I have engaged in this discussion more times than I care to remember - by most estimates at least thrice a week for the past seven years. So this is a topic close to heart but also very well debated and honed. A look at the Dutch disease and the fallacy of composition can help us understand why India needs her cricket team to fail spectacularly, and regularly, for Indian sport to truly flourish.
The cricket world cup is less than two months away and it could turn out to be one of the most important sporting events of this decade - even bigger than the triumph in the previous edition in 2011. But only if India fails. A victory, even though it will be much celebrated, will see (even) more money being poured into the sport and (even) more kids seeing cricket as the only viable professional sport option in this country. The popularity of the game itself has never been the chief concern - till it has reached the current scale. This popularity has led to investment, talent and a country's sporting vision being squandered on a game which holds limited appeal to most of the world, doesn't earn a single Olympic, Commonwealth or Asian games medal, a game which doesn't foster a "sporting culture", a game which doesn't require its players to be athletic or fit, and most importantly a sport which has grown so big that it dwarfs all others, much to the detriment of every other sport.
The Dutch disease is a curious economic phenomenon. A mineral rich country sees its manufacturing sector battered, because all the exported minerals make the country's currency stronger (because of higher demand for the country's currency), thereby facilitating cheaper imports (as the relative cost of local manufacturing has gone up). Adam Smith's invisible hand is at play here. What this also does is shrink investment in the manufacturing sector and sees more money being poured into the commodity unearthed and its ancillary industries - setting up transportation, refining/processing and marketing activities around that commodity.
The parallel with Indian cricket is there for all to see. Without even discussing the most brazen brainchild of the governing body of Indian cricket, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the Indian Premier League which has sucked in large amounts of investment, the realization that a sporting Dutch disease has afflicted India is quite clear. Take the BCCI Corporate Trophy for example. This is an almost unheard of league, but serves as a traditional curtain raiser for the Indian season. The aim is to involve promising local players, discared players from an erstwhile rebel league (the ICL) and a few star players in order to showcase the "employability" of cricketers to corporates. The winning team bags INR10million. The runner up nets INR5million. That is 15 million rupees that have just been "awarded" to showcase "employability". A gargantuan waste of money in a country where the total amount of investable funds for sport doesn't grow much year on year. To help you put the plight of the nations "other sports" in perspective, the national football team earned INR28mn in sponsorship in 2013 - and sponsorship, along with broadcasting rights are two of the largest streams of income in sport.
A provincial cricket league which dwarfs all of Indian football
The Karnataka Cricket League (KCL), is sponsored by the realty developer Mantri who bought the sponsorship rights for INR110mn. This is a state level league, perhaps occupying a lower pedestal than the minor leagues (a parallel for the American reader). The franchise-auction for this league earned the state cricket association a whopping INR350mn in 2009. To put that in perspective, the All India Football Federation earned INR345mn in the sale of Broadcasting and Media rights in 2014. Adjusted for the inflation (at c10%p.a.) , a provincial cricket league was comfortably able to generate higher investment into setting up its franchises than the broadcasting rights of all Indian football.
Indian football received a grant of INR40mn from the Government in 2014 and India received a FIFA grant of INR32.385mn, for a total "grant" of INR72.3mn. The income side of the ledger is quite sparsely population for Indian football, with the only other income being paltry sums from AFC and a national team sponsorship of INR50m.
AIFF's various streams of income in FY2014 can be seen below:
The last two highlighted lines give you an indication of the different galaxies that the most popular Indian sport and the most popular global sport inhabit in India. Mahendra Singh Dhoni is India's cricket captain and paid an income tax of INR200mn in 2014, the same as AIFF's income without broadcasting rights. AIFF's broadcasting rights are just 165% of Dhoni's income tax. These are paltry figures which point to the state of the world's most popular sport in the second most populous country in the world. It points to which sport has hogged almost all of the investable funds and public mind-space.
By 2014, all the teams in the Indian Premier League, IPL, stood at a cumulative loss, with multiple ownership scandals and ownership changes. Yet, the bubble continues to be backed by the "full trust" of the BCCI. The US Federal Reserve couldn't inspire this much confidence in its Quantitative Easing programs! The total squad salary of each team in the IPL stands at INR600mn, INR55mn more than the entire income of Indian football's governing body.
The numbers show the disparity between the two most popular sports in the country - and the gulf is wide enough for India's sporting landscape to be diagnosed with the Dutch disease.
Why more people need to refuse to watch or pay for cricket - in any form
Imagine a country where most of the service sector is in private hands and they all exercise the "right to admission" and thus exclude a particular caste, colour, religion or creed of people from entering. They are all exercising a "private" right, but don't realise that a collective deployment of private rights causes discrimination. This is a corollary of the fallacy of composition, but you get the idea.
The common refrain that I hear from the massive cricket support in India is that everyone is free to put their money and time to whichever sport they deem fit. All well and good. But when 800 million people exercise that right for just ONE sport, it becomes a Dutch Disease and an example of the fallacy of composition. By supporting cricket, you are snatching away the dreams of a young Badminton player or a runner - because investable funds are tied up in a sport you (times 800 million) are interested in.
There is hope though. Stadium revenues, which make up for 40% of an IPL team's income and television ratings are sliding - which points to lower interest due to a cricket overdose and a multitude of scandals. Higher costs, largely being imposed by BCCI, and lower revenues are bound to cause a crunch which will see many corporate backers and film star owners take a hit. This lower interest can be capitalized on by other sports, and there are some early signs that money is being put into other sports.
The current generation of non-cricketers who are winning medals at the Olympics and World Championships were probably "won" by their sports in a period where Indian cricket was at a low: in the late 90's and early 00's, when the first match fixing scandal disgusted and alienated a small part of the youth, your author included.
These kids, who were then in their teens or even younger, are now your Saina Nehwals and Sushil Kumars - and they are athletes and they win medals, more than cricket has accomplished for the country or its cricketers.