster?

I grew up in Nashik district, about 200 km from Mumbai, and every year we witnessed mass protests over the cost of onions – it would alternate between a new low due to excess supply and then shoot up exorbitantly the next year because of not enough production.

It was difficult to understand the psyche and logic of the farmers who would go for mass production of onions once the cost shot up and only end up losing more money that they could have made otherwise by opting for a wiser strategy.

Indian sports is also going through this mass hysteria over IPL-style (Indian Premier League) leagues with such leagues sprouting across the country from the district level to the national level across sporting disciplines. The year 2013 is already set to launch four more high profile leagues in badminton, hockey, wrestling and golf.

The Hockey India League, the Indian Badminton League or any other leagues being proposed or have been already announced are only going to be short-term tournaments. AFP

While everyone is just looking to follow the IPL model to make a few quick bucks, I wonder anyone has bothered to study the impact of such leagues on the sport as a whole before jumping on the bandwagon.

In principle, franchise-based league structure is the best way to attract corporate backing for sports and European countries have thrived on this model for a long time. In most of these countries, the domestic circuit is driven through these leagues where the team owners invest in talent identification and nurturing those youngsters for future glory.

Even the IPL was conceptualised on the lines of the National Basketball League (NBA) where the franchisee model has helped develop the sport as the most popular discipline in the country and across the world. However, the Indian Cricket Board customised that model for a short duration tournament to cash in on the popularity of the sport in India and fill their coffers with little regards to the holistic development of the sport.

The picture is no different in other sports.

The Hockey India League, the Indian Badminton League or any other leagues being proposed or have been already announced are only going to be short-term tournaments focused on exploiting the star value of some national and foreign players with little or no planning for the future.

Many corporate or individuals who could not be part of the lucrative IPL have been jumping on the league bandwagon and coming forward to buy teams in these leagues.

They are mostly looking at these leagues as a branding exercise for themselves and the company and invest nothing in the sport beyond the tournament period. The model of players’ auctions only adds to the cost of running a team and the money paid to players is not always in sync with their abilities or worth to the team.

However, in terms of revenue from advertisement there is very little on offer through advertisement and most of these team owners soon lose interest.

The Indian Volleyball League (IVL), which was launched with much fan fare in 2011, is the prime example of a league that went bust in a year. No one knows why the second edition was not held and what the future of the league is now.

Even the state level badminton leagues inMaharashtraand Karnataka have already seen team owners losing interest after the first year since there are no financial gains for them.

None of them have really bothered to invest in the grass root development projects, nor do they even bother to stay in touch with the players beyond the tournament period.

Even the associations are hardly interested in attracting these corporate team owners towards creating a vibrant youth development program and are only concentrating on making some money in the bargain.

But they will do good to remember the example of those onion farmers who always ended up losing everything in an effort to kill the golden goose. Personally I only hope that these experiments succeed. Because if they fail, there is a bigger possibility that corporateIndiawould turn its back on Indian sports for good and the sportspersons would have nowhere to go.