IPL Must Adopt Zero Tolerance Policy Against Loutish Fan Boys

Left: Rohit Sharma (Source: IPL), Right: Bandupant Tibile who was beaten to death by rival fans for celebrating Rohit’s dismissal. Source: Twitter

When Lalit Modi made the Indian Premier League (IPL) a reality more than a decade and a half ago, his stated aim couldn’t have been clearer. One day, the IPL franchises would be as big as, if not bigger than, the teams he had watched as a college student in the USA, or comparable with the biggest football clubs of Europe. He wanted the franchises to have that kind of dedicated fan base, who would fill the stadiums come rain or shine. Those fans would also then become the teams’ biggest money-spinners, buying merchandise and attracting eight-digit sponsorship deals by virtue of their loyal support.

What Modi and the others that helped the IPL become the commercial behemoth it is now didn’t want is the kind of lumpen behaviour that has passed for fandom this season. Those who love sport had already been terribly disturbed by the footage from the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad, of a Hardik Pandya fan being viciously beaten up by those around him.

Now, we have even more disturbing reports of an actual death, in interior Maharashtra. A 63-year-old man allegedly beaten to death by a friend, and his nephew, for the crime of celebrating Rohit Sharma’s dismissal. This is shocking on so many levels. Until satellite television and the Internet became ubiquitous over the last two decades, the watching of sport was almost always a community event.

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You gathered in living rooms, courtyards, village libraries and sports clubs, with dozens of eyes fixated on the flickering images from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Arguments were routine. Kapil v Gavaskar. Tendulkar or Dravid. Banter and over-the-top celebrations too were taken for granted. What you didn’t do, though, was attack your mates, and certainly not violently enough to kill or maim.

Let’s be very clear that what happened has nothing to do with the IPL, Mumbai Indians, Rohit or Pandya. This is a result of the social fabric being torn and toxic masculinity being celebrated in popular culture. Even morons based in the west like Milo Yiannopoulos and Andrew Tate have sizeable followings about a certain section of urban Indian men, and it’s such influences that lead to what was seen in the stands in Ahmedabad.

The link between sport and hooliganism is a long and ugly one. British football was bedevilled with the plague in the 1970s and 1980s, and it was only the disasters at the Heysel and Hillsborough Stadiums that emboldened the authorities to clamp down. Before things get even more out of hand, the IPL must adopt a zero-tolerance policy. For example, there is footage of the assault in the stands in Ahmedabad. Every individual found guilty of taking part in it should be banned from cricket stadiums for life. These fan boys with an IQ that would embarrass a sheep don’t come to watch and enjoy the sport anyway.

Finally, the media needs to take a good, hard look at itself. There’s absolutely no doubt that the Pandya situation has been inflamed by provocative and inflammatory comments from those who should know better. By repeatedly pouring fuel on the fire, they’ve kept alive an issue that should have died down months ago. Teams change captains. They plan for the future. Players have ambitions. End of story. Move on.

We hope not to see more such headlines again, but as long as fans blindly ape the less savoury aspects of European football – calling yourself an Ultra, like the thugs in Italy, is essentially the same as admitting you’re an impressionable idiot – incidents like these will keep flaring up, in the stands and outside the grounds. Zero tolerance is the only way to deal with it.

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