In the Defense of the Ramadan Game Shows

Source: Dawn

Ramadan, the holy fasting month, is here. My personal fervor or lack thereof for the festival aside, you are bound to get caught in its whirlpool if you are living in Pakistan.

It does not matter whether you fast or not, you need to follow a certain eating pattern for the most part due to the society around you. One way or the other, you cannot avoid Ramadan no matter how hard you try. And just like the eating patterns, the piety is infectious too.

But just like everything else such as mass hysteria on the roads, another factor infectious about it is a sense of festivity and entitlement.

Born out of this market need was the showmanship of Geo Network’s original Aalim Online, Aamir Liaquat Hussain. With Aamir Liaquat, Reality TV entertainment meets religiosity. He took it a step further in the recent years by branding the Ramadan Transmissions and turning it into an extravagant variety show. Even more recently, he turned it into a giveaway fest loaded with corporate sponsors big and small who saw their image going with his “circus.”

Yes, “Ramadan circus” was what Islamabad High Court Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui referred to his show. He considered this gambling an abomination and blasphemous in an “Islamic Republic” that was supposed to safeguard Islamic tenets in a Shariah sanctioned society. He even insisted that the title of Islamic Republic should be removed from the state of Pakistan. What else could you ask for?

Perhaps Justice Siddiqui is one of those self-proclaimed “True Islam” purists who believe that religion should be practiced in its supposed authentic state, unaware that the monolithically solid idea in their perception is nothing more than an abstraction. They are not aware that these religious ideas have become cultural and have evolved. Even the Prophet himself could not have stopped them from evolving. He is not aware that people don’t just want to but will practice Ramadan on their own terms.

Justice Shaukat Siddiqui – Source: geo.tv

The judge makes a fool out of himself by threatening to ban Fahad Mustafa Tunio, Aamir Liaquat, and Waseem Badami for life, wonder what that means in the glossary of Pakistani justice. Are these the guardians of democracy, free speech, and freedom of the press in this country? Are these the authoritative figures who cite the superiority of the Constitution every second hour? We must not share their hideous, anti-freedom, authoritarian, totalitarian views. It would even be a duty to resist this stupidity which is a far more ridiculous spectacle than the TV circus it condemns.

In the day and age when the worst form of state censorship of journalism has returned, we have a judge that wants to worsen the censorship on the media. While there is little doubt that

Before our self-righteous hate of commercialism becomes too out of control, we must not forget that people always complain about not having free handouts during the holy month. Now that someone has come up with that, we have a problem with it. This is what freedom is about and it is manifesting itself into this. And then again what’s the harm? Even if a very small pool of people are being given electronic appliances, and occasionally motorbikes and cars randomly? It is not going to end world hunger but it is certainly not contributing to it. It only creates a bunch of jobs people like Justice Siddiqui believe the government is supposed to create.

Ramadan is a festival of gluttony after all. It is only appropriate that it should be celebrated with greed.

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Building a PSL Economy

Source: cricketall.com

Source: cricketall.com

Considering how Pakistanis are supposed to be fanatics for cricket, we certainly lack a well developed sports league in this country. And when I say a league, I mean something on the lines of IPL and at least BPL, if not the English Premier League or NFL.

It is not that Pakistani people do not have a sense of sports or the necessary enthusiasm.  Hell, they have fought many a tear gas attack just to get into the stadium for a pathetic but rare one dayer. Particularly the younger generation, who are well versed with all sorts of sports activity around the world, and who passionately and even religiously follow foreign sports franchises.

All of this makes sense. Even if sports bore the hell out of you, you can partake in the PSL Economy by placing a wager or two. After all, what good are sports unless you have something personal at stake? The reason I am raising this point is that the PSL economy must, and absolutely must, go beyond the die hard sports fan for its potential impact. Just like it’s hard to avoid the Super Bowl if you are living in America. It must affect far more people who are not able to avoid it. People like me, who are bored out of hell watching an entire cricket game, but yet would not mind poking their noses in a good competition. It’s all about pretending not to be bored.

