Cricket remains a binding force for us Indians. You call it religion; term it an unending affair; across caste, religion, age, gender: Millions of hearts swell with pride when the tricolour sways with the wind to the tune of our national anthem.
Cricket in India indeed lost much of its sheen in the 90s when the match-fixing saga broke, and a few of our heroes—Mohammad Azharuddin, Ajay Jadeja, Manoj Prabhakar—faced the wrong end of the law. The gloom had overtaken us. But with time, love for the game was restored; stadiums began filling up again, and our heroes kept coming from the assembly line, which is in abundance in our large country.
And then the IPL happened. Franchises threw their hats in the ring. The auction was now the byword. Cricketers were up for sale. Money flowed as if there was no bottom. It was always unlikely that bookies and punters would fall behind the curve on this gold rush.
Internet these days makes nonsense of existing laws. The betting world was quick to seize the advantage. They were upon the fact that India doesn’t have an online betting law. Instead of worrying about police swooping down on your den and catching you in the act, with multiple phone lines, mobiles, cashes caught, a spectacle made in the next day’s newspapers, the bookies and punters now had the comfort of anonymity on the internet.
In 2019, the Delhi High Court, in a judgement, asked the Centre if they were able to make a distinction between the game of skills (gaming industry) and the game of chance (betting industry). The MeITY, our ministry of electronics and information technology, tamely replied in its affidavit that it’s not feasible to curb an online operation if it is hosted from outside.
Bingo. In that year itself, a betting website sky247.net registered itself in Curacao, a Dutch West Indies island. It began seeking out Indian punters. If you do the X-ray of this website on the internet, you will find that 70 per cent of its customers/visitors are Indians. Now let’s see how meteoric has been the “kill” made by this website in a little over two years.
Hold your heart and curse under your breath: sky247.net sponsored the Pakistan Super League (PSL) last year. Yes, the very league is the financial base of Pakistan’s cricket. The PSL, which has a brand value of $330 million or Rs 2640 crores, was sponsored by sky247.net largely through the money of Indians.
If only it was that. You visit the website sky247.net and on its home page is a list of the series it has sponsored in the last two years. There are one-day series between Pakistan and South Africa, Lanka Premier League, a series between Ireland and UAE, and a plethora of T10 or T20 tournaments across the globe. And lo-and-behold, they have been kind enough to sponsor one of our events: last year’s India series with Sri Lanka was sponsored by none other than sky247.net!
You scan the internet, and you would come across multiple news items in reputed publications that sky247.net is also sponsoring this year’s IIFA Awards—yes, the Bollywood biggie—in Abu Dhabi this month. This is an event which was already worth over Rs 100 crores in 2013. Almost ten years down the line, it must be worth many times over today.
So the very Pakistan, and its ISI, which we hold accountable for many of the nation’s ills, is being nursed by our own money through a lacuna which exists in our prevention laws.
Sure, sky247.net is not alone. There are hundreds of online betting websites. We even have a gaming website sponsoring our biggest cricket event, the IPL. All our megastars we watch every evening dance to the tune of ads these companies come up with in between the overs.
Think about it: These days, when the nation mourns the death of an innocent Kashmiri Pandit (Rahul Bhat) at the hands of terrorists; we are dismayed that a grenade launcher attacked the Punjab Police intelligence headquarters; that CBI is in the thick of exposing a match-fixing scandal in IPL which go back to Karachi; when we curse the enemy nation endlessly, it’s the same enemies across the border who are having the last laugh at our expense.
In my humble opinion, the biggest threat to India today is the assault on its integrity. The threat of a Balkanized India has never been greater than today. The communal divide has never been bigger since it was at the time of the Partition. There are forces pulling India in all directions, and nobody seems to be in complete control.
But that shouldn’t slacken us to the threat from those who slip below the radar. As I have mentioned, this website and its operations are one which has made a fist of India’s tax laws. So much of our money is generated, and so much of it flows across the border.
It’s time we turn off the tap.