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Scandal Envelopes Cricket League In India

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Scandal Envelopes Cricket League In India

Sports

Scandal Envelopes Cricket League In India

Scandal Envelopes Cricket League In India

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One of the biggest stories in India right now involves the country's favorite sport: cricket. Millions of fans are watching to see what happens to the glitzy Indian Premier League. The league has been rocked by allegations of tax-dodging and back-room deals. Vikas Bajaj, of The New York Times, tells Renee Montagne that the league's commissioner has been suspended.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

One of the biggest stories in India right now involves the country's favorite sport: cricket. Millions of fans are watching to see what happens to the glitzy Indian Premier League, or IPL, which was created three years ago. The league has been rocked by allegations of tax dodging and murky backroom deals, and the league's commissioner was suspended over the weekend. New York Times correspondent Vikas Bajaj has been following this story from Mumbai.

Good morning.

Mr. VIKAS BAJAJ (Correspondent, New York Times): Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: Now, for those of us who don't follow the cricket world, you know, like its every twist and turn, give us, in very basic terms, what's going on here.

Mr. BAJAJ: Sure. So, three weeks ago, the commissioner of the IPL, this man named Lalit Modi, sort of surprised everybody and revealed a startling fact, which was that a friend - a close female friend of a senior government official had been given a free stake in one of the new teams that is being added to the IPL next year.

And that revelation led to that official's resignation from his post as junior minister of foreign affairs. And it also started a snowball effect, where people started questioning the way that other cricket teams had been put together and the way that their (unintelligible) operated, and the fact that Mr. Modi himself had family members who were benefiting one way or the other from the league. And so that snowballed into the culmination, which was on Sunday, right after the final game: The commissioner of the league was essentially suspended, put on leave, told to answer a number of charges that were leveled against him. He had 15 days to respond.

MONTAGNE: You know, the Indian Premier League, described as glitzy - could you expand on that? I mean, what makes it different from other earlier, traditional leagues?

Mr. BAJAJ: Traditionally, you know, you had what's called the Ranji Trophy, which is a tournament played by state teams against each other. And the winner wins the Ranji Trophy. And this was a very sort of formal affair, very straightforward.

When IPL came in, they chose a different format of the game, one that lasts just three, three-and-a-half hours or so. It had cheerleaders, which is something that, you know, cricket had never seen before. It had star power. Bollywood's biggest stars were owners of teams, and they were there on the sidelines, cheering their teams. So they had a level of attention, money, star power that Indian cricket had never really seen before.

MONTAGNE: So the media in India is all over this scandal, then?

Mr. BAJAJ: I can remember the last day when it wasn't on the front page of virtually every newspaper in the country.

MONTAGNE: Again, cricket is not an American sport, but how bad is this scandal for the sport itself?

Mr. BAJAJ: So I would, you know, equate it to, say, maybe the doping scandal in baseball or the strike in baseball. This is sort of on that order. It sort of really calls into question the integrity of this sport for a lot of people. I've had people - friends and others - tell me that, you know, they're really turned off by this. They either stopped watching or they're really considering whether or not they'll watch in the future.

Like in baseball, I don't think most people will do that. I think most people will continue to watch, but it certainly caused a lot of angst and grief among cricket fans, of which there are many in this country.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. BAJAJ: You're welcome.

MONTAGNE: New York Times correspondent Vikas Bajaj, speaking to us from Mumbai, India.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.

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