Now the official website of the Pakistan Super League has introduced its own fantasy league. But if you take a deeper look at it, it is just filling a contract clause. The league has very low functionality and you cannot even create your private leagues. This means that you cannot invite your friends and coworkers to be a part of the experience, which means a poor experience. Let’s hope this can change. As opposed to that, a more poorly designed and cheaper but more functional private fantasy PSL website could offer greater value.

Hate the neo-liberal in me for saying this, but I commend all the sponsors who are putting in their money for this great cause. And I feel bad for using the word cause here because it is not supposed to be fucking charity. But I say so because the domestic fans deserve a structure like this. In any case, perhaps the investors were always happy to put their money in a venture that people could respond positively to. This is probably the first one put into place by the PCB that has put up the structure for a serious league, albeit very small in size. But the size may change in the future if all goes well and the consumer trends so far are not disastrous.

I have written earlier about the need of addressing the growing market of skilled gaming. This, in all fairness, should be extended to a channel for legalized gambling, though that is a step too far at this stage. There is clearly an appetite for skilled gaming in the market, which would enhance the enthusiasm and engagement for the PSL to a much greater extent by involving stakes for the public.

Meanwhile, the advertising would also become far more aggressive and tribal in the coming days. At least from one of the franchises. Tribalism would and should become a necessary tool for honing the public engagement and to build manufactured rivalries around the franchises, which only came into being a couple of years ago. A better idea would be to capitalize on the sense of mutual urban resentment already present among the natives of Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad.

All of this would initiate giving these franchises a cult following and a vicious fan base, which they don’t enjoy currently. You know, this is how religions work too. When it comes to building the PSL economy, more commercialism is always less. Even though the moralists among our ranks would then later be writing about it mourning the degeneration that is waiting to manifest itself in this fashion. Ah, the little moral sacrifices you have to make in order to build a viable sport economy.

A solidified fan base would then cement the presence of franchises as institutions, creating thousands of jobs which are not going anywhere in an uncertain next year. These organizations would, in turn, become clients of hundreds of businesses, and that is how the PSL economy would roll out its effect. None of this would be possible, however, without increased spending from the fans. And this is eventually not going to be sustainable enough unless cricket is brought to home. Unless the Qaddafi Stadium becomes a real home to the franchise. So unless Lahore Qalanders have to become something more than “Jazz” Lahore Qalanders, before their eventual death.

The eventual goal of the PSL must be the creation of a self-sustaining domestic league within the geographical boundaries of Pakistan. Ideally speaking, it should suffice to nourish the appetite of the Pakistani cricket fan, which has to rely on the mundane international cricket in Dubai or the emotionally distant foreign leagues. Without this, the PSL model would not last very long. Deep down inside, Najam Sethi knows this, but of course, there is not much he can do about the security situation. But still, you need to draw a line somewhere and soon. Pakistani fans are sick of Dubai.

So if the international cricket boards are not sending out teams to Pakistan for security concerns, you could always buy players to come in. Even if that means a very few A-listers. At least it would be a start. I think Pakistan Cricket Board and the franchises should also make it a point to import players from India, even if that means B or C category players.

Another rarely talked about factor in Pakistan and an important part of the PSL economy is the quality of the television. And I am not going to mince my words here. The quality of television in Pakistan, especially when compared to India or anywhere, is shit. In other words, there is no real use of putting up the best show in the country if the eventual optics are going to be pathetic.

An overwhelming majority in Pakistan do not have access to digital television broadcasts, a technology not even used for the coverage of the PSL. So people are stuck with a quarter of a century old technology to watch what is supposed to be the most important sporting event in Pakistan. While the federal government made an attempt to make progress in this regard, albeit in a very wrong way, the local DTH service could have filled the much needed gap in this regard. But let’s hope the consumers become more aware of their own interests in Pakistan one day and stop listening to the political narrative on the “mainstream media” too much.

PSL Chairman Najam Sethi, a noticeable difference, has done a great job in introducing this first serious franchise based model for a sustainable domestic league. Now the key is to constantly up the game when it comes to bringing more money to the PSL economy.

