After dragging its feet on reforms for months on end, the Indian cricket board has filly been run out. Wielding the stick, an exasperated Supreme Court has now sacked BCCI president Anurag Thakur and secretary Ajay Shirke, making it clear that other BCCI and state unit officials opposing the Lodha panel prescription for reforms will be shown the door. The writing was on the wall for a recalcitrant BCCI after the apex court’s warning to ‘fall in line or we will make you fall in line’. What came as a surprise was not just the cricket board’s dogged defiance to reform proposals like age cap of 70 years, cooling off period of 3 years between terms, and one state one vote policy — but also the ploys it used to incite cricket fans and manipulate the Intertiol Cricket Committee (ICC). In October last, the Lodha panel discovered that the BCCI had flouted SC directives to make lump sum payments to state units, which smacked of a clear attempt to buy their allegiance against reforms. When the Lodha panel directed banks to freeze payment of such ‘doles’, the BCCI went to town crying that ‘interference’ in its fincial independence would jeopardize holding cricket matches and organizing tours. In its bid to play to the gallery, the board used some retired cricketers and sections of the media to slyly pose a question before the public — what business does the apex court have in matters concerning how cricket should be administered? Meanwhile, in a bid to block court-mandated appointment of a comptroller and auditor general (CAG) official in BCCI to vet its fincial dealings, the board sought a letter from the ICC that such a move is tantamount to government interference in its affairs. Had the ICC played ball, the board would have used the letter to argue that it risked suspension by ICC which does not permit government interference in member boards.
However, ICC chief executive Dave Richardson spilled the beans that Anurag Thakur had verbally sought a letter from ICC chairman Shashank Manohar, who refused on the ground that BCCI needed to put its request ‘in writing’ first. Though Thakur submitted an affidavit denying the charge, the apex court was not convinced, and in turn asked Manohar for an affidavit to ‘set the record straight’. On Monday, the SC followed up by issuing notices to Thakur and Shirke asking why they should not be tried for misleading the court and holding its orders in contempt. After the Lodha panel made its sweeping recommendations in January last year to reform cash-rich BCCI and make its dealings transparent, and the Supreme Court ratified the panel report in July and ordered its implementation — the BCCI fought tooth and il to stonewall it. Thakur, a Member of Parliament, is now taking credit for BCCI as the ‘best maged sports organization’ in the country, that India has the ‘best cricket infrastructure and more quality players’ than anywhere else. In passing, he has also taken a dig at ‘retired judges’, wishing them luck in running cricket. But all his bravado cannot gloss over the sequence of ugly events that has made it urgent to clean up the country’s cricket administration. After all, it was back in May 2013 that the discovery of spot fixing in IPL cricket brought to the nexus between franchise members, players and bookies. The Supreme Court had to step in by appointing the Mukul Mudgal committee to probe the scandal, and before long, the role of BCCI came under the scanner. This in turn led to the appointment of Justice RM Lodha committee to suggest a course of action to clean up BCCI. The apex court soon came to know how the country’s top cricket board was functioning like a ‘mutual benefit society’, distributing huge sums to state affiliates without asking for accounts — and then pleading in court that these state units are opposed to reforms. Justice Lodha has now rightly said that the Supreme Court’s initiative to overhaul BCCI will ‘act like a template’ for all sports federations in the country. In keeping with the public demand for transparency and accountability, it is now upon Parliament to decide about bringing BCCI under the Right to Information (RTI) Act soon.