In the run-up to this year's Indian Premier League (IPL Season 10), an old joke that started doing the rounds was — the two things that still draw people to the otherwise boring IPL matches are "bookies and babes".
While the joke may not be in good taste (especially when women cheerleaders are being unnecessarily targeted and the entertainment value of players questioned), the latest arrest of bookies once again strengthened rumours about match-fixing in the IPL. The malaise perhaps had never left the premier cricket league.
According to news reports, the much-hyped IPL could be in the midst of another scam after three bookies were arrested with Rs 40 lakh from a Kanpur hotel. Police are reportedly also probing the names of a couple of players for their involvement in match-mixing.
"We have got some names, but they not confirmed. We will question players whose names we have got," an ANI report quoted Kanpur senior superintendent of police, A Kulheri, as saying.
IPL cheerleaders have always been at the centre of sexist jokes. But that's not the real controversy, spot-fixing is.
Kanpur played host to the Gujarat Lions vs Delhi Daredevils match on Wednesday (May 10) evening. The same news report says players from Gujarat Lions, Delhi Daredevils and Sunrisers Hyderabad are also under the scanner. The three bookies — Nayan Shah, Vikas Chauhan and Ramesh, a groundsman working with the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur — were arrested from the same hotel where the Gujarat Lions and Delhi Daredevils players had put up.
According to police sources, investigations are on to see how the bookies managed to stay in the same hotel and get rooms on the same floor as the players. Nayan Shah, the kingpin, got pitch details and provided the same details to other influential members in the group.
The BCCI will release a press note soon and it is possible no players are involved in any kind of wrongdoing.
These arrests shouldn't come as surprising, especially after what happened four years ago. After spot-fixing in the IPL, 2013, came to the fore, two teams — Chennai Super Kings and Rajasthan Royals — were subsequently banned for two years after their team managements were found involved in betting by the Supreme Court-appointed Mudgal Committee.
Incidentally, Gujarat Lions, are one of the two teams (along with Rising Pune Supergiant) to have replaced CSK and RR. Both teams are playing their final year in the IPL.
Although betting on cricket is illegal in India, the presence of betting networks is only believed to have increased with a rumoured market of Rs 300,000 crore. But betting is not restricted to cash only with bookies doing brisk business online. Yes, cashless betting, insiders say, had to come in picture in wake of demonetisation and the subsequent cash crunch.
In fact, there are dedicated sites such as www.onlineiplbetting.com and Sportsbetting.net.to guide Indian online bettors about various websites such as BET365, Betfair, Defabet, Tote, 888 sport etc. These sites, however, are legal in various countries where betting is not a criminal offence. And Indian bookies have been illegally using similar websites.
Although the involvement of players in match-fixing is still being speculated following the latest developments, the IPL in the past had its worst phase in 2013 when the biggest spot-fixing controversy rocked the championship. It eventually led the BCCI to ban for life cricketers, Sreesanth, Ajit Chandila and Ankeet Chavan following their alleged involvement.
Actor Vindu Dara Singh and Gurunath Meiyappan, son-in-law of former BCCI chief Gurunath Meiyappan, were also arrested for their alleged links. The three players from Rajasthan Royals were caught spot-fixing on camera. They later confessed to their involvement. Although the charges against them were later dropped by a Delhi court, the BCCI didn't revoke their life ban.
Several other big names were mired in the controversy. While the police arrested a number of bookies across states, Rajasthan Royals’ co-owner, Raj Kundra, was also questioned for suspected involvement. He too was eventually suspended by the BCCI on charges of gambling during IPL 6.
In February this year, the CBI arrested former enforcement directorate joint director JP Singh for allegedly receiving bribe to favour an accused in the IPL betting scam.
The CBI earlier had said, in its FIR, that “certain officers of Enforcement Directorate while investigating the cases of money laundering in betting and other such activities have allegedly demanded and accepted huge illegal gratification from the accused and suspect persons in the cases".
With the 2013 scam still making news, the rot of betting and match-fixing may run much deeper than we think.