Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Champion-less Lalit Modi Show

The first edition of Champions League came to an end after 16 days of cricket - some polar mismatches while others producing nail-biting finishes. The tournament, with all its flavor and happenings, seems certain to stay. Despite the positives, the tournament fell short on two accounts. First, the overbearing presence of the mastermind of Champions League - Lalit Modi and, second, the absence of a Pakistani team.

First coming to Lalit Modi, or Mr. Lalit Modi should I say? As we saw in the Indian Premier League (IPL), the broadcasters seemed more like slaves of Lalit Modi than a media firm which has rightfully paid and brought the TV rights for an exorbitant amount. Constantly flashing Lalit Modi's face with a wide smile stamped on his face as if he's auditioning for a toothpaste advert left the viewers at home bitter, specially the audiences in England and West Indies where IPL was not followed as keenly due to the absence of their players for a major chunk of the tournament. And as if Lalit Modi's speech at the closing ceremony of IPL Season 2 wasn't embarrassing enough for the Indians (he was thanking his wife and children for supporting as if he had won an Oscar!), he made a mockery of himself once again - this time by being present at the post-match ceremony of the final and claiming that he wants to make Champions League even bigger than UEFA Champions League. Good joke Modi. Firstly, UEFA Champions League is football - the most followed sport of the world. Cricket enjoys only a fraction of its following. Secondly, UEFA runs Champions League as a system, not as a one-man show. You don't see Michael Platini unnecessarily on the screen, and he also does not make boastful and misplaced speeches at the ceremonies.

Another interesting observation about the tournament was the absence of a Pakistani team. A team which deserved to be a part of the Champions League more than anyone else was Sialkot Stallions. Out of the five domestic T20 competitions that have been held in Pakistan, Stallions have won every time except the first one. The decision to eliminate a Pakistani team was taken way back in January, much out of shortsightedness. Lalit Modi assumed, in the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks, that Pakistani players will not be allowed to travel to India by the Pakistani government. Mr. Modi, how did Yasir Arafat then travel with Sussex Sharks to India, and that too on a Pakistani passport? If one person can travel to India, so can 15 others. The financial greed surely reflected in Modi's statement when he said that that they cannot risk to invite a Pakistani team to such a high-profile tournament when their government might not allow them to travel at the last moment. Therefore, he took the safe option - eliminated Pakistan, inducted a third Indian team in Delhi Daredevils, and made the sponsors, broadcasters and home associations happier as all of them were sure to earn more revenues with the presence of a third Indian team.

So, was this really 'Champions League', with its tagline 'Only the Champions'? Not really. Even the runners-up were playing. In fact, even third-placed finishers were included. Home advantage, no? Was the tournament as successful as the Champions Trophy? I doubt. Audiences in England were least bothered. Moreover, its the media that plays an integral part in building the hype of a tournament. With stringent checks over media coverage requiring news agencies to pay high sums of money to cover the event, there was hardly any coverage by AFP or Reuters. Even Cricinfo has only one photo per match. The same happened with IPL. And the same happened with Champions League. Mr. Modi, perhaps you have something to think about now instead of preparing speeches!