Through the Auction Lens

Spot the difference!

Scene One: A teenage girl is standing in the middle of the dais, in minimal clothes, heavy make-up, and flashy, silver and gold T-strap heels; she is swirling in unstable steps, while her potential buyers carefully measure her through their monitors. They have their fingers on a buzzer which they press as they bid. A voice explains her worth including the most coveted detail that she is a virgin, it also quotes her price that keeps increasing with every buzzer beep; in a minute, she is sold for 5,000 USD. She is taken off the dais as the highest bidder, now the buyer grins.

Scene Two: A picture of a young man in clothes shows up on the screen; his potential buyers measure his worth in terms of statistical numbers flashing on display along with the picture. A voice starts the bid; there is no buzzer but placards that the bidders flag up as the price goes higher. A few moments later, the young man is sold for 50 Lac INR. Another succeeds in his picture. Everybody claps as the buyer (and/or the team) smiles with contentment. Next thing one hears, it’s going to be ‘his first’ for this young man who was just sold.

Recap Of Indian Premier League (IPL) 2015 Live Auction


The first scene described is from the famous ‘Auction Scene’ of trafficked girls from Hollywood film Taken, and the second one is from the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2015 live auction coverage on television. While I begin the article by misleading my readership – urging them to spot the ‘difference,’ let me now draw up the lines of diffusion between the two scenes here. Both the trafficked girl, Kim, and the young man, cricketer Sarfaraz Naushad Khan are ‘virgins’ – she, of course, anatomically, and he, as playing in the IPL for the first time. This makes a vast headline for news channels right after Royal Challengers Bangalore buys him, quite like the way Kim’s ‘agent’ specifies about her specialty during the auction. Next, courtesy extensive media-coverage, massive corruption and betting in IPL are well-known. The recent Supreme Court verdict has already put Mr. N. Srinivasan, present BCCI President, at a tough terrain due to his son-in-law’s involvement in betting scandals. Wherever there are middle-men, corruption is bound to happen. Extending this argument in the context, it can be said that what the bookies are to IPL, the pimps are to prostitution; they both accentuate sleaze and exploit both the ‘products’ and the ‘buyers’.

Nevertheless, what is different between the two scenes is in their structure; while traffickers auction the girls in near-oblivion to the world, in dark, skimpily lit rooms, with complete anonymity of the buyers’ identity, IPL do its sale in big plush hotels, heavy media attention, proud potential owners of the players and with full publicity. Legality could be the only reason behind the traffickers’ coyness and the IPL’s pride. While IPL is legal, trafficking is not; other than this, both are quintessential encapsulation of complete human commodification. Risking the danger of being stamped prudish, I would go further saying that systems like IPL, and many similar ones all over the world, are a greater danger than prostitution. In prostitution, one’s ‘job’ is cut out, there is no camouflaging. On the other hand, when a cricketer is ‘sold’, he is not just playing for the team owning it, he also becomes a slave to his master by default. Of course, he receives money, endorsements, and other perks; but the more extensive cost-benefit analysis also has to be done here!

What strikes me the hardest is while the trafficked girls are forced into prostitution, the cricketers willingly commodify themselves. Therefore, whether one should blame the system or the individual, or both, lays down a contested terrain. While we are constantly debating aloud against international human trafficking and slavery, we are constantly participating, even if tacitly, in processes perpetuating the same draconianism. There is no denying that the rules of market economy insist that we put an ‘exchange value’ to literally everything, at the critical minimum of the argument still lies the fact that human faculty and talent is not just about a money-price; cricketers, or sportspersons in general, have had the virtue of being recognized and applauded for their worth all over the world even before IPL shrank cricket into a three-hour movie time, as more like a snippet preview of the actual game. As cricket enriches its talent pull, it does not necessarily have to stoop low to its spirit as well! So far keeping the game alive is concerned, I am sure there are better solution to it than cattle-bidding.