Evening Standard

Rich talk: Lalit Modi says that every franchise in the IPL makes money and compares that to the Premier League, where clubs struggle to break even.

Lalit Modi, who changed the face of cricket when he created the Indian Premier League, has been devoured by his own revolution.

The Indian government has threatened to withdraw his passport and has issued a “look-out circular”, requiring security personnel at airports and other entry points to watch out for him should he return there from England.

He is being investigated for alleged violations of foreign exchange regulations in connection with the IPL and tax offences.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India have launched disciplinary proceedings and the board secretary has also filed a complaint with the police accusing him of false accounting.

Yet, as we meet at an exclusive club in London’s West End, the 47-year-old not only looks like a dapper businessman worthy of modern, rising India but casts himself as the sub-continent’s version of Bernie Ecclestone.

“These are allegations,” he insists. “I’m actually quite upset that, seven months down the line, we have provided the authorities with everything and nobody has charged me with anything. Nothing has been proven. What is it that I have done apart from creating the world’s hottest league?

“Yes, my style is different, but styles of different entrepreneurs are different, whether it’s a Bernie Ecclestone, a Rupert Murdoch or a Donald Trump. They may upset people but they are judged by the results. Similarly I should be judged by my results.”

But if Modi does feel he is a figure that compares with Ecclestone, why has he been living in London for several months? Does this not make him a fugitive from his own country?

“No,” says Modi, with a laugh. “I don’t want to get into the issue about fugitive or not fugitive. I had security issues when I was in India and my security agencies have advised me that it’s not an appropriate time currently to go back. And the Indian police have continuously told me the threat perception continues to be there. I am not in hiding. I’m asking the authorities: please come here because I will answer the questions for as long as you want. I will pay for you to fly in.”

Modi vehemently denies that he has dreamt up the security concerns after the allegations were made against him in April this year.

“That is a media portrayal,” he adds. “The security issue wasn’t something that came afterwards. It has escalated over the years and it’s appropriate at the current moment to be out of that environment. As and when I feel comfortable, I will go back.”

But, the longer he stays away, the impression grows that his accusers are right when they allege that he has personally profited from the IPL.

“I can very clearly tell you that I have not pocketed any money from the IPL,” he insists. “I created something out of nothing. I didn’t do it for myself and the benefit, 100 per cent, accrues to the BCCI. The BCCI have benefited and will benefit in the next 10 years in excess of two billion dollars.

“That was never in their projections. I’m very proud that I’ve been able to create something that is of tremendous value, has world recognition and has put India on the map.”

Modi is so keen to present himself as the selfless worker for the greater good that he makes a point of stressing that, unlike other administrators, he pays for everything out of his own pocket.

He adds: “I fly at my cost, stay in hotels at my own cost, I ran the IPL on my own time. I have people working in the IPL that are my personal staff which I pay for. The BCCI may have provided a car here or there in a particular city but they all charge it back to me.

“I was born into a very wealthy family. We are not dependent, or ever have been dependent on anything to do with cricket. My lifestyle hasn’t changed because of cricket. My grandfather and my father worked very hard to build their businesses and I’ve worked very hard to build businesses myself. I brought ESPN to India, Disney to India, many other entertainment companies to India and I’ve worked and built those businesses and they are growing.”

Modi does not deny, though, that the IPL, which he created in 2008, has made money for friends and relatives.

“Of course it made money for my relations,” he adds. “When I conceived the IPL, everybody thought it was a hare-brained scheme. The business model was not known. None of the traditional sport financiers wanted to be part of it. We had no buyers, no advertisers, no broadcasters.

“Traditional broadcasters like ESPN didn’t wanna touch this because they thought it was a domestic product and would not work. Nobody believed in domestic cricket. The stadiums in India were empty. Go to domestic cricket anywhere in the world, even in England, you find, probably, 10 people and a dog watching the game.

“International cricket attracts crowds. People didn’t understand my concept. In a country where people only watch the national team, we were trying to build city-based loyalties around a Twenty20 tournament.

“There were no bidders for the teams. So who could I convince? I’m not gonna be able to go out and convince people that I don’t know. If friends and family had not bid [for franchises], we wouldn’t have had the IPL in the first place. Today because it has happened, people are saying, Oh, you gave it to friends and family’. Where were these people when we were conceiving the League?

“If it was going to be such a big thing, you should have had a line of people waiting outside bidding for the franchises. In fact, for eight teams we had 11 bids!”

Modi does get a touch defensive when asked if the IPL reopened the door to match fixing. The suspicions have arisen because, in the first two years, the IPL were not policed by the International Cricket Council’s anti-corruption unit.

“You’ve gotta understand we had lots of things to do,” he stresses. “In the first two years we may not have been policed by the ICC but the same people that work for the ICC anti-corruption unit were hired by us.

“The ICC anti-corruption unit was very small at that time. They could not give us the services that we needed. But there has not been a single incident in the IPL where you can say any match fixing or spot-fixing were happening.”

But, for all Modi’s talk of having created a unique product, he has not been the only sporting pioneer. The last two decades have seen the emergence in football of the English Premier League and the Champions League, neither of whose founders are in exile facing serious allegations of wrongdoing.

So, I ask, does this not suggest that Modi behaved like a 19th century American buccaneer keen to cut corners and take liberties?

For the first time in our interview, Modi reacts as if he might lose his cool. “I don’t believe a word you’re saying is right,” he retorts.

“It’s nice to put it like that and make it sound superior. You may call it buccaneering or 19th century but we thought outside the box.

“Please do not compare me to the English Premier League or to any other league. We are unique. I can sit here and say there’s no other league like that in the world, every member actually makes money. How many teams in the English Premier League make money? Look at the balance sheets, practically all of them are in debt.

“I am extremely happy and proud of what I delivered. I have no regrets at all. What I face are not charges, they’re allegations. Anybody can allege anything. I sleep very well at night. I have no problems. I go out, I have time to spend with my family. That’s one good thing about it. When I was running the IPL, I had no time to be with my family. And I know how it’s gonna end, by me getting a clean slate.”

Modi does not know how long it will take and, before that, could be seen in the High Court as he sues Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, for libel and, in turn, is sued by former New Zealand Test player Chris Cairns.

These are issues, which on the advice of his lawyers, he refuses to talk about pleading “due process”.

Modi can take satisfaction from the Indian Board not having much success as they seek to remodel the IPL. Two franchises, Shane Warne’s Rajasthan Royals and the Kings XI Punjab, who had been thrown out following Modi’s demise, have won court battles to take part next year.

On 8 and 9 January, the players’ auction for the 2011 IPL could see Brian Lara come back to cricket after four years and provide IPL debuts for Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Graeme Swann, Michael Yardy and Luke Wright, all part of England’s 2010 World Twenty20-winning side.

The tragedy for Modi is that he will have to watch from London. He may have created the sweet shop but he will be like a child with his face pressed to the glass, no longer able to control the destiny of the sweets.


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