Pushed inexorably by the Supreme Court to reform, the BCCI is fighting a grim rearguard battle on a wicket turning increasingly sticky. The noose is beginning to tighten with the Indian cricket board now being ordered to route all high-value tenders and contracts through the RM Lodha panel. Independent auditors will be appointed by the panel to scrutinize BCCI’s accounts. This may slightly delay the bidding process for the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) global broadcast, digital and media rights for the next ten years. The apex court is also seeing to it that the BCCI will not be able to buy the loyalties of state cricket associations with money. The cricket board has been directed not to release funds until all 25 state cricket associations file affidavits about complying with the Lodha panel recommendations. This is because the BCCI has lately been using the state associations as a shield to stonewall the Lodha panel, arguing that it is upto the associations to accept or reject the Lodha prescription. When the BCCI in September distributed Rs 400 crore among several state associations, Chief Justice TS Thakur took strong exception to the cricket board’s obduracy, when the Lodha panel is yet to formulate a transparent disbursement policy. The BCCI’s counsel had then pleaded that the money was distributed from the Rs 2,500 crore the cricket board had earned as compensation from broadcasters Star Sports and Sony due to cancellation of the Champions League T20 tourment last year — and that the state associations were simply receiving their due share. An unimpressed SC bench had to remind the cricket board about the actual source of this money, that it came ‘from the people’. It is this simple fact that the BCCI keeps forgetting or wants to ignore, that its bulging coffers and overwhelming clout stems from the patroge of countless humble cricket fans.
Painting itself as a victim of the apex court’s ‘over-reach’, the BCCI has been taking every opportunity to remind people how it has strengthened cricket at the grassroots, improved stadiums and infrastructure across the country, and come to the aid of ex-cricketers. All that is very well, and expected of a cricket body considered the richest sports body in the world. Should it not be giving back handsomely to the game? As for taking care of ex-cricketers, surely they are a resource that can be harnessed to spot and train talents, help administer the game and take it closer to the people through media. Is the BCCI a private body not answerable to the higher courts and the RTI Act, as it is registered under the Tamil du Societies Registration Act, 1975? The Supreme Court made it clear last year that the BCCI is ‘discharging public functions’ and therefore comes under the ambit of strict judicial scrutiny, given that ‘it enjoys a unique monopoly over the passiotely followed game of cricket with the government’s tacit understanding’. Though the BCCI has been claiming it has accepted ‘many significant recommendations’ of the Lodha panel, it has clearly indicated which recommendations are athema — including one-person one-post, age restriction of 70 years on the board, maximum nine-year tenure with cooling period after every term and one-state one-vote. It hardly needs pointing out that all such recommendations if implemented will render most top cricket honchos ineligible at one stroke. Since many of them also happen to be heavyweight politicians entrenched in cricket administration for donkey’s years, it explains why BCCI has continued to defy outright the apex court’s directive to reform its ways. It even had the cheek to petition the Supreme Court that the Chief Justice should excuse himself from its hearings because of his seemingly ‘prejudiced approach’!
But it is the BCCI that has dug its own hole, or in cricketing parlance, fallen upon its own wicket. Its office bearers’ greed for power bred all sorts of conflict of interest situations, like allowing members to own their own IPL teams. It all exploded in the open when the then BCCI president and Cheni Super Kings owner N Srinivasan’s son-in-law was caught betting on IPL matches. Present BCCI president and BJP MP Anurag Thakur has been questioning the Lodha panel’s wisdom in insisting upon three tiol selectors instead of five, and a 15 day break before and after IPL editions. Thakur has argued that this can cause India to withdraw from a tourment like Champions Trophy which begins straight after IPL; he has also said that if BCCI funds are blocked, state associations will find it impossible to host Test matches or even Ranji games. But all such BCCI’s prevarication and dilatory tactics cannot hide the essential truth — that the cleanup of cash-rich Indian cricket must not be put off any longer. If Prime Minister Modi can warn about ‘surgical strikes’ on black money, it is high time one is conducted on cricket to rid it of fixing and gambling, graft and influence peddling. As for state cricket associations in the Northeast, the Supreme Court’s expected fil ruling will be keenly awaited. That is because the BCCI has deigned to grant only ‘associate member status as per ICC rules’ to NE cricket associations in 3:1 ratio. This means that three NE state associations will carry only one vote, which is ucceptable under the one-state one-vote principle. The BCCI may hark back to the glory of cricket associations like Mumbai or Baroda, but keeping out NE and states like Bihar cannot be in the interests of expanding cricket’s reach.