Leave building the PSL economy to the thriving private sector, just bring cricket back home.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Right to Gambling and Online Paid Skilled Gaming

Source; profootballspot.com

Source; profootballspot.com

It is always a bad idea to invite the government into the areas of the internet where it is absent to prevent the abuse of regulation. However, avenues that are already eliminated by the government with decades-old theocratic legislation require a corrective intervention. Online gambling and skilled gaming are one such area.

If you are a fan of fantasy sports or are even fond of gambling your hard earned income every now and then, you would have a hard time pursuing such recreational activities in Pakistan. At least at a legal concern or on the internet, unless it happens to be a government sanctioned prize bond scheme or a race course.

Currently, The Prevention of Gambling Act 1977 governs and prohibits such activities in Pakistan with various penalties. The provincial versions of the law were enacted in 1978, while The Public Gambling Act of 1867 under the British law, which it was largely based on, was repealed in Islamabad and Punjab later.

Now there is a good reason why online gambling is banned in many countries. Gambling can be highly addictive and could expose citizens’ capital to great risk of loss.

Nevertheless, despite the risks and dangers involved, it is better to leave it to the citizens to decide about their morals and the disposal of their savings. The best trade-off between freedom and order remains in softening of the Gambling Act to decriminalize and legalize such activity.

There is no doubt that the government should protect citizens from fraudulent practices, eliminate money laundering and prevent organized crime to dominate such activities. This is why legalization of such activities not only offers safe and legal channels for citizens for such recreation due to regulation, but could also help generate considerable public revenue.

Just like every other “moral” issue in Pakistan, you cannot help but notice that the ban on gambling is not without its due share of contradictions, or even hypocrisy. Without going into the embarrassing reasons why, most of us are aware that horse racing is legally protected in Pakistan. Let’s just say that our bureaucracy and feudal class would always make an exception for their lifestyles.

However, thanks to the outdated laws governing anything remotely close to gambling within the boundaries of Pakistan, citizens indulging in the vice are not safe from harassment from the state. This also impacts the online space as betting websites would not open their operations to Pakistan, or even if they do, making transparent financial transactions to such entities would only land you in legal trouble.

Normally, I would hardly advocate the action of legislators as a much needed solution, but repealing is as much their job as enacting new laws. Especially in this case, when the laws in place are such terrible sweeping bans that take away the breathing space from the citizens. If law enforcement authorities were to target civilians, they would even charge citizens under the suspicion of gambling on the possession of dice and cards under the current draconian laws. Countries such as the United Kingdom have modernized their local gambling laws to provide for online gambling. It is about time the rest of the world followed suit.

Prohibiting gambling is one thing, since it is so evil. The taboo against it even sweeps skilled gaming involving financial transactions under the label. Even state attorneys in the United States are insisting on it in the wake of the latest controversies pertaining to insider trading among leading fantasy sports companies. However, bans in states such as New York sound more like prohibiting trading of a commodity due to an instance of financial fraud.

Any sports fan remotely familiar with the activity would know that fantasy sports, while dependent on actual results, rewards calculated risks and the knowledge of the sport. Fans not being able to participate in such paid skilled gaming due to local gambling bans is simply unfortunate.

Pakistani fans, like those in the rest of the civilized world, should be no exceptions when it comes to online skilled gaming. While local fans may not be enthusiastic about NFL or MBL odds, they sure take a keen interest in EPL and cricket related leagues. With the advent of Pakistan Super League, Pakistani cricket fans would be missing a legal means to put their money on their favorite franchises.

The bottom line is that there is no reason why an adult Pakistani should not have access to gambling and skilled gaming, online or offline, whenever they want to entertain themselves. The access to gambling and paid skilled gaming could possibly be considered as a right to the citizens, and when done responsibly can really prove to be a joyful activity.

We have a choice of being blindly morally uptight as usual, or actually make it safer and legal for the citizens to enjoy paid skilled gaming, if not gambling.

A version of the post was published in The Nation blogs.