Preity Zinda's recent anguished cry that the IPL was becoming India's favourite whipping boy echoed the sentiments of the cricket board, cricket associations, franchisees, etc.
The various PILs and court observations and the ensuing media frenzy, in addition to being bashed by NGOs, busy bodies and the like, have all taken their toll. To the extent that the BCCI is actually considering shifting the IPL outside the country next year.
This year's issues have been largely, but not exclusively, driven by drought and heatwave condition in Maharashtra and a couple of other states where playing the IPL in luxuriant stadiums has seemed surreal. The bone of contention has been the usage of water — a precious and scarce resource — to keep the grounds green and lush. The BCCI's righteous indignation following court orders to shift the matches out of Maharashtra next month has been a bit rich considering that it was responsible for slotting the IPL in hot summer months despite being aware that water could be an issue in most states.
Another blot has been the failure of various cricket stadia to set up sewage treatment plants to augment supply of water for their grounds. This despite the fact that the Karnataka State Cricket Association, besides many golf courses, race courses, airports, 5-Star hotels, large apartment complexes and the like had already shown the way by resorting to STPs for their non-potable water requirements. Hopefully, the current impasse will drive all major stadia — not just cricket — to bank on STPs for their future running.
Having said that though, BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur's statement that the IPL governing council was exploring other countries to stage next year's edition does not augur well for India's image. The IPL is without doubt the sole success story of India hosting mega events in recent times. The scam-tainted Commonwealth Games lies at the other end of the spectrum. It scarred India's reputation so badly that it will need many more successful IPLs to somewhat redeem it.
A BCCI-commissioned KPMG study on the economic impact of the IPL revealed that the 2015 edition contributed Rs 11.5 billion ($182 million) to India's GDP. Sixty matches were held over 44 days in 13 venues and 12 cities across the country, featuring 193 cricketers, and attracted 1.71 million spectators to the venues. "The total economic output was estimated at Rs 26.5 billion ($418 million). This is the aggregate value of all transactions that took place as a direct, indirect or induced effect of economic activity," it added.
Hosting an IPL match adds value and revenue to the economy of the state, it pointed out. The key benefits and opportunities that arose were employment generation across sectors, tourism development, support of Tier Two cities providing key media exposure and development of cricket and sport participation across the country, it said.
The study revealed that about 20 per cent of attendees at the matches were from cities other than the host city. International visitors were primarily from the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.
This apart, as Preity Zinta pointed out, the success of IPL in providing a platform for emerging talent has created a window for franchise-based leagues in other sports in the country. "Thanks to the IPL, we now have a kabaddi league, ISL, a badminton league and the hockey league," she said.
On two occasions in the past, the IPL was shifted out of India owing to the government's inability to provide security cover during general elections. In 2009, the entire event was staged in South Africa. Five years later, in 2014, BCCI was forced to stage 33 per cent of the tournament, amounting to 20 matches, in the UAE.
The South African sojourn was an expensive proposition for the franchisees even though the BCCI gave them a number of sops. Additionally, the matches had to be played in their winter with dying grass and spectator discomfort being major impediments.
One of the franchisees pointed out that the atmosphere and the buzz that IPL matches create in India cannot be replicated anywhere else. But if the option was between no tournament at all and one in another country, they would prefer the latter.
In 2014, when a part of the IPL was held in UAE, the KPMG study revealed that the 15-day event resulted in an increase in economic activity to the tune of Rs 450 crore ($75m). BCCI pointed out that it was "staggering to think that the IPL generated 5 per cent of the total growth in the GDP of the UAE during that 15-day period".
Thus, there are compelling arguments to retain the IPL in India. The greatest irony would be if during the central government's "Make In India" drive, such a major high-profile event is shifted out of the country because of political expediency and vested interests.