The Indian Premier League has hogged the headlines over the dazzling rates commanded by some players, India’s growing commercial hold over global cricket, the entry of big money and glamour into cricket, the disparity of a few dozen earning what could sustain hundreds of millions, the objections raised by the usual suspects to the auctioning of human beings, etc. None of these matter too much from the point-of-view of fans, fanatics and followers of the game, who will now get to see a more thrilling but shorter version of their favourite opium invade their bloodstream.
For them, though, the key issues will be the steep ticket rates at the hands of corporates who have shelled out hundreds of crores, steep food and drink prices in-stadia, and such like. But for parents, purists and medical activists, especially in Karnataka, there is also the very real prospect of cricket being used to promote hard liquor. The Bangalore IPL franchise, owned by beer baron Vijay Mallya, has announced that the team will be called “Royal Challengers”. That might seem appropriate given the State’s umbilical link with maharajas, with an erstwhile yuvaraja as KSCA chief. But it’s a cleverly chosen name that could be used to push the whisky brand “Royal Challenge” owned by Mallya’s United Breweries.
Questions: Will Mallya end up using cricket—and “clean” stars like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble—to promote hard liquors like whisky? Or is it OK if he can have an airliner named after Kingfisher, beer not the bird? Should IPL allow the name Royal Challengers considering its longer-term impact potential on society? Or is a franchise owner free to name and use a team he has bought any which way he wants? When western countries have banned cigarette and liquor advertising in sport, should cricket allow considering its possible impact on young, impressionable minds?
Are we just being a little too prudish in the era of consumption and growing permissiveness? Or is there something called Corporate Social Responsibility that goes beyond initiatives designed to fetch headlines in the colour supplements?
Photograph: Press Association, courtesy The Daily Telegraph, London
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