They the People

Prem Panicker
Yahoo cricket editorial blogs

On Cricinfo, Sambit Bal calls this the 'People's Cup'. Every event needs a catchy slogan, and this one is as good as it gets.

Nowhere does it say slogans need to be accurate, though. On the same site, another story on ticket distribution underlines just how much of a 'People's Cup' this one isn't. Consider this sample clip (Emphasis mine) :

In Kolkata, the focus at the moment is on accepting the fact that the India v England match has actually been shifted out of the Eden Gardens. Ticket distribution is now focussed on handing out the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB)'s large share of their quota tickets amongst members and affiliate clubs, a practice which is also common in Mumbai. "There is no panic now," said an official in Kolkata, "because there aren't going to be fist-fights at the counter." And Punjab Cricket Association said tickets for matches in Mohali would go on sale from February 21, "including for the semi-final."

This lopsidedness in ticket sales had been caused, an ICC event organiser said, "because the World Cup has been treated like a bilateral series with the local associations controlling everything." He said there was "no single central leadership" or organisation in the World Cup ticketing. "It is why there are so many complaints about tickets not being distributed, not enough information given about when they are up for sale or where."

The ICC's own quota for tickets per match is specific: it receives 1270 free tickets of which 1000 are given to sponsors, with the remaining 270 divided between the two teams (125 each) and match officials. The ICC said it could then also avail of an additional 250 hospitality seats but pay for its own catering and then had access to 2450 tickets that it could purchase for distribution amongst sponsors (2000) and member boards (450). The ICC's maximum quota per match equalls just under 4000 tickets.

The most risible line in an article rife with unintended humor is the bit that quotes a Kolkata official saying there will be no fist-fights at the counter. Of course there won't -- with most tickets going to officials, there's no point in people -- fisticuff-capable or not -- turning up for the People's Cup, no?

That's Kolkata -- now consider Mumbai, venue of the final of the most prestigious event on the ICC calendar. Here's the story; relevant clips below (again, emphasis mine):

On the subject of tickets, Shetty said that the association is limited to offering only 4000 tickets for the final to the general public because it is contractually obligated to offer tickets to the ICC (8500), as well as its member clubs (roughly 20,000). The limited number of tickets was further exacerbated by the renovation, which reduced the capacity of the stadium from 38,000 to 33,000. One thousand tickets for the final will be available online at Kyazoonga from February 21 and the remaining 3000 tickets would be sold through the association.

When asked whether it was unfair that only 4000 tickets would be sold for a game as important as the World Cup final, Shetty said the members of the clubs are also part of the "public" and so he disagrees with that assertion, but at the same time he also pointed out that the association's hands are tied because it has to honour its contracts.

Try putting all those points in seriatim:

  1. 20,000 tickets to clubs, 4000 to the people whose Cup this is supposed to be. Why? Clubs vote. We the people don't.

  2. The ticket situation "exacerbated" by the stadium's renovation, the story says. First impression is that somehow, in trying to improve facilities for the user, some space was lost. Here's the bit they are not telling: the reason space was lost was because regular seats were reduced, in order to create more lavish "hospitality boxes" for the sponsors, the officials and such.

Bottom-line for fans? No one needs you to come to the ground anymore -- not the ICC, not the BCCI, not the sponsors. Suck it up.

The real irony is that even as officialdom squeezes the fan out, experts exhort those same fans to throng the stadiums in big numbers. Here's Boria Majumdar:

Just as the Indian team is under the scanner, so also are Indian crowds, key to India cementing its position as the nerve centre of world cricket.

It is a given that the India matches will be played to packed stadiums. The real challenge is to fill up stadiums for the non-India matches. Only if there are sizeable crowds for these games can we claim to have matured as a cricket-watching nation. It is cricket's biggest stage and hyper-nationalism, central to Indian cricket-watching, cannot continue to be the sport's only selling point in India. Take the FIFA World Cup: not only were matches involving South Africa well-attended, but most matches were played to sizeable crowds across the country in June-July 2010.

Unless India's public embraces the Cup in totality, filling venues across the spectrum, it is difficult for us to push home the argument that India is world cricket's true centre of gravity. Certainly it is the hub of cricket finance and also perhaps of new age innovation as in the IPL. But a mature cricket-viewing public, as we find in Australia or England, is still to be a reality in India.

Why exactly should the fan, ruthlessly deprived of thronging venues to watch his own team play, take the trouble and spend the money to watch a Canada play a Netherlands or whoever? Since the ICC and the BCCI clearly have taken over all our stadiums, why is the onus on the fan to "embrace" the World Cup and prove his maturity?

In this context, read an earlier post titled Whose World Cup Is It Anyway?