Ticket chaos across the Indian stadiums reflects a nation still coming to terms with the transition from old to new

The Sunday Times

As Bangladesh overcame Ireland in Dhaka, the television camera panned round a packed stadium. An Indian watching the match in Kolkata turned to me and said: “It is shameful. Bangladesh, a poor country, can organise a cricket match so well but we cannot even get our stadium ready.”

The pained reference was to the fact that today’s England v India clash had to be moved to Bengaluru because Kolkata’s Eden Gardens was not ready. This highlights the battle between the new India, which wants to be at the world’s top table, and the old India, happy to remain in its own world.

The Kolkata venue where I watched the Bangladesh match on TV showcased the new shiny, opulent India. A huge screen had been erected on the manicured lawn of an exclusive club along the lakefront. Waiters hovered, and a notice at the entrance made it clear that the values of the Raj still held: no jeans or T-shirts, and no question of admitting anybody shod in the sort of slippers Mahatma Gandhi wore during his struggle with colonial rule.

This is the India that has become cricket’s economic powerhouse. Its huge television market means it contributes 80% of world cricket’s income. This market has dictated that most World Cup matches are day-nighters, to cater for prime-time viewing. Ideal for Pizza Hut, which hopes to use the tournament to wean Indians off tandoori chicken and vindaloo. Its campaign offers 99 free meals for any batsman who hits 99 runs. Pizza Hut expects a 10% increase in “footfall”.

But nothing, it seems, can change the old, feudal India. Take Bengaluru’s police commissioner, defending Thursday’s baton charge on a crowd that was unable to get tickets for the India-England match. In words that might have been borrowed from the Americans defending their destruction of a village during the Vietnam war, he said: “There was a likelihood of a stampede. To prevent a greater injury, you have to cause a small injury.” Then he added: “The Indian situation is very different. It is difficult for people in America and Europe to understand.”

The ticketing problems mimic the appalling situation at last year’s Delhi Commonwealth Games, when officials kept insisting venues were sold out, yet most events were held with hardly anyone present. The online system has proved so wretched that cricket fans who bought tickets six months ago have still not received them. Even the commercial partners of the International Cricket Council (ICC) have not seen their tickets.

David Becker, head of the ICC’s legal department, wrote to Sharad Pawar, chairman of the organising committee, warning the Indians not to try to sell tickets at the box office, because there could be “chaos and physical injury”— a warning the organisers in Bengaluru clearly ignored. Becker also expressed the fear that relationships with sponsors were at “breaking point”. Given that Pawar is president of the ICC, and therefore Becker’s boss, the letter was unprecedented. The fact that it was sent a day after the tournament had begun indicates how concerned the ICC is.

Indians respond that the ICC does not understand how Indian cricket works. But India wants to stage world events without recognising that it requires an acceptance of world standards. India’s cricketers may conquer the world. Its officials show no sign of understanding it.


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