Soap opera unfolds as Board officials courting controversy are treated with ‘Supreme’ disdain
What was happening, happening for a long time, has finally happened and the Supreme Court humiliated President of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Anurag Thakur, along with the Secretary, Ajay Shirke, by sacking them forthwith for not following the judges' orders to introduce reforms. Had the Supreme Court not done so this time, its majesty would have taken a severe beating. And therein hangs a tale.
The story of the BCCI has all the ingredients of a great soap opera in which the seeking and wielding of power and influence, of politics and manipulation, of corruption and aggrandizement, all come together. It's as much a tale about India as it is of the BCCI, in which cricket is the bystander. And it is griping because it is set in cricket, the one sport the Indian Cricket lovers have chosen to idolise. Cricket along with politics and Bollywood constitutes the great Indian triumvirate: each one of these throws up the stars of India. In India, betting is largely illegal. However, to overcome and challenge the law of the land, the betting mafia created one of the simplest but most complicated betting systems in the world. As telephone technology took off, so did the ways in which anti-betting rules were circumvented. And with betting came spot-fixing. And it was fixing that brought the courts into cricket. This system corrupted not only those involved
in the game of betting but the entire game of Cricket.
Betting man’s dream
The Indian Premier League (IPL), which overturned the way world cricket ran, became the betting man's dream and the manipulators' toy. With each match, a permutation and combination of bets had money pouring in, and opportunities to corrupt cricketers abounded. It was in one of these that BCCI Chairman and Chennai Super Kings owner N Srinivisan ran afoul. His son-in-law Gurunath Meiyappan was accused of trying to influence the game, a charge upheld by the Mudgal Committee, appointed by the courts as the investigating authority. And with this came the cry for reform of the BCCI.
In size, popularity and wealth, the BCCL has grown so much that it no longer needs support or approval of the supreme body of the land, the government, apart from technicalities like security cover for matches and Visas for players and officials for foreign tours. They existed in their own anachronistic manner, with local chieftains and satraps owing loyalty and allegiance to bosses that often did double duty as senior political leaders. Elections for the entire chain of cricket bodies - small and big ones - were full of intrigue and politics. And people held on to power for decades.
Given India's financial muscle in the world of cricket, the BCCI head has been the force to reckon with in the International Cricket Council (ICC). Domestically, the power of patronage is enormous. Bosses chose international match venues and the selectors that chose the teams. They even chose commentators for television. As a result, the prize of being the BCCI chief is unparalleled. This power attracted both politicians like Sharad Pawar and businessmen like Jagmohan Dalmia. And it shut out the cricketers. The players and ex-players, were not people who determined the team, it was the Board. At lower levels, like for the Ranji Trophy, cricketers had to curry favour to make it into the team. So following the Mudgal report, the Supreme Court in 2015 constituted a committee under former Chief Justice RM Lodha to come up with reform recommendations for the BCCI. Lodha did work and came out with a list of corrective measures, which turned out to be very drastic ones. Of which the key ones that the BCCI could not and would not swallow were -
1. No more than 3 years and 3 terms (3+3) for anyone, and that too, with a gap
2. No one over the age of 70 years, and no one could hold posts at both the national and Association (state) level
3. No minister or government servant can be an office-bearer
4. One-state one-vote and bring in states that weren't represented
5. Team selectors to be pruned down from five to three; each must have played test cricket
Though these recommendations sound a matter of common sense to you and me, but for those who wielded power in cricket this was the end of the road. Suddenly, Maharashtra with four votes (for Mumbai, Maharashtra, Vidarbha and the Cricket Club of India) would be down to one vote. And people like Sharad Pawar, being over 70, would in any case be out. When Bihar was split, it's association wasn't recognised by the BCCI and could not play cricket, while Jharkhand was taken, this wrong would be righted. Ministers being out could also lessen the politicization. And finally, 3+3 was the end of life for a long list of people who had lorded it over cricket. The BCCI and its associations refused to accept this and challenged the report. They lost their appeals, and the Supreme Court pressed them to accept the reforms with no luck. Had the court refused to go ahead with the report and the sackings, its power and authority would stand substantially diminished. Everyone would be ready to defy court orders. This obviously was unacceptable to the Supreme Court.
Should courts interfere in games?
While it may be the correct decision and in fact, may open up the control of cricket in India, should the courts interfere so much in sport and such associations? Was the mandate they gave Justice Lodha too wide? Should the committee not have negotiated with the BCCI? Was this an example of judicial overreach, or was it a mistake that, once committed, put the court and BCCI onto a collision course? How easy will the change in the world of Indian cricket be? How much resistance will local associations and office bearers put up? Will Indian cricket suffer at all? The IPL broadcast rights from next year are due for auction, what will happen there?
Curiously there a precedence in all this for all other sport associations in India. Most of them are probably run worse, have less money and throw up less international level players because of their legendary mismanagement. The recent elevation of the Commonwealth Games-tainted Suresh Kalmadi and Abhay Chautala as Lifetime Presidents of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) is an example of the how they operate. Can sportsmen now appeal to courts? Will the government step in? It's going to be a confusing few months.
To sum up, let me submit that I was happy to receive the news of the Supreme Court verdict. Not that I have an axe to grind against Anurag Thakur or Shirke but this judgment opened new ways to clean up our most corrupt and decayed sports management system. This was most needed to improve Indian sporting activities.