The Economic Times (one of the best English papers in India, IMHO) had this fascinating report on Nita Ambani‘s increasingly important role in the Mumbai Indians (owned by her husband, Mukesh):
In the first two IPL seasons, she went for three or four matches each, but only as the “owner’s wife”. During the team’s second-half slump in IPL-2 in South Africa — six losses in their last eight matches — something stirred inside her. The despondency of defeat transformed her from an owner’s wife to a cricket aficionado and, eventually, the de facto chief executive.
“That’s when I began this restructuring,” she says.
In that sense, her evolution in cricket and her hands-on engagement with the Mumbai franchise is barely two years old. “She brings soul to the franchise,” says Sundar Raman, CEO of IPL. “Her involvement with the team is extreme. People don’t see the hard work she puts on the ground.”
I have mixed feelings about this story, which touches upon some larger class and gender issues. On the one hand, I think it’s incredible that a strong woman is taking charge of a group of men, especially in the realm of sports and especially in a country like India. I have argued before that women should be allowed in cricket in other ways, as umpires and commentators (and not, say, as cheerleaders). Even as the authors of this article chart Ambani’s rise in the Mumbai Indians, they reveal a back-handed condescension — Oh, she knows what reverse swing is!
On the other hand, the class problem still remains. There’s something deeply offensive in the way Mukesh Ambani off-handedly delivers the news to his wife he spent more than $100 million on a cricket franchise. I’ve often wondered how established cricketers like Sachin and Zaheer must feel having to kowtow and talk to IPL owners who insist on sitting in on team meetings (as Niti apparently does) and holding forth on all things cricket. What gives them the right, the ticket into the sacred dressing room, other than their money? And why must we be exposed to Vijay Mallya’s fat mug, and his son’s various faux-hawks?
Then again, I’m sure the BCCI and state cricket associations are filled with a similar lot — clueless politicians who seek to enrich themselves rather than the game. (Virender Sehwag and G. Gambhir led a mini-revolt in Delhi a couple of years ago on this front. Don’t know how successful they were, though.) So, I’m left in a bind: first, I say to Niti, enjoy your success, and congratulations on becoming the “de-facto CEO,” or as D. Bravo said it, Mrs. Boss. But secondly, I can’t dispel the sneaking suspicion that you, your money, and your family are helping to ruin cricket. A loss of innocence, I think Sanjay Manjrekar has called it.
UPDATE: Changed ‘Niti’ to ‘Nita.’ Sorry for the typo.
I did not find anything offensive in Mukesh Ambani informing his wife about his USD100M buy after the fact. For a guy with USD27000M (as per Forbes), I guess 100M is small change! Something like buying a shirt or a perfume. You don’t have to get your wife’s buy-in for that, do you?!
You’re missing the point, Shyam. The fact that $100m is “small change” for Ambani does sort of rankle me. It also annoys me that uber-rich people can say, perhaps over dinner, “Oh by the way, honey, I bought a cricket franchise today.”
Again, my problem isn’t that he did or did get his wife’s “buy-in.” It’s this tone — any acquisition is a small acquisition.
Most cricket fans are finding it quite discomfiting and annoying to see the franchisee-owners loom large over the IPL landscape. The franchise concept of IPL is welcome but I think BCCI, IPL and Sony TV are going overboard on the attention and focus given to the franchisee owners. Fans love and respect the cricketers’ skills but not so much the money brought it in by the “owners”. E.g. Siddharth Mallya and Mukesh Ambani (to an extent)are where they are primarily because they were born in the right families. I agree with Poorvi’s comment below that the behaviour of Mallya and Roy etc. is nauseating. It is high time we brought some control over the owners’ circus. But the way it all started, blessed and promoted by Modi and with Srinivasan (the CSK franchise owner) at the helm at BCCI, I have my doubts on our abilities for a clampdown.
Why are you referring to her as ‘Niti’? Her name is ‘Nita’ Ambani. I actually like that she is so involved in the team. I’m curious as to how the other women who own IPL teams (Shilpa Shetty, Preity Zinta & Gayatri Reddy) fare. What do you think about them?
Thanks for the spelling check, Poorvi. My bad.
I don’t know anything about what Shetty, Zinta or Reddy do with their teams. Feel free to pass me along some links if you find any.
And, again, I feel ambivalent about Nita’s role. I like that she’s a woman in charge (as I say in my post), but I dislike the fact that money buys access. You could make the case that these people — Shetty, and co. — put up the capital, and like any investor, they have a say in their firms’ management. And that’s fine — except in the cricket role, I’m a bit uneasy when owners get involved with on-field strategy, as opposed to branding, marketing, retail, etc.
When I heard about the IPL 4 years ago & saw the amount of money being spent on ‘buying’ cricketers, it rankled me. The idea of Sachin being ‘owned’ by whoever put me off. That he & others haven’t (openly) objected to it is another matter. I watched the auction earlier this year & I was flabbergasted by the amount of money being thrown about. It is disturbing to say the least. So as much as I like watching IPL (not so much this year coz I’m still suffering from WC hangover), I won’t ‘respect’ it as much as other forms of cricket. And this year especially, it feels too much like a trashy soap that you hate, but can’t help watching. I’m not criticizing the actual cricket that is played on the field; just everything else before & after it (Set Max actually has cheer leaders in their studio this time around).
What I’m getting at is that watching Vijay Mallya & his heir apparent strut around nauseates me. As does the image of Subrata Roy sitting with all the Miss India contestants at Pune’s match. So amongst this obvious show of wealth & excess, I like seeing Nita Ambani, who seems to be really passionate about her team. She may be overstepping the norms of propriety by sitting in on team meetings, but I somehow find her more ‘authentic’ than a Mallya who hired Katrina Kaif as the brand ambassador in the 1st IPL season. To me, as a female viewer of IPL, she brings about some much needed respectability amongst all the flashiness(cheer leaders, songs & dances, fashion shows!!).
I really don’t know how involved Zinta & Reddy are with their teams. But I had heard Shilpa Shetty state in an interview that she’s mainly involved in the ‘branding’ & ‘marketing’ side of things. I will look into this more & get back to you.
[…] ends with the players making a pitch for universal education. 2) I’ve already written about Ambani’s growing role in the Mumbai Indians, and my conflicted feelings about the development. Either she wants her role to be acknowledged […]
I just do not why the discussion on cricket has turned to the one on Ambani;s money. The debate is whether or not Nita ambani (as an owner) should be involved so much in the team. And to me the answer is very simple. Since they have put the money on team and they will suffer if the team loses, they have every right to get involved.
[…] written about Nita Ambani’s role in the Mumbai Indians before, but now that she’s the owner of a winning team, I thought I’d post this little […]